Saturday, June 5, 2010

What's Happening to the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum

On February 12, 2010 Governor Brewer entered the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum with members of the Arizona Centennial Commission and presented a “repurposing” of the mineral museum building. Using large sketches prepared by Gallagher & Associates, she explained her plan for a 5C Centennial Museum to be constructed in the same building. The 5Cs represent cattle, citrus, climate, copper, and cotton. The sketches showed exterior and interior views of the building. There was no visible trace of any of the existing displays, mining equipment, or artifacts presently in or around the museum. During a following question period, the mineral museum staff was told that the large outdoor displays (head frame, locomotive, stamp mill, etc.) would be “relocated”. However, no alternate location was identified. A mineral museum contractor subsequently estimated it would cost $250,000 to move these displays.

The Governors office purported that the change would be a budget reduction as well as a part of the centennial celebration. The mineral museum reportedly could not support the rent for the building. She claimed that increased revenue from the Centennial Museum would make it self supporting, and that “no public funds” would be used to build the new museum. However, within days, a subsequent statement from the Governors office contradicted that. That statement said the State would continue to pay the rent on the building, and the money would simply be transferred to the Arizona Historical Society budget. Furthermore, the rent budget would be increased “as necessary” because the plans included a substantial increase of the floor space in the building.

The rent argument is further discredited by what actually happens to rent money on State buildings. The rent on the mineral museum building is $525,000 per year, and it is paid to the Department of Administration which effectively acts as the landlord for state owned buildings. However, the mineral museum was purchased over 20 years ago for $170,000 and there has never been and is not a lien on it. About one million dollars was then spent on renovation, but that was not financed either. At this time, the only real cost to the State is for utilities, limited maintenance, insurance, and janitorial service. Routine maintenance has been performed by mineral museum volunteers. So where does most of the $525,000 go? It goes into a fund controlled by a joint legislative committee and is spent on whatever they choose. Lacking transparency, it is probably pork.

In truth, the mineral museum is largely self supporting. Except for the curator, all labor is provided by volunteers or is paid for by proceeds from the gift shop and lapidary shop. Even the curators’ salary is largely offset by admissions. Therefore, the only real costs to the state are a portion of the curators’ salary and the actual cost of providing the facility. The total true annual cost to the taxpayers is probably less than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars per year for utilities, limited maintenance, insurance, and janitorial service.

For that, the taxpayers get a top rated and internationally recognized mining and mineral museum. The museum is on at least ten lists of top ten museums in Phoenix and Arizona. This museum draws visitors to Phoenix, and undoubtedly brings more money into the Arizona economy that the State spends on subsidizing it. Many international visitors come to the mineral museum after attending the annual world class Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. Fifty six thousand people visited the mineral museum in 2009. About twenty five thousand were students on school tours and they have free admission. However, if just one third of the remaining thirty thousand paying visitors spend just $25 in Arizona, then the museum brings as much money into the Arizona economy as the State spends subsidizing it. Since the average out of town visitor undoubtedly spends much more that $25, the mineral museum has an obvious economic benefit.

However, the economic benefit is the least of the benefits provided to Arizona. The mineral museum also maintains a large and irreplaceable scientific mineral collection, and it operates an extensive K-12 earth science education program.

Visitors to the mineral museum see several thousand specimens on display. The complete collection includes over twenty thousand specimens. Many were collected over a hundred years ago, and have both historic and scientific value. Some came from ore bodies that no longer exist, and are irreplaceable. Mining engineers, geologists, and mineralogists use the collection for research and reference. There is also a huge collection of documents supporting the specimen collection. The specimens, supported by the data, are a priceless scientific treasurer.

The K-12 earth science education program is also vital to Arizona. State education standards specify requirements for earth science education, a topic in which most K-12 teachers have little or no training. The mineral museum provides training and materials to help teachers meet the state mandated standards. Teachers also bring over 25,000 students a year to the museum for a structured field trip which includes a classroom introduction and guided tour groups. Furthermore, the mineral museum conducts an outreach program that sends instructors to classrooms outside of Maricopa County.

Absolutely refusing to recognize any value in the existing mineral museum, the Governor pressed forward relentlessly to use the building for her pet project. Attempting to quell any opposition, she placed the entire museum staff, including volunteers, under a gag order. Then, she began pushing a bill to revise Arizona Revised Statutes 27.102B which authorized the Department of Mines and Mineral Resources to establish and maintain a mineral collection and to operate the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum. She wanted the Arizona Historical Society to manage her 5C Centennial Museum, and for some inexplicable reason she believed that required revising the statutes to transfer Arizona’s mineral collection to the historical society. Representative Russell Jones of Yuma and Senator John Nelson of Glendale helped the Governor implement this poorly conceived change to the Arizona statutes.

