Loudoun supervisors at their final business meeting of their term approved a motion to save the foundering Loudoun Museum—barely.
According to a county staff report, the museum has told the county that without action, the museum would likely begin a formal dissolution process. The next Board of Supervisors will likely assume a great deal of control over the museum in exchange for the county’s financial assistance.
The museum has come to the board for help before, and conditions that were supposed to improve have not. The museum now plans to hire a development manager to establish a new plan. Under the motion by supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), the board will establish an executive oversight committee to provide assistance and guidance in hiring the development manager. Upon ratification of a memorandum of understanding with the museum—which could give broad oversight to the board of supervisors—the board will allocate $42,500 to the museum in FY16 and direct the county staff to earmark $156,000 for the museum in the FY17 proposed budget.
“The current museum is set up to fail,” Letourneau said, describing the new agreement as a way for the county to implement a path for the museum to succeed on its own. The finance committee chairman said he is “prepared to walk away” if the museum does not agree to the county’s terms.
“The MOU will be tough, and it will be on the county’s terms that this money gets delivered,” Letourneau said, but added he is confident that with proper leadership, the museum can attract more community support.
“I hope, if this were to pass and go forward, that the next board will be very tough in the MOU, and if there is no agreement between both bodies, then I hope that we can work to ensure that we are able to save the artifacts,” County Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) said.
“If we are going to invest this kind of money, I believe that it should be such that it moves to, say, the county administrator or the board of supervisors to appoint a board of directors for the Loudoun Museum, and that we authorize the county administrator or his designee to hire the executive director, to hire the development manager, and those people report to the county administrator,” said Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian).
Some supervisors were ready to let the museum die, and even take on the expense of saving some artifacts.
“It’s really problematic to be putting the Board of Supervisors, when it has so many other things to do, to be signing an MOU like this,” said Supervisor Kenneth D. Reid (R-Leesburg), adding that museum board chairman Elizabeth Whiting has been “very, very effective through the years of getting money out of the town of Leesburg and this county to keep this thing going on.”
Reid also opposed public funding for the museum as a member of the Leesburg Town Council, before being elected to the county board. The museum is housed in town-owned buildings.
“People are not going to museums like this anymore,” Reid said. “They’re not.”
Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said it’s important to preserve the county’s history but “I also feel like it’s Groundhog Day. This is the fourth year in a row that I’ve sat here and listened to these request for funding from the museum.”
Buona said he would not support the MOU unless the county appointed the museum’s board of trustees. The current board, he said, was not raising enough money for the museum.
“If fourteen people can only raise $10,500, that is the wrong board altogether,” Buona said. He also challenged Supervisor Geary M. Higgins’ (R-Catoctin) right to vote on the matter, as Higgins is a member of the museum’s board.
“Mr. Buona knows full well that there is no conflict of interest for me to sit on a volunteer board of a Loudoun Museum that was getting money from the county before I was on the board and will probably get money from the county or someplace else after,” Higgins retorted. He also attacked Reid’s comments: “Mr. Reid’s been trying to kill the museum for I think eight years, maybe more. Today’s just his most recent opportunity to do just that.”
Higgins said the museum’s funding was cut drastically years ago, and the museum is still reeling, “choked down” to one part-time staff member from five or six.
The Loudoun Museum’s website lists only two staff members: curator and collections manager Alana Blumenthal and visitor services museum associate Patricia Rogers.
“There are jurisdictions in this country, there are other municipalities, that invest in museums,” said Supervisor Janet S. Clarke (R-Blue Ridge). “They don’t expect volunteer boards to do that, and we have tremendous heritage and history here.”
The motion passed 5-4. Reid, Volpe, Buona, and supervisor James Bonfils (R-Broad Run) voted against.