Friday, September 4, 2015

Guest Post

To:    Richard Zimmermann, Mineral Museum Madness Blog
I have followed your blog since it began, and have to compliment you on your tenacious research on the Arizona Historical Society and its total disservice to our state over the botched Centennial mess.   At this point you obviously understand AHS better than they do, and despite the new President of the Board attempting to defend and explain their actions, we still don’t have the truth.  Your recent focus on the funding redundancy in favor of AZ History in our state is well taken and a legislative fix is long overdue. 
As an educator, I am amazed at the hopeless imbalance in state funding for AZ history vs. science education for our students.   The state of AZ funds the state history archives and the excellent history museum at the state capitol.  This costs about $8 million a year.  As you have outlined, the state also pours $3+ million into the AHS, plus the millions embedded in the Department of Administration which manages state buildings, including all of the ones assigned to AHS. If you can get accurate statistics from the state, the amount spent on history is very high.  As an educator I am not against history, but when AZ ranks at the bottom of the states in education, we have to be realistic—AZ history is not on any national tests for our students.  Compare this to the amount of funding our state gives state agencies for science education.  The only state science agency that I found is the AZ Geological Survey, and they get only about 10% of their budget ($915,000), the rest they fund themselves.   Science is a big problem area for AZ educationally, and it is on national tests.  AZ had one Earth Science Museum (the popular Mining and Mineral Museum) which occupied one state building dedicated by the legislature as its permanent home and had only one state paid employee (the curator). This group funded all other positions by itself.  This successful scientific effort was given to the non-scientific AHS and was shut down to celebrate the Centennial.  The building is empty and our governor vetoed the mineral museum restoration bill (SB1200) that passed almost unanimously in both houses of the legislature—AHS appears to want the building for a reception center for lobbyists.  WE HAVE TO GET OUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT IN ARIZONA IF WE EXPECT TO COMPETE EDUCATIONALLY.

I want to urge you and all those who supported the legislators who want the MMM reinstated under true scientific management to go back and try again.  Your case is too strong to let politics and lobbyists rob our students.  Since the state is now requiring students to pass a civics test, perhaps AHS could redirect its educational efforts to helping schools in this area, and let science to the scientists.

I prefer to remain anonymous, as educational funding is a hot issue and districts and institutions have had some backlash.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Historical Society struggling with recent history

On August 7th, the Scottsdale Independent printed a letter from Leonard Marcisz, Board President of the Arizona Historical Society.  It challenged a letter I submitted previously that was critical of the AHS.  Unfortunately, the rebuttal provided by the AHS is based on many faulty claims.

First, the AHS budget was not cut in half since 2011. In 2011, the AHS budget included funding for a huge mortgage payments on the Tempe AHS facility. In subsequent years, those funds were buried in the Department of Administration (DOA) budget. The cost to taxpayers had not been reduced, even though the visible part of the AHS budget has been reduced. Many other building related costs are also buried in the ADOA budget. The annual appropriations report only shows a fraction of what the AHS costs taxpayers.

The AHS does have over 20 state owned buildings, as claimed. However, ADOA records show that the buildings are at only 9 different locations. One is a rotting pile of lumber in the Bradshaw Mountains, and another is an old schoolhouse in Strawberry, AZ. The old outhouse behind the school is also counted as one of the buildings.  The AHS website currently features only 7 (formerly 6) museums located in Tucson (4 each), Tempe, Flagstaff, and Yuma. The AHS rebuttal confused “buildings” with “museums”. The ADOA records also show a “building renewal” expense of about $900,000 per year for the $208,000 square feet of state owned property occupied by the AHS. That, along with other building maintenance and operating costs, is another hidden cost in the sense that is not shown in AHS appropriations. It is buried the ADOA budget.

The claim that it is the unique mission of the AHS to preserve the people’s history while the State Library preserves government history is also not correct.  The State Library collections include private manuscripts. There is redundancy, with duplicate management structures, at taxpayer’s expense.

For FY2014, Legislature records show that the AHS reported a total of only 22,747 visitors for all of it history museums.  What is the AHS claim of 70,000 museum visitors based on?  Does it include people attending weddings and other private parties? The claim of efficiency being reflected by a cost of 46 cents per resident is meaningless since few residents are served by the AHS. A more meaningful measure is the cost per user, that that is hundreds of dollars. The limited services provided by the AHS do not justify the enormous visible and hidden costs.

The AHS says that the assertion of arrogance was “unsupported”, even though reports demonstrating it were cited.  What should we call a state agency that refuses to comply with statutes and policies that apply to it? The blog Mineral Museum Madness has been reporting further evidence of AHS arrogance (or whatever) for the past 5 years.

Finally, President Marcisz proposes a one on one meeting to discuss these issues.  We can do that, but it is unlikely to resolve anything. Legislative action is probably required to curb the wasteful culture of the AHS. The AHS was initially established as a social club, and, in many ways, that is what is today. Unfortunately, it is costing taxpayers many millions of dollars that could be put to much better use.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

High priced history

The text below was distributed to media contacts across Arizona.  Some of the first to publish it included the following:

Reasonable people would not object to using some public resources to preserve history.  However, reasonable people would expect that all such public funds be used effectively and efficiently.  In the case of one Arizona state agency, that is not happening.

The Arizona Historical Society is a state agency that receives a cash allocation of over three million dollars every year.  That, however, is only a portion of the annual cost to taxpayers, who also pay to maintain six state history museum buildings in Tucson, Tempe, Flagstaff and Yuma. Those costs are hidden since they are not included in the AHS budget. The building costs are buried in the budget for the Arizona Department of Administration which manages and maintains all state owned buildings. The mortgage payment alone on the 80,000 square foot Tempe facility is $1.3 million per year. Therefore, the annual cost of maintaining the half dozen AHS facilities is easily more than the $3 million in cash.

 So, what do taxpayers get in return for the five to ten million dollars that the AHS consumes each year?  Not much.  Total attendance at all six history museums was less than 23,000 last year, and attendance has been declining rapidly for the past ten years.  Apparently, each museum visitor costs taxpayers hundreds of dollars.

The AHS does archive documents as well as operate State history museums. However, that function is redundant to the mission of the Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records. That state agency also operates a museum at the State Capitol.  Therefore, taxpayers are supporting the overhead for two state agencies that do basically the same thing.

The AHS, with approximately 40 employees, is a top heavy organization with some six figure and near six figure salaries. The director is paid more than the Governor.  The AHS museum in Tempe is especially wasteful.  It has ten state employees, a huge mortgage payment, and received less than 3,400 visitors last year.  That museum in particular has a history of incompetence and inefficiency.  It has received media ridicule with articles such as “The Museum that Couldn’t Think Straight” by Terry Greene Sterling in 1996. 

In addition to being wasteful, the AHS is a rather arrogant state agency. As public records show, it has never had a satisfactory performance review because it refuses to comply with State policies.  State Agencies are reviewed by the Office of the Arizona Auditor General.  The Auditor’s records show that deficiencies identified by past audits and reviews have never been corrected.

Arizona deserves better. The AHS needs to be combined with another, better managed, state agency. It’s redundant management structure and most wasteful museums need to be eliminated.  Taxpayers deserve better performance for the funding they provide to preserve Arizona history.