Government
3:27 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

Union Station And Kansas City Museum, Parting Ways?

The Kansas City Museum’s house director Christopher Leitch was fired on Monday. Details have not been released because it’s considered a confidential HR matter. But rumors have circulated that this signals the potential closing of the museum and layoffs.

"That is unequivocally false," says Joy Torchia, director of strategic marketing. "Union Station remains committed to the conservation of the substantial collection in our custody. We’ll continue to carry out the city’s objectives for Corinthian Hall under our long-term contract with the city."

The city is expected to release an official statement. Mayor Sly James has "called for calmness and thoughtful process," according to a city staffer, who spoke on background.

An audit in progress

Union Station Kansas City, Inc. currently has a contract with the city of Kansas City, Missouri to manage the Kansas City Museum. The most recent contract dates from 2007 and "continues until termination."

In January 2013, the Kansas City City Council passed a resolution directing the city auditor to audit Union Station’s management of the museum. The audit was expected to review the scope of the city contract, the management of the museum's collection, and the use and allocation of the Mil levy, among other things. In 2012, the Mil levy, the museum tax levy, generated $1,463,765 in revenue.

According to the resolution, a preliminary report was expected to be delivered to the Finance, Governance and Ethics Committee within 60 days - in March - with a proposed scope statement, and proposed timeline for the audit.

So – what happened to the audit?

"It’s an iterative process," says City Auditor Douglas Jones. He’s new to this job - his first day was June 29 - but he’s worked for the city since 1994. "We are still doing planning work; we are working on developing a scope statement."

According to Jones, a scope statement is expected to be on the Finance Committee’s agenda in late July or early August. At that time, a timeline for completion of the audit will be announced.

Planning a possible future, apart

In the fall 2012, the museum’s advisory board was given approval by City Manager Troy Schulte to organize as a 501(c)(3), to be called the Kansas City Museum Foundation. This status is pending. Councilwoman Jan Marcason, who serves on the board, told the Northeast News in January that  "turning the museum into a 501(c)(3) non-profit would allow the museum to pursue additional funding avenues and possibly raise more funds for the museum."

Members of the board have also met with the city manager to discuss severing the city’s museum management contract with Union Station.

A draft of the Kansas City Museum Business Plan, dated July 7, recommends "optimal operating structure including migration from the current Union Station management contract."  The plan, which draws on previous strategic and interpretive plans, suggests the museum’s ties to Union Station should be cut because the relationship:

Impacts accreditation:

  • "prevents the Museum from achieving Accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums, an essential credibility standard."

Impacts fundraising:

  • "Union Station’s historic financial instability generated questions from funders who wanted assurance funding would be allocated to KCM."
  • "At times, KCM was ineligible for funding applications because an institution had already given to Union Station and couldn’t write a check to the institution again event for a different use."
  • "When Jackson County awarded KCM a $15,000 program grant in 2009, Union Station redirected those funds to support Science City Summer Camp."

George Guastello, CEO of Union Station, was not available for comment on this story.