The York County Council is moving forward with a plan aimed at bringing greater efficiency and transparency in managing the county's recreation and cultural offerings - a plan that spells uncertainty for volunteers and employees of the county's Culture and Heritage Museums.
County Manager Jim Baker presented a plan to the council Monday night that would combine York County Forever overseeing land conservation; the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau overseeing tourism; and the Culture and Heritage Museums including the Museum of York County, the McCelvey Center, Historic Brattonsville, and the Main Street Children's Museum, set to open in December.
The changes would bring employees of these organizations under direct county supervision and would dissolve the boards that oversee them, replacing them with a unified board.
The Culture and Heritage Museums, the commission that oversees its budget and 70 plus CHM employees would be impacted most.
"We urge the County Council to take it slow, and do this right. Measure twice and cut once," commission chairman Jim Johnston said to the council.
He and commissioner Karen Kedrowski, both Winthrop University professors, see value in the changes, but have many questions about what the changes would mean for the museums. They're worried the council is moving too quickly.
"I'm worried in the rush we'll make a big mistake, jeopardizing our ability to do well what we do well," Kedrowski said, who also expressed fears over employees losing their positions in the transition.
Museum leaders are worried about losing their accreditation, their ability to raise funds and their ability to attract talented employees. They're worried that council might overlook these challenges as it moves quickly to complete the changes before the new County Council is seated in January.
"The tires haven't been kicked long enough," Johnston said.
Owen Glendening, deputy director of interpretation for the museums, said he sees value in the "synergy" that would result from being integrated into the county, but he's worried about the impact on volunteers and staff.
"We've built a great team, and I'd like to see us hang together and continue doing good work" through the transition, he said.
The changes have come about as a way to better manage the county's resources, county officials say, but they also follow complaints from some County Council members and museum commissioners about management of the Culture and Heritage Museums.
The involvement of the museum's fundraising arm, the Culture and Heritage Foundation, in a deal to develop a portion of 400 acres along the Catawba River for a private, for-profit venture has had some council members talking about the importance of transparency of funding and management.
To raise money for a new museum, the museum's foundation entered into a private development deal. Now the foundation owes $3.78 million to a development partner that left the deal after investing in project.
To pay the debt, the foundation is trying to sell a portion of the land to a Charlotte-based health care provider, a deal the foundation only recently announced for fear of spoiling the negotiations.
For some councilmen, the issue comes down to public perception.
Councilman Tom Smith said transparency is important. The plan's goal is "letting people know what's going on," he said, urging council to "see (the plan) move forward."