Enquirer Herald

York County museums post holds wide appeal

Leaders of a York County panel haven't yet finalized who they'll interview for the museums' top job, but a short list is taking shape.

On Tuesday, the seven members of the Culture and Heritage Commission, which oversees the Culture and Heritage Museums, were still collecting information from applicants for the executive director position, which the county advertised for more than a month last fall.

In September, the commission hired Harry Exell, a former museum employee, as interim director.

Exell filled the position left vacant when longtime museum director Van Shields resigned amid the York County Council's controversial shake-up of the museums' leadership.

Exell's hiring has given the commission time to complete a thorough search, commissioners have said.

The starting salary for the director position is $80,647, down from the more than $121,000 Shields earned for the last three years of his 14-year tenure.

Almost 40 applicants from across the nation streamed in from as far as Alaska, Indiana, Illinois and Oklahoma and as near as the Carolinas and Georgia. But only 21 had prior museum experience.

That's where the search really began, said Jonell Hagner, who heads the committee assigned to vet candidates and recommend finalists to the full commission.

It's been a difficult search because the applicants are impressive, Hagner said.

What the commission is looking for in a new director is someone who has managed a museum with about the same size and budget and someone who can provide "fresh perspective" and "take us forward."

He or she will need a strong financial background and will have "to wear a lot of hats," said David Plexico, commission chairman.

The commissioners hope to narrow to a list of three or four finalists in coming weeks.

Commissioners would not comment on whether Exell will make the short list, but the interim director said he's ready to serve.

"I feel there's a bit more I can do here over the next year or two and some real opportunities to make change, so I've thrown my hat into the ring," he said.

Exell worked as a deputy director for the Culture and Heritage Museums from 2001 to 2007 under Shields' direction. He left citing a "difference in philosophy," he said last year after being hired as interim director.

"One of the reasons I was coming back was to ensure the staff was galvanized again into a strong working unit - not to say that they weren't before," Exell said. "I believe I've accomplished that."

Hiring a new director is one of many tasks mentioned at the commission's meeting Tuesday at the Museum of York County in Rock Hill.

Rebuilding a donor base and mending relationships with donors who've refused to give, citing changes to the museums the York County Council put in place last year, are high priorities.

But figuring out the leading face of the organization comes first, as Hagner said.

"We know that this is the most important decision we have to make."

Follow reporter Jamie Self on Twitter @RHHerald_JSelf.