Museum in period of transition

Connie Nice

Connie Nice

After a tumultuous year, The History Museum of Hood River County is going through some more significant changes.

Museum Coordinator Connie Nice resigned her position earlier this month, which she said she had held for the past 15 years, over health reasons. She said her resignation was “not an easy decision,” and that it was “not made lightly,” either, but that she wanted to “wish the [museum] board the best.”

Nice’s resignation comes at a time when the governance structure of the museum is also changing. During a Hood River County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night, commissioners approved the signing of an addendum agreement that officially disbands the county’s museum board and allows the Hood River County Heritage Council to replace it.

Last year, the county formed an agreement that allowed the museum board to transition to a nonprofit that would divest county involvement in the handling of museum revenues and make it easier for the museum to accept charitable donations and perform other kinds of fundraising. The Heritage Council, comprised of similar members of the former board, is the new nonprofit entity.

However, issues arose last summer when the county shut down the museum for nearly a month while independent auditors examined the museum’s bookkeeping after the county became aware of some “administrative and operational anomalies,” according to Hood River County Administrator Dave Meriwether. It was later determined that museum board members had set up accounts that were not authorized by the county, but that all funds had been accounted for and that board members never made any “inappropriate expenditures,” according to an audit report.

The museum was reopened in early September, but was not allowed to charge admission, directly accept donations, or sell items out of its gift shop until the Heritage Council had received nonprofit status and the addendum to the agreement was signed.

Meriwether said the addendum to the agreement was needed in order “to clarify some things that needed to be addressed” in the original agreement. He confirmed that “the things that happened last summer pointed out some things that we needed to clear up.”

Mikel Diwan, county public works director who also oversees the museum, said the addendum included items that governed “procedural guidelines for county staff at the museum, storage of the artifacts, financial transactions at the museum, and insurance needs.”

Meriwether expected that county accounts pertaining to museum revenues and donations will likely be turned over to the Heritage Council by the end of the week. He added that the museum could begin collecting revenue from admissions and the gift shop again. Currently, the museum’s website notes that the museum’s admission is a “suggested donation of $5.”

Dottie Gilbertson, chair of the Heritage Council, said the museum has been losing money due to the county fiscal controls that have been placed on it since late last summer and is happy to move forward with the agreement.

“We have high hopes for the museum,” she said. “We are determined to make it a success.”

Gilbertson said she and other Heritage Council members are coming up with ways to raise money for the museum. Meanwhile, she reported that volunteers are stepping up to help run the museum in Nice’s absence.

The process for how Nice will be replaced, or what exact role that person will play has not been made apparent. The county is required to provide staffing for the museum, but Meriwether said he was not sure as to how Nice would be replaced or what the timeline might be. Gilbertson said a few ideas had been “batted around” with Diwan, but “nothing was set in stone.” Diwan was contacted Tuesday morning by the News, but had not responded as of press time.

Gilbertson said she hoped the county decided to keep the position of museum coordinator the same and find the appropriate person to fill it.

“We need someone who knows how to operate a museum,” she said, “because that is what they’re going to be doing.”

“There’s a tremendous amount of things that Connie [Nice] did to make it an up-to-date, modern museum,” Gilbertson added. “We’re sad that she’s gone, but we understand.”

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