One museums chiefSep 15, 2013 By Steven R. Peck
Now that the decision has been made, address the primary concern of those who feared it
Fremont County's museum department is going to have a single director instead of three. After a summer of discussion, county commissioners have made the decision.
It's a switch from the way things have been done for decades. It also appears to run counter to the general tilt of public opinion.
In opting to do it anyway, the commissioners are signaling how important they feel this change is. It is important enough, in other words, that it is worth taking some heat from constituents.
There is nothing wrong with that. Not every decision can be made based on an elected leader's view of public sentiment. Given their druthers, voters might like for the speed limits to be 25 miles per hour faster, or for the legal drinking age to be lower, or for there to be a law freezing the price of a cup of coffee at a nickel, or for cable TV to be free.
Public opinion is not always the be-all and end-all of policy, and no elected leader worth his or her oath of office tries to please everyone.
What the commissioners ought to do now, however, is remember why people spoke out against the single-director plan in the first place, then do their best to address the chief concern -- preserve the character and independence of the three county museums.
Paramount among the initial responsibilities of the new department head will be following through on a guarantee made by the commissioners during deliberations on the one-director concept, namely, that each of the county's three museums will have its own knowledgeable, professional, and locally attuned curator on site.
Ideally, in fact, it might well be best for the new Fremont County museums director to be a lesser-known person in each museum community than the local curator. Let the new chief be an administrator, while the local curators become the public faces of their respective museums -- the difference, for example, between a football team's coach and its general manager.
Moving to a single department head for museums represents a major change, and change generally has not been something the museum patrons of Fremont County have embraced through the years with much enthusiasm. That makes this first hire a very important one.
Repeatedly, citizens said they feared the personality and character of their museum would be eroded if a single administrator ran the whole show. And, also repeatedly, the commissioners vowed that the new chief would be a central administrator of the department, not a meddler in the details of exhibits and programs at the museums.
If that promise can be kept, and if the new director is seen as the one who keeps it, then the bet here is that much of the public's early criticism of the change will be neutralized.
Regular readers of the comments in this space have seen the following statement before: The best response to criticism is to do well. Hiring a competent new director of the museums department who, in turn, will keep local museum flavor and autonomy as a top priority, will fill that bill nicely.
If that objective is not met, then a passionate and vocal museums constituency will let the director, and the commissioners, know it -- loud and clear.