Dozens of museum supporters came out Monday night to urge the York County Council to slow its efforts to merge its parks, museums and tourism boards and bringing their employees under county supervision - and this time, their outcry worked.
The County Council voted 5-2 to postpone a plan that would make county employees out of the Culture and Heritage Museums' 70 staff members and dissolve the Culture and Heritage Commission which governs the museums and its employees.
The decision came after more than a dozen speakers expressed concerns that the merger might harm the museum's ability to raise money, qualify for grants and provide quality programs.
"I'm not sure I understand what's wrong with the current system and what clear benefits we'll have from making this merger," said CHC commissioner Dawn Johnson, who also oversees fundraising efforts for the commission.
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County Manager Jim Baker has maintained that the county would take its time with the transition and make sure all concerns are addressed, including those related to the museum's ability to raise money.
Councilman Chad Williams made the motion to postpone any decisions about the merger until after all questions could be answered.
The council has described the changes as a way to better manage the county's resources, including York County Forever, its environmental conservation board, and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which oversees tourism. But the idea also follows complaints from the council, museum commissioners and former staff members about management of the Culture and Heritage Museums.
The plan "is not going to take anything away," said Councilman Joe Cox, who supported moving forward with it. "It's going to put taxpayers in charge."
Councilman Tom Smith supported waiting, but not without first criticizing the museum for poor management of its plan to build a new museum along the Catawba River, and for poor financial planning of the new Main Street Children's Museum, which opened last week in time for the four-day ChristmasVille festival in downtown Rock Hill.
The budget for the Main Street Children's Museum grew from $900,000 to $1.2 million. York County and the city of Rock Hill both gave $450,000. The CHM raised the remaining $300,000 from private sources.
"The children's museum is beautiful. It really is," Smith said, "but was that a good plan that you were $300,000 short?" he asked, after reiterating that he asked museum representatives whether $900,000 would be enough.
Museum officials say they raised the additional funding so they could add extra exhibits.
Councilman Curwood Chappell, who has criticized the museum's management and salaries, voted in the minority with Cox to move forward with the change.
"You're doing nothing but stalling for time," he said to the council. "It's time to either do it or not do it and leave it to the new council."
Whether to move forward with the changes will be up to the new council, which will be seated in January.
Museum commissioner Karen Kedrowski said she commends the council "for listening to the people" who've raised concerns, and she hopes to help address them.
"Nothing died tonight," she said. "This is an opportunity to think and study and consider carefully."