Friday, October 18, 2013

Letter to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee

Joint Legislative Audit Committee: Senator Chester Crandell, Senator Judy Burges, Senator David Farnsworth, Senator Steve Gallardo, Senator Katie Hobbs, Senator Andy Biggs, Representative John Allen, Representative Paul Boyer, Representative Andrea Dalessandro, Representative Martin Quezada, Representative Kelly Townsend, Representative Andy Tobin

Arizona State Senate
Capitol Complex
1700 West Washington
Phoenix, AZ 85007-2890

Arizona House of Representatives
Capitol Complex
1700 West Washington
Phoenix, AZ 85007-2890

Subject: Arizona Historical Society Sunset Review

Dear Chairman Crandall and Committee Members,

The previous Performance Audit and Sunset Review Report for the Arizona Historical Society (AHS) was quite thorough and identified major problems within the society. The current report (number 13-13 dated September 2013) addresses procedural problems, but does not explore major problems. The AHS report is the last of the reports prepared in 2013, and there may not have been adequate time for the auditors to explore major issues. Before reauthorizing the AHS for another ten years, the Legislature should explore more serious problems not documented in the report. Only then can a proper allocation of public funds be made.

One major problem documented in the prior report is the Marley Center Museum.  The AHS failed to raise the funds for the history displays, and had to be bailed out with public funds (county and municipal). Given those funds, the AHS did build interactive displays in the Marley. However, over the years, they have not maintained those displays and few of them are operational today. As shown in the current audit report, the Marley (AKA History Museum at Papago Park) only attracted 6,867 visitors in 2012. Therefore, the state subsidy for this museum is hundreds of dollars per visitor. The funds shown in the AHS budget are only a fraction of the cost to taxpayers, because the AHS does not pay rent on the huge state owned building. A cocktail bar is a more prominently displayed (and apparently more frequently used) feature in the Marley than the history displays. Is the Marley really a serious history museum, or is it more of a taxpayer subsidized party house?

Another major AHS problem is the History Museum at Rio Nuevo (Tucson). The AHS spent over a million dollars of state funds on this museum. With those funds, they contracted for the design of a new museum so exorbitantly expensive that it will never be built. The AHS raised no funding for this project. The current report does not even address this issue. Surely such a waste of tax dollars should be investigated in a serious Sunset Review.

The current audit report does address the issue of the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum, but does not explore it critically. Whatever the failures of the 5C Arizona Centennial Commission may have been, the AHS had no right (legal or moral) to close the existing mineral museum. In response to a legal challenge over this closure, the Arizona Attorney General replied that the AHS would continue to operate the mineral museum in the existing building as required by state statute. They did not. As a result, they are depriving about 50,000 students per year of field trips that supported the state mandated earth science education curriculum. This loss to teachers and students should be an even greater concern than the significant monetary waste.

The current report presumes that the AHS would be more successful at raising private funds if a full time staff person were assigned that responsibility. A though Sunset Review should explore the validity of that assumption. Is the fundraising failure due to lack of effort, or does an unfavorable reputation hamper fundraising efforts? The hostile takeover and destruction of the once top rated mineral museum alienated a large portion of the community. What was the AHS reputation in the museum community prior to that ugly incident? A thorough Sunset Review should include a survey to evaluate the potential for community support. A peer evaluation by member of the Museum Association would also be very helpful.

Finally, a complete Sunset Review should examine redundancy with other government agencies. As shown by the current report, few people visit AHS museums. Therefore, the major value of the AHS appears to be as a facility to store and preserve historic documents. That function may be redundant to the Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records. Would their large new facility provide a more economical way of preserving historic documents than AHS libraries?

As defined in the Arizona statutes, the Sunset Review is a very good process. Please gather additional information for the AHS review to assure that the process is effective.

1 comment:

  1. I certainly hope the Legislators can do something. The AHS Director Ann Woosley and her Board of Directors seem to be completely inept.
    Woosley has already had a "fund raiser-development officer". She was also inept. The AHS can't seem to attract good fund raising staff. Wonder why? The Rio Nuevo failure also involved the spending by the City of Tucson of $230,000,000. Woosley's stake in this was about $1,400,000 for an East Coast exhibit designer. this has been the norm for the AHS. A prior museum director was involved in similar activities.
    As for the reduced attendance throughout the agency, this all has happened since the assist director Bill Ponder told a legislative committee when asked by them how much the AHS would make if they charged admission. Ponder pulled an answer out of the air (or somewhere else) that was wildly inaccurate. But how could he have known when he never walked around the facility? Same for Woosley. they had a complete ignorance of the facilities, programs and who were the visitors.
    The prime job of a museum director is to raise money and increase the image of the agency in the community. Woosley has done virtually no history lectures or public relations appearances in the community. Same problem, doesn't leave the office.