Mayor Scrima wants Waukesha County Museum to consolidate with library

Published on: 9/19/2013

Mayor Jeff Scrima did not mince words when he offered his solution to what he calls “sinking leadership” at the Waukesha County Museum.

In an email sent to Waukesha County Board of Supervisors Thursday afternoon, he said the museum should consolidate into the Waukesha Public Library.

“We are saddened that for the last 10 years the leadership of the museum has failed to make the museum more financially independent,” Scrima said.

Waukesha County Museum CEO/President Kirsten Lee Villegas said she is also saddened.

But she's saddened by Scrima's scathing remarks.

“We are disappointed that once again we learned of Jeff Scrima’s opinions via email and only when his email was forwarded to us by a member of the media after the fact," Villegas said. "This pattern shows an unprofessional method of conducting critical city, county, and community planning. It is unusual that the museum has not been contacted about any of these thoughts or ideas.

"His inaccurate characterization of the museum and its leaders ignores the facts and is at odds with the museum’s run of successes and upward trajectory over the past several years, including the successful opening of the long-awaited Les Paul exhibit."

At the last Waukesha County Board meeting, Villegas delivered an emotional plea to the board to provide the same amount of funding – $300,000 – in 2014 as it did in previous years.

Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas will present his 2014 budget to the board of supervisors Tuesday night during its monthly meeting and funding the museum could be part of it.

Scrima calls leadership 'rudderless'

Scrima said the idea of collaborating with the library has been discussed with City Administrator Ed Henschel and Library Director Grant Lynch.

“We believe this is a viable solution and we would like to engage the county in laying out a plan,” Scrima said. “It ends up being a win-win for both the county and city through this solution.

"It saves the county board money, we’re able to keep our history afloat and enhance the award-winning library that we already have in the City of Waukesha and keep the museum and artifacts within the city."

Scrima took issue with results from studies the museum has conducted over the last couple of years to make it more of a 21st century regional attraction.

"Right now it appears the museum is rudderless as they hired consultants to do a study, which would move it out of the city next to the freeway," Scrima said. "They have no money to fund anything like that. We see this as a positive way to collaborate and keep our history in the city."

While relocating has been explored through these studies, Villegas has repeatedly said that no decision has been made on moving from its downtown location.

"We have no immediate plans to vacate that building," Villegas said last month.

Partnership to continue?

When asked why he calls the museum’s leadership sinking when Villegas has helped the museum conduct studies on making improvements, has been working on the museum being more self-sufficient and was instrumental in the Les Paul exhibit since taking over in 2008, Scrima referred to a contract when the Waukesha County Museum took ownership from the county in 2003.

The county signed papers in January 2003 to transfer ownership, but through a 10-year agreement, taxpayers still funded some of the museum's expenses.

"Those 10 years are up and they have not become more financially independent," he said.

Villegas, who wasn't with the museum at the time of the agreement, wants the partnership to continue.

"There was no language in the agreement that the purpose is for the Waukesha County Museum to be 100 percent self sufficient after 10 years," Villegas said, while adding during this period the museum added new revenue streams, has grown educational revenue and increased programs by applying for selective grants.

She said the partnership with the county is similar to a national model.

But Scrima said libraries around the country are collaborating more with museums.

“At this time, the world is changing," Scrima said. "Technology is changing, travel is rapidly changing and in order for museums to thrive, they have to be more flexible. It’s about bringing history to people in new ways.

"The most innovative libraries are now moving toward this type of hybridization model - becoming community centers of history, reading and culture.”

Library not looking to impose

Scrima said a space needs analysis was done at the library earlier this year. Lynch, however, said that study had nothing to do with the museum.

“With what we have available, we’re poised to renovate the current space and if another collaborative partnership is possible, we could consider expansion, but there are no plans to expand at this point,” Scrima said.

Lynch said the library is not looking to impose on the museum.

"We're here if the county board of supervisors asks us for assistance," Lynch said. "We're ready to assist the city or county in any way we can on any issue that may come up down the road, museum related or not."

He said the library only offered to be a solution as a way to preserve the artifacts if funding wasn't available for its current location and if the county thinks the library could help.

Villegas would like to work with many partners in a collaborative way and says the leadership at the museum is in good hands.

"The museum’s expert staff and experienced board have an exciting vision plan for the future, developed in conjunction with top industry professionals," Villegas said. "The plan allows for strategic collaboration with many community partners.

"We welcome representatives from the library and City of Waukesha to discuss how they may be able to collaborate with the county museum’s sophisticated and thoughtful future development plans."

Up to the county

If a consolidation were to happen, Scrima says the city would make sure the old courthouse building - a national historic site built in 1893 - where the museum is housed, would be filled.

He said interested parties have already been in contact with the city on that building, including a school and private developers. But because the city doesn’t own the building, talks have stalled.

When asked if he will continue to pursue the library idea, Scrima said “that decision is up to the county board. But how long does our county board want to fund an organization whose leadership is sinking? The County Board deserves to know, and discuss the possibility of, a solution that can and will save the taxpayers money and keep our history afloat.”

Lack of communication

Scrima said he has not talked about his idea of consolidation with Villegas.

“Because the response and the communication we’ve gotten from the museum leadership has been very poor,” Scrima said.

Villegas, however, said Scrima has not communicated well with her. 

"We hope that Scrima adopts a more collaborative, constructive and methodical approach for managing city government going forward and contacts the museum staff and board about his thoughts directly as we move forward in a positive direction for the community," she said.