Enquirer Herald

Guest view: End in sight for museum dispute

A battle that has raged for years between York County officials and the foundation that once raised money for the county’s museums might soon be resolved once and for all. We would welcome an end to this long-running dispute.

First, however, the Culture and Heritage Foundation, the chief fundraising organization for the county’s museums and historic holdings, will have to undergo a forensic audit as part of the agreement with the York Council to drop its lawsuit against the foundation. The county sued in June 2013 after years of accusations that the foundation had mishandled museum finances.

York County officials are drafting a list of concerns about alleged fraud or other wrongdoing that they will present to auditors. Those allegations – as well as the foundation records – reviewed by auditors will remain secret unless problems are discovered.

Both sides in the dispute agreed to the audit as a way to settle the legal fight, which so far has cost county taxpayers about $140,000. The foundation and the county will split the cost of the audit, which is estimated to be around $70,000.

Whatever the results of the audit – and foundation officials say auditors will find nothing out of line – the settlement will sever the direct relationship between the foundation and the county.

The foundation will continue as a nonprofit charitable organization, but under another name.

The new name will contain neither the word “culture” nor “heritage” to avoid any future confusion. And once the settlement is ratified, the foundation’s real estate development arm, the Sustainable Development Group, will be dissolved.

Whatever occurs with the audit, the county will receive the bulk of the money derived from the sale of 274 acres in Fort Mill donated to benefit the museum system in 1998 by Jane Spratt McColl. The land is expected to sell for up to $10 million.

Other donated money also will be held by a third-party foundation, including a nearly $400,000 endowment that was started in 1995 to benefit the museum system. After closing costs and other associated expenses, the foundation will receive $200,000 from the sale of the land.

The audit will take about three months to complete once a firm mutually agreed upon by the county and foundation is chosen. Once the audit is finished, its conclusion will be made public.

We hope the result will be one that allows both sides to move forward, ending this costly and rancorous dispute. A settlement that satisfies all parties would be a welcome relief not only for those directly involved but also the residents of the county.