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    Funding for museum still up in the air

    Safety Harbor's new budget doesn't mention the history museum. Museum officials say they need financial help, but the city wants to see audit results.

    By LEON M. TUCKER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 11, 2002


    SAFETY HARBOR -- When city commissioners signed off on the coming year's budget without mentioning the Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History, museum officials began to worry.

    Simply put, museum officials say, if the city does not come through with financial help, the museum will have to close.

    Commissioners, meanwhile, say nothing was set aside because they are awaiting an audit of museum spending as well as a recommendation from a task force formed this summer to determine whether the city should help with a bailout.

    "We're very concerned that the city is not going to fund us," said Mark Hildebrand, president of the museum's board of trustees. "The mayor said there were no funds put into the budget and that if the city decided to fund the museum, it will come out of reserves. I don't know what to say about that."

    Roughly $5.5-million is expected to be in the city's reserve fund next year.

    The museum task force was born out of infighting among museum officials this summer that resulted in six people's leaving the organization -- including the dismissal of Carol Bryant, the board's former president, and the resignation of Betty Quibell, the museum's former director.

    In addition to publicizing personality conflicts among board members, the rift revealed that the museum was in financial straits. At a July budget workshop, museum officials asked city commissioners for $40,000 -- roughly 40 percent of the museum's budget.

    Concerned about the possibility that funds were misused, the city postposed the request and called for an audit of the museum's funds.

    "The commission hasn't approved that allocation," said City Manager Wayne Logan. "That doesn't mean the door is closed. Once the commission feels comfortable they can revisit the issue and decide it wants to do something, we can make that happen."

    The task force has met four times and has yet to specifically address financial issues concerning the museum as it waits for the results of the audit. However, it has been involved in hiring a new executive director.

    As the museum board and the task force search for a new director, the board has made other moves. In the past couple of weeks, the board made Amanda Edenfield, the museum's assistant director, its interim director, hired an assistant director and appointed three new board members.

    At the Sept. 5 task force meeting, Mayor Pam Corbino voiced concern about the new board appointments and said she had hoped applications would have been accepted to ensure that "new blood" would serve on the board.

    "I certainly am concerned that funds may be withheld again because the task force thinks they will be able to name board members and make decisions on the staffing." said Hildebrand. "For the life of me, I can't see why the task force would think that being able to select membership and staffing is a correct thing for them to be doing."

    Corbino did not return repeated phone messages left at her home and work.

    Roughly 6,000 visitors came to the museum at 329 Bayshore Blvd. S last year to see artifacts and exhibits on the native Tocobago tribe that once populated the area. Pottery, arrowheads and other tools also are on display, as well exhibits on some of the city's pioneers and local families.

    -- Leon M. Tucker can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or tucker@sptimes.com.

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