Lewis County museum to reopen amid cash probe
The cash-strapped Lewis County Historical Museum has taken steps to reopen to the public, but it will have to do so with an entirely volunteer staff.
The museum’s board of directors voted unanimously during a meeting Friday evening to indefinitely lay off full-time executive director Debbie Knapp, part-time curator Sylvia Livermore and part-time bookkeeper Aileen Carlson – who had earlier this week resigned her position as the board’s treasurer – citing financial difficulties and a current inability to pay any of the employees.
Julie Zander, serving as the board secretary, volunteered to help staff the museum through the month of December once the museum reopens to the public.
“I think it’s the right thing to do and the conservative thing to do, and it shows we mean business,” board member Edna Fund said.
The Lewis County Historical Museum has just more than $2,000 in its primary bank account, with no money left from an endowment fund that contained $460,000 at the beginning of 2008. The museum needs to pay more than $13,000 worth of bills, many of which are late, and is looking “at all options,” board president John Panesko said.
Panesko noted the Chehalis Police Department’s investigation into the museum’s financial records continues and the board stands ready to aid authorities if needed. Panesko also said the investigation was far enough along that the emergency measure of locking everyone out of the museum is no longer necessary.
The board plans to reopen the museum to the public Dec. 2, in time for that evening’s book-signing event with various authors. The museum’s tentative hours have been set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday.
Treasurer Daryl Lund reported he had met with Security State Bank President Dwayne Aberle, who offered to loan $15,000 to the museum – which the board would try to pay back as soon as possible – to cover the outstanding bills. The board moved to seek $20,000, regardless of interest.Money apportioned to the museum from Lewis County, the city of Chehalis and city of Centralia had all been utilized for fiscal year 2011.
Panesko appointed a finance committee to review future transactions.
“I know this is different, but it’s going to be bare bones for a while until we can get everything sorted out,” Panesko said after the meeting.