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Longtime York County museum director Van Shields resigns

Van Shields, longtime director of the Culture and Heritage Museums, has resigned.

Shields served as director of York County's museums for 15 years and will leave his post Sept. 2 to pursue a new opportunity.

In his resignation letter to the Culture and Heritage Commission, which oversees the museums, Shields expressed "mixed emotions" and called his time as the museums' director "a remarkable journey of personal and professional growth."

He did not comment at the commission's meeting Monday night.

After the meeting, Shields said he's especially proud of the museums' employees for what they've accomplished. He added that he hopes the focus remains on supporting the museum staff through this transition.

Shields oversaw the consolidation of York County's cultural venues into the Culture and Heritage Museums. He helped create a vision for a county museum along the Catawba River in Fort Mill. Most recently, he led the museums through the building of the new Main Street Children's Museum in Rock Hill. Shields said he's not "at liberty" to discuss his future plans.

Commission Chairman David Plexico thanked Shields for building the museums into a system that is "widely admired in South Carolina and beyond."

"We acknowledge his many outstanding contributions to preserve and promote our cultural and natural heritage and wish him our best in regards to the future," Plexico said.

Shields' resignation comes amid a controversial shakeup of the commission. Earlier this year, county leaders replaced the 21 commissioners with seven new ones, saying the commission had failed to oversee museum operations properly.

Accusations of inflated salaries among upper management and a hostile work environment also dogged the museums. A salary study and employee survey later showed that museum salaries were in line with similar institutions, and employees were generally satisfied.

Shields came under fire when a former employee sued him for slander. The case was settled out of court.

County leaders called on the new commission to look at the museums' finances, management and staffing. The commission has until mid-August to submit a plan for county leaders' approval. Continued county support depends on it.

The transition hasn't been easy for the commission or employees. Several employees wishing to remain anonymous have worried over whether the new commissioners know enough about the museums to make informed decisions.

Some are upset by the outspoken style of commissioners, who discuss the need to reduce duplication and cut positions while not always showing a clear understanding of the organization or its positions.

On Monday, Ragin Craig, the source of several comments museum employees have scrutinized, said he's received phone calls and letters, some "ugly" and some friendly. He asked everyone to give the commission a chance.

"I wish everybody would kind of chill out and let us get our job done," he said.

Rick Lee urged the commission to stay "focused on the positive" and recommended they formally thank all the groups that have given to the museums.

Shields isn't the only one leaving. Other museum employees have left "because of the uncertainty," said deputy director Jeannie Marion.

Before the meeting Monday, staff and the commission met for an orientation. Marion said she's glad.

"I just wish it would have been at the beginning."

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