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Head of American Jazz Museum says she's 'not going to be the leader moving forward'

American Jazz Museum director: ‘There were some missteps that we made’

Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, executive director of the American Jazz Museum, disagrees with a consultant's report criticizing management and recommending that the museum close during a reorganization.
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Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, executive director of the American Jazz Museum, disagrees with a consultant's report criticizing management and recommending that the museum close during a reorganization.

American Jazz Museum director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner acknowledged on Wednesday she will not be leading the embattled institution much longer.

"I'm not going to be the leader moving forward," Kositany-Buckner told the Kansas City Finance & Governance Committee at its Wednesday meeting. "But I am going to be a champion for it every step of the way."

Kositany-Buckner said she would leave the organization by the American Jazz Museum's annual meeting on May 15.

"It's my decision," she told The Star.

All but three of the museum's 23-member board of directors are also expected to turn over and give way to new board members. By Missouri law, 501(c)3 nonprofits have to have at least three board members at any one time.

"The May 15 date was the point at which we see that all but three members of the board would be leaving their position," said Anita Maltbia, the chairwoman of the American Jazz Museum board of directors.

The forthcoming leadership changes are in keeping with the first recommendation — changes to the museum's staff and board members — among 26 suggestions in a consultant's report issued in March. The report by Museum Management Consultants criticized the museum for lacking a clear vision and identity, despite opening its doors 20 years ago.

Kositany-Buckner said her decision to step down was "very important from the consultant's report and the city's desire to have new leadership."

The issues with the American Jazz Museum came into focus last year and this year as severe financial issues came to the surface. The museum staged last year's Kansas City Jazz and Heritage Festival, and checks written to performers bounced.

The committee on Wednesday approved a resolution to spend $730,000 on the museum to clear out existing debts and drawn down letters of credit for the current fiscal year. The full council will take up that resolution at a later meeting.

Council members said they would wait to see how the museum responds to the consultant's recommendations before deciding if and when to appropriate city funds for the museum in the next fiscal year.

Scott Wagner, Kansas City mayor pro tem, said that he expects to see a substantially new board of directors before agreeing to start appropriating funds to the museum in the upcoming fiscal year.

"It just has to be substantive," Wagner said. "You can't tell me that out of a group of 23, we're going to remove two. Or five. The expectation is that we are on our way to a turnover that is representative of a new board."

He said the new board should have a firm grasp on the museum's issues.

"I would tell you that my preference would be whoever would remain would have a thorough understanding of what's going on with the organization, especially financially," Wagner said.

The city council has spent $1.5 million on shoring up the American Jazz Museum's bleak finances in the current fiscal year. The city's original budget called for spending $500,000 to support the museum.

Maltbia, the chairwoman of the museum board, said she had no objection to the calls for new museum leadership.

"When this became the central issue, that in order to have confidence that those funds for the next fiscal year would be handled properly, that the current leadership would have to move on, we were in immediate agreement," Maltbia said.

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