New commission could run state museum

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The Indiana State Museum could become a quasi-public agency, according to a plan that interim CEO Tom King will promote to the Indiana General Assembly.

King said Monday that Sen. Jim Merritt has agreed to sponsor legislation in the coming session that calls for creating a new commission, similar to those that run White River State Park and the Indiana State Fair. King hopes that, with more streamlined governance, the struggling, state-supported museum will be more successful in raising private donations and keeping CEOs.

The museum has had six different CEOs in the past decade.

"I think it’ll make a huge difference in the way the museum operates," King said. "There’s nobody over here that really is in charge."

King said he plans to stay on the job until the new commission is in place and can begin the search for a new director.

The museum's odd governance structure has been blamed for high turnover in the CEO's post and lackluster fundraising. A private foundation that supports the museum hires the CEO, but the rest of the staff works for the Department of Natural Resources.

The CEO also works with a 13-member board of trustees, which advises the DNR. Gov. Mitch Daniels recruited King, a former president of the Eli Lilly and Co. Foundation, out of semi-retirement to tackle the museum's lingering problems.

King was appointed in January after CEO Barry Dressel abruptly resigned in late 2009. Dressel had been the fifth CEO at the museum since 2000.

Under King's plan, the foundation board and trustees would be replaced with a single 25-member commission. The governor would appoint 13 members, who would appoint the remaining 12. No more than five members could reside in a single county. The commission's officers also would sit on the board of the foundation, which would become a subsidiary corporation.

All museum employees would work for the commission while retaining full state-employee benefits, King said. The new structure also would apply to state historic sites, which the museum operates. 

King already has recruited members to the foundation board with the understanding that they'll be appointed to the new commission, which could be in place by July 1. The recruits so far are Alan Rebar, vice president of research at Purdue University; John Bry, executive director of the Noble County Visitors Bureau; and three people who were involved with the museum's move to White River State park—former Indiana first lady Judy O'Bannon, Susan Williams and Judy Singleton.

State funding for the museum, $5.96 million in the 2009 fiscal year, has fallen 21.5 percent since 2007. King said he hopes the state will keep its support level while the new commission brings in more private donations.

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