Saturday, August 7, 2010

Will the Arizona Centennial Museum corrupt the political process?

When Governor Brewer announced the Arizona Centennial Museum in February, she promised that it would be built with “no public funds”. On the surface, this sounds like a good thing. Private support for public projects has been one of the truly wonderful byproducts of the American free enterprise system. The Carnegie libraries constructed in many American cities are a classic example.

However, key features of the many successful privately funded projects are that the donor had a vision for the project and the money was provided voluntarily. If politicians actively solicit funding for their own pet projects the political process can be quickly corrupted. The current scandal surrounding U.S. Representative Charles Wrangle is but one of many sad examples.

Because of the secrecy surrounding the Arizona Centennial Museum, it is difficult to determine its legitimacy. Did industry leaders approach State officials and propose the Arizona Centennial Museum? Or is someone in Arizona’s State government conducting a shakedown?

What is known is that, just over a year ago, the Arizona Centennial Museum was not included in centennial planning. There was no mention of it, and the Arizona Historical Society (now the designated manager of the centennial museum) was facing budget cuts that eliminated all state funding over five years. Apparently, planning began in secret meetings with the Arizona Historical Society, the Governors office, and persons unknown in the fall of 2009. When potential contractors began measuring and photographing the building (currently the mineral museum) employees and volunteers in the existing museum were threatened with a gag order.

Complete secrecy continued until the Governor made a presentation on the centennial museum in the mineral museum. Even then, only a small group of people were invited, and the gag order on mineral museum personnel was reiterated. The Governors office did issue a press release, but the Arizona Republic did not print it.

Arizonans deserve more complete disclosure on the planning of and the funding for the Arizona Centennial Museum. Who proposed this museum at this late stage in centennial project planning? Who participated in the secret meeting with the Governors office? Why were the meetings secret? Who, if anyone, expressed interest in providing funding? Do any potential contributors have an interest in current or pending legislation? Why were sole source contractors chosen?

The citizens of Arizona deserve answers to these and other questions. Clouds of suspicion will surround the Arizona Centennial Museum until the cloak of secrecy in which it was planned is removed. Although no evidence of wrongdoing has surfaced thus far, the secrecy raises suspicion.

Note: The Governors office did not respond to a request for copies of meeting minutes on Centennial Museum planning.

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