Audit could show Waukesha County Museum deficit of $250,000

Chris Kuhagen
Les Paul’s artifacts, including one of his vintage jackets, are on display in the Treasures’ Gallery inside the Les Paul Experience exhibit at the Waukesha County Museum. The exhibit cost $800,000, but Waukesha County Museum Board Chairman Tom Constable said the museum failed to raise enough money to cover its expenses.
Published on: 12/31/2013

Tom Constable maintains the same demeanor.

Better days are ahead for the Waukesha County Museum and it will come out of this tough financial period, the chairman of the Waukesha County Museum Board stresses.

But the museum continues to be stuck in a difficult time.

With results of an audit of its 2012-13 fiscal year (which ended June 30, 2013) to be released in the coming weeks, Constable said it will show that the costs of the Les Paul exhibit exceeded dollars raised.

Specifically, he said the museum only raised $700,000 of the $800,000 that the exhibit cost.

Constable said it wasn't a surprise that the museum didn't raise the full amount but he was "surprised" about the $100,000 difference. He expected the museum to only be about $15,000 short.

The long-awaited Les Paul exhibit opened this summer inside the museum, which is housed inside the old Waukesha County Courthouse. The exhibit honors the music icon, who was born and raised in Waukesha.

Another troubling result Constable said the audit could show is a $250,000 deficit in the museum's bottom line.

Constable said $40,000 of that amount is a write-off of merchandise that the museum purchased years ago that didn't sell.

Other expected results, Constable said, are several invoices not yet paid and some donor-restricted funds may have been used for other museum purposes. Constable said the audit is unacceptably late this year because the board's intention to rehire the auditors was not provided to them in a timely fashion by the previous administration.

Constable said "as these issues have been uncovered, the Waukesha County Museum has developed a number of financial checks and balances."

He said these include repaying the outstanding bills incrementally with the concurrence of the vendors; reducing expenses by laying off two of the museum's staff (it previously had five full-time staff members); establishing a new account to hold donor-restricted funds so these funds can never be co-mingled; having the finance committee create a financial policies and procedures manual; providing more project financial reporting to the board; re-clarifying that only the board can approve withdrawals from restricted funds; and the board has authorized the pursuit of claim against their directors and officers insurance to try to get back funding lost due to the misrepresentation of financial information.

"Again, the museum takes full responsibility for these issues and is addressing each as they become known," Constable said. "The board is confident the solutions put forward will prevent things like these from happening in the future."

After a challenging end to the year that saw the museum receive significantly less funding from the Waukesha County Board, Constable said he has just started the search into finding a new chief executive officer/president.

Former Waukesha County Executive Dan Finley has served as the interim chief executive officer/president since Kirsten Lee Villegas resigned last fall.

Constable said he hopes to have a new museum leader by the end of March.

"That date hasn't changed," Constable said. "I've just started the search as I didn't think it was appropriate before given the audit. We had to know what numbers we were looking at and get a plan in place before we started the search."

Regarding the deficit, Constable said "we are going to do everything in our power to keep this organization a viable one and we're going to be successful. We will overcome this drought."