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Accept, not adopt: Whats next for museums?
Working group suggested to go through task force recommendations
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The Platteville Common Council voted Aug. 13 to accept the report of the city’s Museum Task Force.

The difference between “accept” — for which the council voted 5–2 — and “adopt” — the item as originally listed on the meeting’s agenda — is the difference between the council’s vote and what will follow.

District 3 Ald. Barb Daus suggested the council set up a working group to go through the task force report with recommendations to go to the Common Council for approval, saying it was “premature” to adopt all the task force’s recommendations.

Daus’ suggestion ended a contentious discussion featuring at-large Ald. Patrice Steiner, the council representative on the Museum Task Force, and Eric Fatzinger, president of the Jamison Museum Association, who was briefly on the task force before he left due to disagreement about the goals of the task force.

Steiner and at-large Ald. Dick Bonin voted against accepting the report.

The task force was created to determine how to end the $250,000 in annual city funding for the Rollo Jamison Museum and Platteville Mining Museum, though the task force was only able to figure out how to reduce annual city funding to $100,000.

“To make no changes was never an option the task force had,” said Steiner, adding it’s “truly sad that our fire department has to beg us for equipment while the museum spends $43,000 on limited term employees” to cover the museum’s summer hours. Steiner also noted the decrease in state shared revenue, on which city finances are more dependent than cities of similar population.

Fatzinger noted the museum’s existence today is a result of more than 70 percent of Platteville residents approving city funds’ being used on the museum.

“If we want to shutter the museum, this is a good pathway to do that,” he said.

The task force report proposes converting the museum into a 501(c)3 organization, the Greater Platteville Historical Society, to which would be assigned the Rollo Jamison Trust Agreement. The society would be run by the combined Jamison Museum and Mining Museum boards, and museum employees would become historical society employees. The society would lease the museum buildings from the city for $1 per year.

The task force proposes cutting annual city funding from $250,000 in 2013 and 2014 gradually to $100,000 by 2019 and after that, through grant funding — possibly from the U.S.’ 200 active mining companies — and a 1 percent increase in the city room tax.

The room tax idea got the attention of Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Kathy Kopp, who said the idea “as far as I’m aware hasn’t been discussed outside the task force.” Kopp asked the council to postpone adoption “so we can have a chance to have further discussion.”

Steiner called the room tax increase “an idea the task force put down; these are ideas for the council to approve,” adding that council preapproval of proposals would be “too many cooks stirring the pot.”

The chamber’s Platteville promotion responsibilities include the museums, Kopp said.

Reducing city funding was proposed by City Manager Larry Bierke as part of the first draft of the city’s 2013 budget. After that was removed from the budget, Bierke formed a task force on how to wind down annual city funding.

The task force came up with two sets of recommendations in addition to converting to a nonprofit. The report proposes establishing a timeline for implementing changes in staffing, hours of operation, exhibits and special events. The report proposes staffing summer hours with volunteers instead of spending $43,170 on limited-term employees, along with closing five months during the winter, saving the costs of three full-time employees. The report also proposes asking the Jamison Museum Association’s 120 volunteers to donate three hours per week to help operate the museum.

“The brass tacks of what the council’s talking about is money,” said task force member John Miller. “I do not believe the taxpayers will vote for $250,000 a year to support the museum.”

Miller said under the agreement the city has with the museum, the museum can discontinue being the trustee of the Rollo Jamison trust, and “the museum would not exist, and they couldn’t have any money.”

The report also proposes pursuing “other funding options,” including asking UW–Platteville and its Southwest Wisconsin Room for archival assistance, the 400 UWP alumni with mining degrees, and UWP’s Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement for assistance.

Miller said of the 18 other Wisconsin museums the task force examined, none are completely financed by a municipality, and the top two receive just 50 percent municipal funding.

“I feel what is needed at the museum is new goals, a new vision, and a new brighter outlook,” said Miller.

Frank Evans, 150 Rountree Ave., spoke in favor of a council vote to “accept,” instead of to “adopt,” the report, saying, “I don’t think most of the people in Platteville have a clue of what’s going on.”