Christmas isn’t that far away, kids so you know who is watching everything you do, checking deeds and transgressions, right? Not Jesus, the guy with the white beard … and red cap.
Have we been on our best behavior? Well, if playing nicely with others and sharing toys is a part of the Jolly Old Elf’s assessment to the degree it used to be, then there are local politicos getting plenty of coal and switches based on their museum involvement alone.
The History Museum of Mobile has embodied the seasonal mood by becoming the latest political football at the heart of self-absorbed maneuvering and transparent power plays. It culminated with resignations a month ago.
When three members of the museum’s board of directors left in a huff following the board’s insistence on hiring their own attorney to look into finances and stand up against Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s waiver of the institution’s entrance fee. The irritated ex-directors — David Smithweck, Wayne Sirmon and Lisa Young — pointed directly to political friction as the last straw, and they were the last three of five who have recently doffed their hats and hit the door.
The board wants access to financial records they claim Stimpson is keeping at bay. The administration said they are trying to be informative. Both sides disagree on the full role of the board with Stimpson saying they are advisory and the board insisting they are administrative.
There are accusations concerning finances, board employees and performance contracts. A support group known as the Friends of the Museum of Mobile has announced they’re tired of the din and will push away from participation in future board meetings.
In the contemporary parlance, “it’s a hot mess.”
How do we get to this point? Apparently, the museum’s 21-member board is filled by way of appointment from the city council and we’ve seen what that devolves into when dealing with folks who make a living in politics.
If you’re unfamiliar, look to the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System Board for a clue. The recent dust-up over appointments to that august body, long a reservoir for political favors and one hand-washing-another, showed how little we can depend on politicians for turning to those with specialized knowledge ideal for such duties.
The same evidently holds water regarding the board of the history museum. While some of the appointments might be history hobbyists or the like, I would be greatly surprised if many of them are objective academics rather than friends of their respective nominating council members.
Cynical on my part? You bet your sweet bippy, as I learn from what I’ve witnessed.
Being one of those dreaded idealists, I want to see a board made up not of peddlers of local influence who merely want another feather for their cap or to hew the museum’s narrative with their well-ground axes. I want historians.
It’s no secret the fuse to this in-house explosion was lit by Mayor Stimpson’s unprecedented eradication of the museum’s entrance a few weeks back, ballyhooed as a boon to the public. Artifice heard from sources that ostensible gift actually was done as much to bait the board into revealing a political hand as to be generous. If such duplicity and subterfuge holds true, it makes the administration no better than those with whom they are fighting.
I’m sure we’ll hear plenty of spin in sundry directions. All of this reminds me of the three truths in every disagreement: my truth, your truth and the whole truth.
The worst part is it’s not just their toy at the center of the haggling. The History Museum of Mobile belongs to all of us, but they’re treating it as their own little battleground. Ya’ jotting that one down, Santa?
It won’t change without city policy, code and procedure leading the way. And politicos won’t watch their step without fearing retribution. None of that occurs without interaction and demand from “we, the people.”
We stumbled upon a wonderful opportunity a few years ago when David Alsobrook was hired to run the history museum. With the helming of three presidential libraries on his resume, he’s quite the coup for little ol’ Mobile.
For an unassuming place, we have an unusually rich history – one of the lengthiest in the nation – and in the last decade we finally built the facility to match it. Pairing that with Alsobrook should add up to a jewel we revere and employ at every opportunity, not the object of tit-for-tat malarkey.
It’s said that in representative democracy, people get the government they deserve. If this is also a product of those elected leaders, then maybe we’re getting the museum we deserve as well.