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A single museums chief

Jul 7, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

Proponents say it's time for a change, but some salesmanship is required

Only with great care should the Fremont County Museums Board and Fremont County Commission contemplate the prospect of appointing a single director of the Fremont County Museum system.

With that as their guideline, however, they can proceed to present their argument to the public. They think it's a good one.

Caution is evident through the hard lessons of recent history. Tampering with a community's museum, or even the appearance of it, can spark resentment among vocal and influential citizens like virtually nothing else can. The county doesn't need to look far to find examples.

Central to the process must be a clear demonstration that an overarching administrator with expertise in budgeting, personnel and management, could provide a high level of leadership and departmental administration that three separate museum directors could not.

A vital corollary to that assessment is the assurance that the day-to-day management of the museums themselves as historic places and historical repositories of local history, which are welcoming to the public, would be maintained with as much autonomy at the local level as possible.

Officials of the museums board and the county commission are saying both conditions can and would be met.

An interesting discussion at one recent meeting concerned the distinction between a museum department's administrative director and an individual museum's curator. Proponents of the restructuring plan see the crucial difference between the two positions, noting that it may be too much to ask for someone trained in the practice of historic preservation and the sensibilities of local history also to be required to master the intricacies of line-item budgeting, personnel management, facilities, promotion, and other duties with which the museum directors have been saddled to date -- to say nothing of the political battles that have embroiled the museum community in recent years.

This is a worthwhile discussion to have, but it will take salesmanship on the part of those who would effect the change. Considering the ferocity of community passions tied to scrutiny of the people who run our museums, and their methods, the required level of persuasion on naming a single administrator likely will be difficult to achieve unless very specific reasons can be given.

Supporters of the change believe those reasons exist. There have been problems with the current museum setup, most notably in two of the three county museums.

It is entirely understandable that both the museums board and county commissioners are weary of these turmoils and doubtful whether another round of hirings under the current system would alleviate the problem. The one museum in the county system that the most free of strife has been the Riverton Museum, but now its longtime director has announced his coming retirement.

No wonder, then, that this is seen as an opportunity to make a systemic change in the way our museums are run.

"If not now, when?" is one confronting museum leadership. Questions of equal weight are "If not this, what?" and "If something else, why?"

County leaders, the deeply committed and passionate museum community of Fremont County is all ears.

Make your case.

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