Greensboro City Council addresses Civil Rights Museum concerns

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Council members and the mayor of Greensboro are discussing the sustainability of the International Civil Rights Museum downtown Greensboro.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan tells FOX8 she believes the museum can survive, with added leadership to the museum board and fresh ideas to bring in more money.

At the ICRM board meeting Monday, Vaughan said they discussed reducing ticket prices, adding a cheaper self-guided tour option, putting pamphlets in hotels, and advertising at big events such as the ACC tournament and Swim and Dive Championships.

“In the past they hadn’t advertised on those things so they’re going to start doing that with a coupon to try to get people down here,” said the Mayor.

The discussion about how to bring in new revenue comes in the middle of frustrations with the city’s loan to the museum and audits that were handed over late to city staff.

In August of 2013, museum Co-founder Skip Alston resigned as Chairman of the Board. At the time, the museum was asking for a $1.5 million loan from the city to hire a new development administrator and create a new children’s program.

In September of 2013, Greensboro City Council approved the loan with a vote of 6-3, under conditions that the museum would provide audits for 2010, 2011 and 2012 finances.

In October, FOX8 learned George Clopton would sit in as Board Chair. That same month, the museum received $750,000 of the loan.

This month, council members say they were concerned and frustrated to find out the loan contract was never actually signed by museum officials.

In emails provided by the city, it was clear city employees knew the loan had not been signed. The city finance director pointed out the loan had not been signed, yet they were planning to cut a check to the museum. The city attorney wrote, “We are aware of the risks.”

Mayor Vaughan said while the actions were legal, she was bothered by the decision to give money to an organization before the contract was signed.

“To me it’s a concern and it’s a concern about the process the city had,” the mayor told FOX8. She said she intends to introduce a motion to council to suggest, “That we will not cut any checks to anybody without a signed contract. Not just for the civil rights museum but whatever other contracts we have out there.”

The ICRM also failed to provide audits to the city on time. Those audits have now been turned in.

The loan contract has also been signed.

“What the city staff said was that the audit was acceptable and that past audits were acceptable,” said Mayor Vaughan.

But acceptable does not mean profitable. According to the 2012 audit, the net income of the museum was negative $11.5 million.

Vaughan pointed out part of that loss included a change in the property value of the museum. According the audit summary, the museum was initially valued at $13,500,00. The real property value, according to the audit, was $8,759,006 less than that original figure. The “impairment loss on the real property value” is included in the $11.5 million negative net income.

Even so, the museum did not generate as much revenue or as many visitors as administrators hoped. The total revenue for 2012 was $1.2 million. Museum tours accounted for $372,011. Total support from the public (contributions, special events and a grant) accounted for $259,253.

Total expenses, including the property impairment loss, were $12,792,891.

Monday, George Clopton stepped down as board chairman. Deena Hayes will step into the role. Clopton told FOX8 Tuesday his decision had nothing to do with the controversy around the city loan or audits. He said his role was always intended to be temporary. He said he plans to focus more energy on his career at Ralph Lauren and intends to continue his involvement as a leader with the International Civil Rights Museum.

Mayor Vaughan emphasized the board’s desire to keep the museum alive. She said they have to find a way to support Greensboro’s investment and representation of the city’s role in the civil rights movement.

“We have to find a way to preserve that,” she said. “That is bigger than this discussion right now.”

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