Friday, April 25, 2014
A BROADER LOOK AT THE ARIZONA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
The following is a guest post by an anonymous individual concerned about the future of the AHS.
I know this blog is specifically dedicated to the issues surrounding the unfortunate closure of the Mining and Mineral Museum. But the issues with this agency and their mode of operation are more far reaching than that. I am choosing to remain anonymous so the focus remains primarily on issues, and on people only as it relates to the accuracy or inaccuracy of what they said. I love history and am concerned that recent events at the legislature put the taxpayer funded AHS back in the negative limelight. My goal is to encourage the AHS to look at itself critically, and take action to establish credibility and transparency.
AHS was in the news again this week, but not because of the high standards they displayed on their recent Sunset Review. The issues, unfortunately, were the same ones that were detected in earlier reviews. By this time AHS should be sailing through Sunset Reviews with almost no needed changes, like other agencies (AZ Geological Survey) who set and meet high standards. AHS’s mode of operation is to promise to change, but then use political pressure and connections to change the dialogue to “we’re being attacked and history is important” if their performance is legitimately questioned. They are enabled by weak legislators who pour money into the agency and then resort to weakening, or even rendering useless, the Sunset Review process which is about ACCOUNTABILITY. AHS, with its poor record, was able to sneak in another 10 year approval, but it really is meaningless, as it only creates an illusion of competency, while diminishing the importance of getting a good review for the other agencies. This is not where AHS needs to be—the 10 years gotten by political maneuvering does nothing to protect from future funding cuts. Worse than that, any potential big donor should, and in all probability will, check AHS out and, if they read AHS Sunset Reviews and recent publicity, will keep their money!
Next, AHS must have a Board that closely supervises the high-paid administrative staff; all major projects must be approved and show in your minutes with transparency. As an agency using taxpayer money, AHS cannot afford to pile up failed expensive projects and the negative publicity that goes with them. Things like the failed Rio Nuevo project and then bringing an expensive east-coast designer up to Phoenix for another unrealistic, and also failed, centennial project do not help AHS. But when AHS destroyed history for the centennial, they got the bad publicity they deserved. The next potentially negative fiasco looming is the AHS/Driggs $10 million project that uses the Polly Rosenbaum building for something she would not like. The Board needs to look at this closely and make sure it can and will succeed. Of major concern should be the “48 Women” really agreeing with what a small group appears to want to do. Have all 48 women agreed to even be involved? One has informally indicated that is not true! AHS needs to distinguish between needs and wants. Failure on “pie in the sky” exciting wants is hurting AHS. Do the citizens of AZ need or even want a “Community Center” that will obviously mostly be for the state government people because of location? What makes AHS think anyone will use it, except for the elite? AHS needs to get behind projects that meet real needs and get positive publicity.
Future state funding for AHS will diminish, and you were asked to start moving to self-funding years ago, along with other agencies that have already lost their funding. And it has nothing to do with liking or not liking AZ history.
I don’t expect you to like what I just said, but advise you to really think about it and do something to get AHS into a positive rather than controversial position. I wish your agency the best. I’m using this blog because I know AHS follows it (inside information from within AHS) and I have run an agency using state money and know the necessity of high standards and consistently good reviews.