Museum association saves the day for assistant director

Joshua Sebold
Staff Writer

    The Plumas County Museum Association likely saved the assistant museum director position at a Tuesday, June 15, county budget meeting, when its board of trustees offered to cover the position’s salary for the upcoming fiscal year.

    The idea began to percolate when Museum Director Scott Lawson told the county supervisors in the morning budget session that the association might be willing to pay for the service and supply area of his budget, around $20,000  


Lawson explained there weren’t many places left in his budget where cuts could be made and he would be the only person left in his department if the assistant position was eliminated.

    Quincy supervisor and former county museum employee Lori Simpson advocated to her fellow board members to restore the position to the county general fund budget, possibly by taking funds from tourism and economic development contributions.

    The board helps fund Plumas Arts, the various chambers of commerce, the county fair and Plumas Corporation, which includes the visitors bureau.

    Simpson said the museum did a lot more work than the public was aware of and volunteer workers were helpful but couldn’t be depended on to do everything.

    Eastern Plumas Supervisor Terry Swofford commented that he heard most museums were run by volunteers these days.

    He added that multiple historical groups in Portola were run by volunteers.

    Lawson responded that his department helped a lot of those volunteer groups with trainings and other forms of assistance.

    Graeagle and East Quincy Supervisor Ole Olsen indicated that he thought the museum was very worthwhile and leaving it with only one employee would force it to close when that worker was sick or took vacation.

    He agreed that volunteers were great but argued that he wanted paid staff to oversee fiscal matters.

    “This is a difficult situation,” he admitted before adding, “If any way possible, I’d like to see it stay.”

    Near the end of the morning budget discussion, Simpson quipped, “good thing I ran for supervisor or I wouldn’t have a job,” to raucous bittersweet laughter from the audience.

    Indian Valley and Feather River Canyon Supervisor Robert Meacher said his dilemma was that he was impressed by the museum association’s ability to get letters of support sent in to the BOS, but none of the envelopes were filled with money or suggestions as to what should be cut instead of the museum position.

    He added that the public complained about cuts but wasn’t willing to raise revenues with taxes.

    BOS Chairwoman and Chester Supervisor Sherrie Thrall added that the association was one of the few groups that might have deep enough coffers to fund a county position.

     Lawson said the association was currently picking up the tab for the department’s phone bills.    In the afternoon session, former county supervisor Don Clark spoke during a public comment opportunity, representing the   museum association board of trustees.

    He said eliminating this assistant director position would represent the loss of two-thirds of the department’s staff in one year.

    Addressing the individual who was currently in that position, he added, “We think we’ve hired the person that is the long-term answer for the museum.”

    “We feel if we lose him it’s gonna be very difficult to find somebody of his caliber to replace him sometime in the future.”

    Meacher asked if the association had enough funds to offset a significant amount of the department’s costs in the upcoming fiscal year.

    Clark said the board of trustees was currently discussing that possibility, but cautioned the supervisors, “This is a very new concept.”

    Apparently, the board’s affinity for the current assistant director quickly overcame any fears of a brave new world of employment through fundraising, as Clark returned about an hour later and told the supervisors the association was willing to cover the base salary for the position.

    Clark said there had been at least two employees at the museum for 42 years and the association would pony up $34,000 to keep that streak alive.

    Essentially, this meant the association would cover the base salary for the position, hoping the county would match it with $24,000 for the assistant’s benefits.

    Lawson said the foundation would send in funds before every paycheck or quarterly, whatever worked for the county.

    He said the foundation, had around $50,000 to its name, with some of those funds restricted because of its non-profit status, but it would take on a fundraising effort and use the current funds to give the county some guarantee the money would come in.

    Later in the day, the supervisors discussed their options.

    At this point they had touched on various budget topics throughout the general fund but hadn’t found a source to fund the$24,000 in benefits.   

Thrall came back to a previous idea that the museum and a county tourism department being housed together would solve some staffing issues.

    She indicated the problem with the idea was that several members of the public had voiced strong opposition to replacing the visitors bureau with a county tourism department. If the county made that move instead of funding the assistant museum director position, “it wouldn’t save the young man that everyone thinks so highly of.”

    Meacher suggested that the county could use some funds from a $75,000 account the board created for public requests in the area of tourism and economic development, arguing that the museum position was in that category.

    “If we say that that’s a community priority,” Thrall commented, referencing the fact that the budget committee suggested the county come up with a system of determining what projects should get funded out of that account.

    “If we say that that’s a community priority, obviously we’ve heard through 500 letters and e-mails that it’s a community priority,” Meacher responded.

    Later, after the supervisors had agreed to keep funding the visitors bureau instead of replacing it with a county department, Meacher suggested that the museum and visitors bureau could still work together and cross train even if they weren’t housed at the same place.

    Suzi Brakken, who runs the visitors bureau, agreed that would make sense and even suggested that when the museum had a staffing conflict her group could operate out of the museum building so that it wouldn’t have to close on those days.

    The board agreed in concept to take the $24,000 out of the tourism account and work on a formal agreement with the museum association to fund the assistant director position.

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