• Letter of intent is in the writing: Public/private partnership for Museum is imminent

    By Marge Jameson

    The City of Pacific Grove is one step closer to forming a partnership with a private foundation to lease the building, collection and grounds of the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History to the foundation, while the City would retain responsibility for maintenance and insurance of all facilities and the collection. It will be a public/private partnership. A letter of intent, non-binding on either party, was authorized by the City Council at a special meeting on April 29. The foundation operation would begin on July 1, 2009 under the principles of the letter, and would continue for 15 years. There would be ongoing reviews, likely every three to five years, to “ensure both parties are providing identified, quantifiable deliverables.” Either party could terminate the potential agreement at the time of review.
    Judd Perry of the Museum Board pointed out that this is “just the beginning of the process.” Having met with members of the public in a special meeting on April 21, Perry is sensitive to the objections of some of them. For example, he says, there were questions about “who the people are” who form the foundation, where they live, who they work for, and what they are going to get out of the foundation. “No one gets anything out of it but keeping the museum going,” he said. Short resumes of the members to date were presented at the city council meeting, which prompted positive comments from Mayor Dan Cort and Councilmembers Bill Kampe and Lisa Bennett as to the caliber and qualifications of the foundation members.
    Tama Olver, recently of the Monterey County Grand Jury and a volunteer at the Museum and at the Aquarium, spoke about a sense of urgency, given that grant funds would likely have been used up in the next 60 days.
    But that sense of urgency was exactly what bothered some other members of the public who spoke. Bob Pacelli, also impressed by the foundation members’ skills sets, said that he felt the “potential is here, but we need to take more time.” Esther Trosow expressed concerns about Brown Act (public information) issues as well as money issues, and wanted to know what the rush was. She called for a town hall type of meeting, as did David Dilworth.
    Money was also on the mind of Sue Renz who asked where the money was going to come from for hiring staff. Dan Miller was quite firm in saying that he wanted an accounting of all the money and wanted to know how much money the foundation members were bringing to the table. He also, in so many words, accused the Monterey Bay Aquarium of trying to take over the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History.
    John Pierce and David Schonman of the Museum Board both disagreed with Miller, saying that the Packard Foundation (vis a vis the Aquarium) has no designs on the museum. “Don’t get bogged down in minutae,” said Schonman. “This is only a letter of intent,” said Frank Penner, head of Museum volunteers. Penner said the volunteers are in favor of the letter of intent.
    Pat Hergott, a Sanctuary volunteer, said she agreed with the letter of intent for the most part, but wanted to see the foundation’s bylaws and to know if there was a buy-in or not for foundation members.
    That question of transparency may become a sticking point as there is no requirement for the private foundation to make certain information available. But Lisa Bennett pointed out that it is available through the Secretary of State and so, to show good faith, the foundation might consider making it available to the public more easily.
    Vickie Stilwell was impressed with the letter of intent, saying “the Museum has done a great job. I hope the library can do as well.”
    Deborah Lindsay agreed that the letter of intent needed to be signed so that the foundation and city staff could go forward with a feasibility study.
    Saying that she had always supported the plan that had been presented by the interim Museum Manager, Bob Snyder, Carmelita Garcia said she had too many budget questions to support both the letter of intent and the attachment, which listed some of the potential points of an agreement.
    Alan Cohen, too, said he felt that they were too far apart in the negotiation starting points for him to be able to support a letter of intent. Both Garcia and Cohen voted against it, while the others voted to direct Interim City Manager Charlene Wiseman to proceed with the letter of intent.
    Key Principles of the Letter of Intent
    The foundation’s responsibilities would exclude the Butterfly Sanctuary and the Point Pinos Lighthouse, although the Foundation would recruit, train and coordinate volunteers for the Sanctuary and the Lighthouse.
    The Museum will continue to be free and open to the public for a similar number of hours as in current operations.
    The Foundation would plan, design and implement all exhibits and programs and would receive all operating donations. It would also “lead the effort” to maintain the Museum’s accreditation by the American Association of Museums.
    Accreditation is vital, say officials, to obtaining program grants which will allow the Museum to continue to function. The Foundation would also seek to develop a permanent endowment fund which would support Museum operations.
    The Foundation would become the employer of all Museum employees as of July 1, 2009 and any employment contracts with the City would be terminated then.
    The Foundation would have the right and obligation to pay for non-structural improvements “
    associated with the operation of the Museum.”
    Although the city will license the name “Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History” to the foundation, the foundation may establish its own branding, including logo design and more, which would revert to the City upon completion or termination of the Agreement. The foundation may also “name” any portion of the Museum, including the back yard, rooms, portions of rooms, exhibits and portions of exhibits, and to receive contributions for the naming. The Foundation may also be allowed to control the external appearance to the extent of painting and signage.
    The City would continue to provide annual financial assistance for operation and maintenance of the Museum at the approximate level provided in the 2008/2009 fiscal year budget, which was $151,542.
    With that budget, which represents at 52 percent reduction from previous years, the Museum could only support one full-time staff position – The Museum Manager — and other basic costs, but both City and Museum officials were aware that a reduced budget like that was not enough to operate the Museum with sustained hours and services.
    The City had approved the concept of the formation of a foundation in June, 2008, as the then-Interim Museum Manager, Bob Snyder recommended. Snyder had been hired as Interim Museum Manager with funds from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, which enabled the City to keep the Museum open with the addition of volunteer docents from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, also part of the Packard Foundation. Snyder’s recommendations came as a result of the formation of a Mission Statement and Strategic Goals for the Museum on which he worked as Interim Manager.
    The Packard Foundation gave a $230,703 grant to the Museum with which to implement the strategic goals. That grant, which will be exhausted by summer, 2009 also funds additional staff including a Volunteer/Education Program coordinator, a curator and an administrative assistant. In her report to the City, Interim City Manager Charlene Wiseman stated that “without an external source of funding. . .the Museum will be unable to continue regular hours of operation open to the public.”

    posted to Cedar Street Times on April 30, 2009

    Topics: Current Edition, Front PG News, Uncategorized

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