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.