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.


  1. Why would you want to meet the AHS Board president. he does not even get a chance to vote for such issues as the Rio Nuevo Museum development. .....that development cost the taxpayers $1,400,000. They got nothing. And he and his board never got to vote for the Centennial Museum and all of the other stupid forms that it took.
    Maybe the AHS Board President needs to have coffee with his pwn board and Dr. Ann Woosley. Lots of questions I would think.

  2. I don't think it will hurt for you to meet with the new AHS President--he did indicate that he knew AHS needed that AHS needed to make changes during a hearing on SB1200. I agree that the issues require legislative action and that the two of you cannot resolve them without such action. AHS is not going to get 2+million to remodel the MMM building into some fancy museum with a high dollar staff when the MMM could easily and cost-effectively use the building as they had, but under good scientific management.

    1. The only changes that AHS needs to make is to replace Dr. Ann Woosley and Bill Ponder. The sooner the Board President figures that out the better it will be.

    2. Those might be good starting changes, but this organization has years of changes needed to comply with consistently poor reviews. At present the board of directors is undergoing a serious change and the state is looking for people to be on a new board. A financial audit is forcing compliance with state rules, historically ignored by AHS. Programaticaly, AHS has been told more than once that their organization plan is awkward and expensive, and they need to be raising money to self-fund like other state agencies. The big change needed is to get AHS back to working on history, and listen to the overwhelming vote from the legislature to return the Mining and Mineral Museum to a scientific agency and give the empty building to them. I hope the new President wants to listen and the supporters of the MMM need to stick with the effort to get the problem solved legislatively and free themselves from any involvement with AHS, and the destruction of a great science museum.

    3. 'Arrogant" is a very mild word to describe AHS's closure and destruction of the MMM to honor our Centennial. The illegal and needless closing of the MMM has never been explained by the Board or key personnel of AHS. Other words that describe this agency are Self-Serving, Egotistical,
      and others that are less printable! Above all, they do not care about the effect of their actions on their victims--in this case the 40,000 science students and their teachers who used the MMM each year.