They first tried to sneak an amendment through on House Bill 2617. The basic bill modified water quality standards. Museum supporters managed to find this amendment, and organized opposition to the bill. Following contentious meetings with lobbyists and members of the Governors staff, the amendment was removed from the bill.

Next, the Governors staff and supporting legislators pushed House Bill 2251. This was originally a bill involving firefighters. The original bill died in House committee. The bill was then stripped of its initial content, and the desired changes to the mineral museum statute were inserted. This trick avoided both a House hearing and a House Committee vote. Even though the only thing in the bill that was still the same was the number, house rules allowed it to go to the Senate without a second House hearing.

The Senate did conduct a public hearing on the reincarnated bill, and mineral museum supporters again organized opposition. Over a dozen museum supporters spoke in opposition to the bill. The committee however, was not interested in facts. It became apparent the members had already decided how they would vote before the nuisance of a public hearing. The vote was 4 to 3 for the bill, with Senator John Nelson casting the deciding vote. While organized opposition to the bill did not influence the vote, it did embarrass the Senate committee. They in fact complained about the calls, emails, and letters they were getting.

Therefore, they offered mineral museum supporters an opportunity to negotiate an amendment to the bill. In subsequent meetings, three concessions were agreed on and added to the bill. First, the name of the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum would be retained as an entity within the 5C Centennial Museum. Second, the outdoor mining artifacts would be retained, and, third, the K-12 earth science education programs would be retained and supported. Unfortunately, a strong recommendation to clearly require appropriate scientific credentials for the curator was not clearly worded in the bill.

Subsequently, the bill was approved by both the full House and Senate, but not without further mischief. The final bill makes the Director of the Department of Mines and Mineral Resources report directly to the Governor rather than to the Board of Governors. A technical state agency is thus politicized, and the door is wide open for future political mischief. The ambiguously worded bill may also remove the lapidary shop from the museum, thereby eliminating a source of funding for the K-12 education programs.

The bill will become law on July 29, 2010, and it remains to be seen what will actually happen to the mineral collection and mining artifacts. During the Governors February presentation on the 5C Centennial Museum, she stated that each of the 5Cs would have 20% of the floor space. Subsequent information posted on the ADMMR website states that many other Arizona products will also be included. Specifically, computers, space research, and renewable energy resources are mentioned. The space remaining for minerals, mining artifacts, and earth science education is undetermined, but appears to be shrinking. A promised meeting with stakeholders to establish a floor plan was never scheduled.

While struggling to save as much as possible of the mineral museum, thought should be given to a permanent solution. Although Arizona is a major mining state, the political establishment has had no interest in recognizing that since houses became Arizona’s main cash crop. As shown by repeated housing busts, mining is a more stable part of the economy than construction. Nevertheless, State support for the mineral museum has been dwindling continuously, and state funding has been very limited even during good economies. Even as community support for the museum grew, state government showed little interest or recognition and, there have been previous attempts to eliminate the entire state portion of the mineral museum budget. To adequately and reliably continue the mission of the mineral museum far into the future, there needs to be a private mineral museum.

Fortunately, over fifty years ago, a group of individuals recognized that Arizonans most valuable and historic mineral specimens were not safe in the hands of politicians. Therefore, the best specimens currently in the mineral museum are not state property. They belong to the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum Foundation, a private 501 3(c) organization. The Foundations’ superb mineral collection provides and excellent opportunity to begin a private mineral museum. What is needed is a facility to house it. That is the easy part. A coordinated group of mineral museum supporters could raise funds for a private facility.

Unfortunately, priceless mining artifacts, a huge scientific mineral collection, and a large amount of related documentation are in the hands of the State. When House Bill 2251 becomes law, these items will be dispersed. The bill is a complete mess. It divides the mineral collection in some way, but exactly how is not clear. Some mineral specimens will be placed in the hands of non technical historical society personnel and will be at risk. Others will remain with whatever remains of the Department of Mines and Mineral Resources. Even worse, at least some specimens will be separated from supporting documentation. Mining artifacts may be transferred to the historical society, or may revert to donors who placed them at the mineral museum with restrictions.

Reestablishing the integrity of the state owned mineral collection and preserving it along with related documentation requires removing the key players behind House Bill 2251 from office and repealing the bill. Stakeholders interested in preserving Arizona’s scientific mineral collection face a formidable challenge.
However, all three of the key individuals causing so mach damage are up for reelection in 2010. They are Governor Brewer, Senator Nelson, and Representative Jones.

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