Museum ‘kicked to the curb’

By Observer Upload January 25, 2010 02:23 pm

A travesty of justice was handed the Elgin Museum and Historical Society at the Elgin City Council meeting Jan. 12.

After 10 years of operating in the former police department in the Elgin Opera House building, the city council voted to vacate the museum from these premises for expansion of the current opera house lessee’s theater business. In October, the city council voted to remove the museum from the upstairs former library of the opera house, which it had occupied for the past seven years.

Museum board members approached the city council on Aug. 13, 2002, asking permission to expand the museum to the second floor of the opera house (the former library). Following is a quote from the city council minutes: “The consensus of the council was in favor of this request.”

We are now told it was only a consensus, not an official agreement, and that it can be reversed without cause by whoever sits on the council at present. Webster’s New World Dictionary lists the word “consensus” to mean: 1. an opinion held by all or most; and 2. general agreement. Now, in my mind, a general agreement held by all or most, nevertheless is still an agreement.

I would like to state the following for the record: In 1998, when Elgin EDGE formed, various committees established to help Elgin realize her potential and bring tourists to the community. One of those groups became the Tourism/Cultural Attractions Committee. From this group, the Elgin Museum and Historical Society was formed. A board of directors established bylaws, articles of incorporation were filed; and a 501 (c) (3) tax except status was received. We became an affiliate of the Oregon Historical Society, and a member of Oregon Museums Association.

The most logical location for a museum was the historic Elgin Opera House, listed on the National Register. The city hall and police department had recently moved into a new facility, which opened up the vacated police department. Again, the Elgin City Council verbally agreed to allow a museum in this space for as long as the museum wanted to be there. (So, yes, Councilor McMullen, the council did give the museum this room.)

Our first board of directors included Beth McMullen, Laurose Hibberd, Dan Thompson, Kathleen Koch and Jerry and Shirley Peters. The museum’s grand opening was Sept. 9, 2000. Elgin Mayor Berta Churchill and City Administrator, Joe Garlitz presided over the ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication of the National Register of Historic Buildings’ plaque to be placed on the front of the building. The plaque was purchased by the then-current opera house lessees, Shirley and Jerry Peters.

The first four years in operation, the museum received, among other grants, $3,000 a year from the City of Elgin for operating costs in establishing the museum and historical society. The first $3,000 received from the city went to renovating the old police room. In all, the city donated a total of $9,000 to the museum.

The following is an excerpt from The Valley Times, an Elgin newspaper, dated Sept. 26, 2002:

“We were proud to be able to award a grant this year to the Historical Society. This organization is actively helping to preserve Elgin’s history and thus help make our community strong through keeping our ties to our roots alive. The Elgin City Council says ‘thank you’ to the members of the Society for your diligence!”

The fifth year the museum became self-reliant in that no grants were sought for operating costs. The museum has since relied on donations, memberships, admissions and sales of gifts and historic books that we print. Over the years, occasional grants have been received from the Wildhorse Foundation, Oregon Heritage Commission, Union County, Union County Tourism, Elgin Community Bank, former Elgin Arts Council, Elgin Woman’s Service Club and other organizations for special projects.

What is the City of Elgin thinking? The museum has no place to move to nor a storage facility suitable for museum artifacts until a place could be located. The city spent $9,000 of taxpayer money to establish a cultural history museum in a cultural building, the most prominent facility in Elgin, to turn around and kick us to the curb 10 years later. The city needs to be held accountable for their actions.

As a sidebar, two members who preside on the present city council also presided on the council 10 years ago.

What say you?

Shirley Peters is director of the Elgin Museum and Historical Society.