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.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

AHS Rebuttal

The following links are for the AHS rebuttal to the prior post. A future post will identify the many errors in the rebuttal.

The Scottsdale Independent recently ran an opinion piece by Dick Zimmerman that was critical of the Arizona Historical Society. The principal assertion of the piece is that the Arizona Historical Society is inefficient and arrogant.

That opinion appears to be based on inaccurate and incomplete information — here are the facts.
Mr.  Zimmerman notes that AHS receives an appropriation of $3 million annually, but he neglects to mention that this budget has been cut nearly in half since 2011 (when it was $5.7 million). This “cost to taxpayers” is not “hidden,” all appropriations are publicly available on the state of Arizona website.

Mr. Zimmerman further asserts that the AHS executive director is paid more than the governor. While that is true, context is important: There are 690 state employees who are paid more than the governor. Astute readers of the Scottsdale Independent will know that it is common for conservatively run state, county and local governments to provide professional staff salaries that are higher than those of elected officials.

In his piece, Mr. Zimmerman asks, “what do taxpayers get in return?”

The answer is, “a lot.”

Since the Arizona Historical Society was established by the first territorial legislature in 1864, our charge has been to collect, preserve and publish the history of this great state. Not the government’s history — the people’s history. We save and share the stories of Arizona’s urban and rural communities, cultures, organizations, large industries, small businesses, families, and individuals.
We provide access to those stories via exhibits and archives at 21 buildings — not six as claimed by Mr. Zimmerman — we manage at four major locations across the state.
Last fiscal year we served 20,000 patrons and researchers at our archives and libraries and 70,000 visitors at our museums. 1,620 students, teachers and parents participated in our National History Day program this year. We do all that with a staff of 44 very dedicated historians and other professionals (down from 80 in 2002).  These services are delivered at the lowest per capita appropriated expense of any historical society in the West and Midwest — 46 cents per resident, as compared to 56 cents in Oregon and $4.99 in Colorado.
We leave it to readers of the Scottsdale Independent to judge whether this is efficient. As to the unsupported assertion that AHS is “arrogant,” we can only extend a welcoming hand to Mr. Zimmerman.

As the society’s president, I invite Mr. Zimmerman to contact me through the Arizona Historical Society at Dick, let’s chat over coffee.  I’m hopeful that our mutual dedication to Arizona history will lead to a more constructive relationship in the future.

Editor’s note: Mr. Marcisz is president of the Arizona Historical Society Board of Director

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.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Triple dipping

The prior post reported details on the absurd AHS claim that it would cost $2.1 million to reopen the mineral museum. In addition to that, the AHS asked for $294,500 per year to operate the reopened museum.  The first level breakdown of those costs is as follows:

Basic Mineral Museum Annual AHS Operating Costs
Tour Add on Program                $5,000
Community Events                    $3,000
One Day Workshop                   $5,000
Webinars                                    $2,000
Educator Nights                         $2,000
Traveling Exhibits                   $30,000
Virtual Exhibits                       $15,000
Education Curator (staff)         $56,000
Collections Management
Internships                                 $8,000
Online Database Renewal         $1,500
General Operating Supplies     $20,000
Collections Curator (staff)       $63,000
Museums Director (staff)         $84,000
Total                                       $294.500

Note that the above costs do not include the building rent.

The former mineral museum was far more successful than any existing AHS museum. Why does the AHS think they would have to triple the management staff to reopen it (director, collection curator, and education curator)?

The total cost for operating the former mineral museum was the salary for the curator (only one) and the use of the historic, state owned building. So, the AHS, which has never produced a museum anywhere nearly as successful as the former mineral museum, wants about 6 times the operational funding the mineral museum received previously to reopen it.

Is waste on this extreme scale typical of all existing AHS facilities?