Museum Advisory Board Asks City To Reinstate Director | KCUR

Museum Advisory Board Asks City To Reinstate Director

Jul 22, 2013

The Kansas City Museum is housed at Corinthian Hall in the city's historic northeast. The mansion was built by lumber baron R.A. Long in 1908; it opened as a museum in 1940.
Credit Scutter / Creative Commons

The Kansas City Museum Advisory Board has formally approved the business plan calling for the city to break Kansas City Museum's ties with Union Station Kansas City.

The mayor-appointed advisory group, charged with advising on the renovation and use of Corinthian Hall and providing support for the museum, is also asking for the reinstatement of Christopher Leitch. On July 8, Leitch, the on-site house director, was fired by George Guastello, president and CEO of Union Station.

The Kansas City Museum Association (KCMA) merged with Union Station over a decade ago, soon after the opening of Science City. In 2007, a new 20-year contract for Union Station to manage the city-owned museum was approved; this includes an option for a 10-year extension. That same year, the museum lost its professional accreditation; a reason cited was Union Station's financial challenges. But, since that time, the organization has cut expenses, expanded leases, and, in the last three years, finished in the black.

KCUR has learned that on July 18, the advisory board submitted a "white paper" to Kansas City Mayor Sly James, City Manager Troy Schulte and Assistant City Attorney Joe Guarino with suggestions for next steps on the path to severing the contract with Union Station. According to the advisory board, the contract prevents the museum from fundraising freely, gaining accreditation, and taking control of finances and governance.

The advisory board’s next steps – to be enacted in a 10-day period - call for re-hiring Christopher Leitch as executive director. In this capacity, according to the "white paper," Leitch would oversee the museum's severance from Union Station. Another suggestion includes drafting a new contract between the city and the Kansas City Museum Foundation. This foundation, a newly created 501(c)3, would become the new managing entity.

R. Crosby Kemper III, director of the Kansas City Public Library, serves on the Union Station board of directors. Kemper said in an e-mail that the museum contract had not been discussed in board meetings he's attended.

"The Station is an earned revenue operation and Museums—maybe especially history museums-- tend not to be primarily so," Kemper said. "The City—in both the civic and the governmental sense—needs to have a vision for both institutions. That vision should not be based on personalities or short term economic concerns."

The Mayor's office has directed questions on this issue to the City Manager's office, but he was out of town. City Council members contacted for this story were also not available for comment.

To date, Christopher Leitch has not commented about efforts to reinstate his position at the Kansas City Museum.