News Column

Museum reopens amid upheaval

August 11, 2014

By Christian Hill, The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.



Aug. 11--SPRINGFIELD -- The Springfield Museum is open again after a nearly two-week closure following its board's decision to fire the small nonprofit organization's two paid employees.

The board closed the museum on July 25 following its termination of full-time executive director Jim Cupples and part-time exhibit coordinator Tina Casebeer. The museum, staffed by board members, reopened Aug. 6 and will maintain regular hours.

Christine Stole, the president of the board, and secretary Carol Houde declined to discuss why the board fired the employees or why it closed the museum.

"We want everything on the museum to be on a positive note," Stole said.

Board member Jeff Thompson characterized the firings as a "personnel decision" but declined to elaborate. He said the museum temporarily closed because there was no staff to run it.

Board members said they are recruiting a new executive director and are committed to keeping open the museum, which has struggled financially.

"We all remain committed to having a really good museum there," Thompson said. "We are all looking to the future and finding ways to make it just as fun and just as accessible."

Cupples, who was hired in October 2012, said in an interview that Stole fired him after learning that he had announced at a board retreat last month that he planned to resign Sept. 1 to pursue his new project, called Ballot Path, an online project to encourage more people to run for elected office. Ballot Path is slated to launch later this month.

Cupples said Stole had earlier been receptive to his proposal to reduce his hours and increase Casebeer's as the Ballot Path project took more of his time.

Stole wasn't at the retreat and wasn't happy to learn of Cupples' pending resignation, he said, leading to a meeting and his firing.

Cupples also acknowledged he had slipped up on his management duties as Ballot Path took more of his time. Some bills and other matters had gone unattended, he acknowledged, although he said it wasn't a situation in which the museum faced immediate closure.

"There were mistakes made all around," he said.

Cupples said that aside from the past several weeks, he had a great time running the museum, and he wished the organization well.

Casebeer, who did volunteer work at the museum for six months before Cupples hired her in December, said she was let go after bringing this unattended business to the board's attention. Casebeer said she was told she "wasn't a real employee" because the board hadn't approved her hiring, although Cupples notified the board in his reports of her hiring earlier.

The museum is housed in the restored Western States Power and Electric building on Main Street in downtown Springfield. It opened in 1981.

For the past decade, the city had contracted with the nonprofit organization to run the museum and maintain its collection of artifacts. The museum also has volunteers and interns.

The city pays the organization $45,000 a year to manage the museum. The museum also receives grants, other donations, member dues and exhibit sponsorships.

The museum has been operating at an annual deficit. The museum ran deficits of more than $26,600 and $8,400 in the 2010 and 2011 tax years, according to the most recent financial filings with the Internal Revenue Service available online. The museum brought in $57,670 in revenue during the 2011 tax year but still operated at a loss overal.

Cupples said he knowingly ran deficits in an effort to attract more visitors. He made admission to the museum free immediately after he took the helm and expanded its hours last year in an effort to attract more visitors.

A nine-member board oversees the museum. Two of the seats are vacant. Stole is the most senior board member, with all others appointed in April 2013 or afterward.

City spokesman Niel Laudati said the museum notified officials of the temporary closure. He called the museum a "tremendous asset" and said the board did what it thought was best.

"If they had to take some time to review everything, it was probably time well spent," Laudati said.

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(c)2014 The Register-Guard (Eugene, Ore.)

Visit The Register-Guard (Eugene, Ore.) at www.registerguard.com

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Source: Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)


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