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Matheny proposes city control of Civil Rights Museum

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GREENSBORO, NC -- District Three Councilman Zack Matheny believes the City of Greensboro may do a better job of running the International Civil Rights Center & Museum than the Museum's current board.

Matheny brought up the idea Thursday, a week after the Museum formally requested $1.5 million from the City to help it continue to operate.

"My first reaction was here we go again. What are they going to use the money for?" Matheny said.

According to Museum co-founder and board chairman Melvin "Skip" Alston, the money is for a full-time development professional, someone whose job it would be to do nothing but raise money for the Museum using private and public sources.

"If we had a full-time development person that knew how to write grants, that knew how to go out and raise funds for the museum, we wouldn't have a problem at all," Alston said.

Alston said the Museum had gone through three development administrators in its brief history.

"But they didn't work out. We've been swinging and missing," Alston said,

Alston said the money from the City, which could also be used to pay for an audit (they Museum hasn't had one in more than two years) and as a "safety net," would be a one-time investment from the City that would pay for itself once the development administrator successfully raised money.

Matheny doesn't see it as a one-time thing, pointing out that the City of Greensboro gave the Museum $975,000 in Federal money obtained through community block grants when it opened on February 1, 2010, the 50th anniversary of the sit-in at the lunch counter of FW Woolworth's.

At-large City Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter said that money was to be used to help bring school children to the museum.

Abuzuaiter hadn't decided Thursday if the city should give the Museum the money it requests, attempt to take it over, or simply do nothing. She had questions about transparency.

"I think that's my problem is I don't have a clear picture of what the money is needed for," Abuzuaiter said. "The city would have to have control of how that money is spent."

That's a question Matheny asked, as well.

"Typically when somebody asks the City for money, we say 'What are you doing and what are you going to do?' At this point it's not been an open discussion," Matheny said.

Alston admitted the Museum is losing between $25,000 and $30,000 a month.

"It's not as much as it could have been," Alston said. He also said his books are open to the City and its council members.

"There's nothing in our financial records that anybody can see as far as any mismanagement, any type of fraud, any type of funds that's been going to anybody," Alston said.

Furthermore, Alston believes it's fair to ask for the money, as the International Civil Rights Center and Museum is a huge draw for Greensboro, bringing in 65,000 to 75,000 visitors a year.

"The other money we got was federal money. It was block grants. This would be the first, actual, taxpayer money we'd be getting from the City of Greensboro," Alston said.

Abuzuaiter referred to the Museum as "a jewel" for the city and Matheny agrees it's has to be kept open because it's such a big part of African-American, All-American and world history.

"You gotta say well hold on a minute. What's the best way to create a sustainable civil rights museum and run it in the best possible way?"

Alston and Matheny will be able to discuss the answer to that question at a public meeting Monday.