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December 17, 2014

Anniston officials discuss reorganizing museum boards

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  • Elephant exhibit

    On exhibit since 1977 at the Anniston Museum of Natural History, this mounted elephant was fashioned from the actual hide of an animal killed in Africa in 1974. (Anniston Star photo by Steven Gross)

Posted: Monday, August 18, 2014 11:52 pm | Updated: 5:30 pm, Fri Oct 31, 2014.

Anniston officials could soon reorganize the city museums' boards to improve their effectiveness and ensure local government stays out of their daily operations and money.

During its Monday work session, the Anniston City Council discussed changing the board structure for the Anniston Museum of Natural History, the Berman Museum of World History and the Longleaf Botanical Gardens. Officials say the alterations will make board oversight of the facilities more efficient and representative of the area and still keep operational control out of city government hands.

City Manager Brian Johnson said the council could potentially vote on the ordinance for the museum changes as early as its upcoming Monday meeting.

Currently, the museums and Botanical Gardens are overseen by the city-appointed 11-member Anniston Museum Complex Board. The Berman has a separate board that focuses on preserving that museum's private collection.

The ordinance will create nine-member boards for each of the three facilities, with members appointed by the council. Those boards will then appoint two of their members to the overall Museum Complex Board. Berman's existing board will remain intact, but will be separate from the council-appointed board. Each museum director will have a non-voting membership on each board.

"This way things will be more efficient and there will be better representation," Johnson said. "Previously, some facilities were left out of complex board decisions because their volunteers weren't on that board."

Johnson said the smaller boards will be responsible for guiding their facilities’ operations and exhibits.

"They would also, without city involvement, be able to sell memberships and fundraise, and they get to decide individually how to spend that money," Johnson said. "They'd get to control their own destiny."

Meanwhile, the complex board will make decisions that apply to all the facilities and also have the ability to fundraise for all the facilities and sell memberships.

The director of Museum Complex Board will oversee city money provided to the museums. The city provides money to the museums annually for basic operations.

Mayor Vaughn Stewart said he wants to make sure city government stays out of trying to control the museums.

"The Anniston museum was birthed in the private community and we want to keep as much of it as we can out of City Hall," Stewart said. "That stimulates innovation."

The board additions are the latest changes since the city took control of the museums and put them in a new city department in March at the request of the Complex Board. The director of the Complex Board answers directly to Johnson.

The board made the request to help improve the facilities' operations and clarify the legality of certain aspects of the museums' functions. The museums were set up years ago as city-owned nonprofit groups, which led to some confusion with regard to purchasing and other aspects of daily operations.

Councilman Jay Jenkins said it would be a good idea for each council member to appoint as many museum volunteers to the new boards as possible.

"These previous boards have been in operation for several years by very dedicated people and the botanical garden has had a very active committee," Jenkins said. "Let's be cognizant of that as we move forward."

Johnson said he supported Jenkins' suggestion.

"I cannot stress enough that the museum complex as a whole is at a very sensitive time ... we need to look to facilitate volunteers," Johnson said. "If ever there was a time to close your eyes and rubber stamp names, now would be the time."

Once the boards are appointed, each will have to establish bylaws. Johnson said that once that is complete, he will start searching for a new museum director. Interim director David Ford has managed the museums since Director Cheryl Bragg resigned in March.

"After the boards appoint their two members to the complex board, they'll provide the final recommendations for director, and then I will make the hire," Johnson said.

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