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Councilman wants review of A&H’s operations

A Maitland City Councilman questioned Art and History Museums Maitland's management.

A Maitland City Councilman questioned Art and History Museums Maitland's management.

Sarah Wilson

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A Maitland City Council member is calling into question the management of one of the city’s cultural partners.

On Monday, Councilman Phil Bonus told City Council that he has some managerial and financial concerns about the operation of Art & History Museums — Maitland (A&H).

“I brought this item to the agenda to express concerns that I have with the direction MAHA (Maitland Art and History Association — its former name) has been headed,” Bonus said. “… My view is that with a half a million dollar investment on the part of the city, we deserve the right to talk about it.”

To start these talks, Council proposed holding a workshop soon with the directors of A&H — which is funded partially by a $425,000 cash contribution by the city — and the Council to discuss the ups and downs of their partnership so far, and how it can be improved in the future.

“I don’t see this as a controversial issue, but as an informational one,” Councilwoman Linda Frosch said.

Bonus discussion

Bonus cited a high volume of staffing and leadership changes in the last year, as well as A&H’s budget, as two of his six main concerns, which he listed during the Jan. 23 meeting.

Bonus said he decided to raise his issues now, as A&H approaches the 6-month mark of its initial lease agreement with the city, so that a dialogue can be opened between the two before the lease automatically renews for 51 years on Oct. 1.

“I think we all feel that we are doing the best that we can in many ways,” Bonus said, “but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do better, and that doesn’t mean that over time we don’t need correction or redirection in various ways. This dialogue is important on many levels.”

The Council agreed that an open workshop, addressing Bonus’ concerns as well as any additional ones presented by other Council members, citizens or the directors of A&H — who were not in attendance at the meeting — would be the most beneficial next step. They’ll pick a date for the workshop at their Monday, Feb. 13, meeting.

“This is the time to look at this from both sides,” Frosch said. “We’re heading into a potential long-term marriage with this.”

Hearing from A&H

Though not in attendance at the meeting, Executive Director and CEO Andrea Bailey Cox, and the president of the executive board of the A&H, Bill Taulbee, said they look forward to continuing an open and transparent flow of communication with the city.

“As a cultural partner, we make sure we have a lot of communication with the city,” Taulbee said. “We want to make sure the communication is always there.”

Taulbee said the past year and half has been a largely transitional phase for A&H, after Maitland Art Association and Historical Society merged in May 2010. Initially the merger resulted in a 31-person advisory board, which he along with city advisors felt was unmanageably large.

“That was not a workable board,” he said. “We decided as a board to reduce the members to a number of 15 to 20 through attrition.”

With board members terms expiring, and others deciding to leave for personal reasons, he said the Maitland Arts Council currently stands at 16 members. “Our board has gone through its attrition naturally,” he said.

Taulbee and Cox said they think workshops between the City Council and A&H directors will help them discuss and clarify changes like the board staffing for the future.

“We think the more communication the better,” Cox said, “and we look forward to the workshop.”

Mayor Howard Schieferdecker said he too looks forward to scheduling workshops in the coming months. He said he is proud of all the work that has been done with A&H, and hopes upcoming meetings will help smooth out the future success of its cultural partnership with the city.

“It’s a wonderful organization and is really a treasured cultural partner for us,” he said.