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KC Council hears 'dueling resolutions' on fate of jazz museum

The American Jazz Museum in the 18th & Vine district.
The American Jazz Museum in the 18th & Vine district.

The Kansas City Council presented the financially troubled American Jazz Museum with two starkly different versions of the near future Thursday: one with its city funding cut off, the other that gives it additional time to work out serious problems outlined in a new consultant's report.

The two versions are in the form of what amount to dueling resolutions from Councilman Jermaine Reed and Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner.

Reed sponsored a measure to keep the museum's doors open for two months beyond expiration of its operating agreement with the city on May 1. Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner proposed that the city withhold a supplemental appropriation of $730,000 until it can demonstrate that it is making progress in responding to the consultant's recommendations.

Both resolutions are headed to the council's finance and governance committee, where they are expected to be discussed next week.

A report commissioned by the city from Museum Management Consultants Inc., released last week, presented a bleak picture of the 21-year-old museum in the 18th & Vine District. It called for a "complete rebirth, starting with its leadership, but continuing with a revamped financial model, visitor experience, and operational infrastructure."

It described a pattern of questionable spending decisions, poor care of collections, ineffective fundraising and an uninspiring visitor experience in desperate need of updating.

Reed sits on the 23-member board, which met Thursday afternoon with City Manager Troy Schulte, but took no personnel actions. Reed said he agrees there need to be changes in leadership, but that the institution deserves more time to respond to the April 9 report.

"AJM needs to focus on repairing relationships with its core constituencies and rebuild trust with the philanthropic community, as has been stated by MMC (Museum Management Consultants)," Reed said in a statement after the council meeting. "It is hypocritical to withhold funding from the organization, which is in the rebuilding stages." He cautioned against "brash, divisive or destructive actions," by the city.

AJM operates the museum for the city, which owns the building and collections. The city originally budgeted a $500,000 museum subsidy for the fiscal year that ends April 30. But to address its financial and operating troubles, the city committed a total of $1.4 million, about half of which is due before the end of the month.

Wagner, who chairs the finance and governance committee, said his concern was accountability.

"The discussion I intend to have with the committee next week is what are the expectations are for accountability," said Wagner, who said he has been "disappointed" by the museum leadership's response to its problems.

"There doesn't seem to be any recognition publicly that there is anything wrong," he said.

AJM Executive Director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner said Thursday evening that withholding of the $730,000 would not force the museum to close. She also said that the board is working swiftly to respond to the issues raised in the report.

"What we are going to do is what the city needs us to do," she said.

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