Editorials

KC’s American Jazz Museum is struggling to change — and to rein in spending

The costly dysfunction at the American Jazz Museum continues.

In April, a devastating report outlined a series of problems at the 18th and Vine facility — aging exhibits, a confusing mission, a lack of financial expertise. The report, by Museum Management Consultants, recommended shuttering the museum until those problems and others could be addressed.

City Hall wisely rejected that advice. But the City Council, facing a request for $730,000 in emergency funding for the museum, insisted on leadership changes before officials would sign the checks.

Some of those changes got underway this week. Executive Director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner officially resigned, but only after negotiating a severance worth $77,000, according to city officials.

That’s an overly generous goodbye bonus, particularly for a director many blame for the disastrous concert that crippled the facility’s budget. The severance may also cost taxpayers: City officials said Wednesday the payments will likely be added to the city’s subsidy for the museum.

City Manager Troy Schulte is expected to name an interim director in the days ahead. If he goes outside of City Hall to make that choice, as many expect him to do, the museum could face additional contractural costs of tens of thousands of dollars this year.

That would be regrettable. There should be someone on the city’s payroll who could manage the facility while a new director is found.

City Councilman Quinton Lucas, who still serves on the museum’s board, agrees.

“The city manager should name a short-term administrator from the city to handle … daily oversight of the institution,” he wrote this week. “This has the added benefit of presenting no additional salary or benefit cost to the museum or to city taxpayers.”

Lucas also makes the sensible point that the entire museum board should be replaced. On Tuesday, the board reduced itself to eight members, including Lucas and Councilman Jermaine Reed.

All should resign as quickly as new members can be found. We’d go further: The new board should not include any current members of the City Council. The conflict of interest is obvious.

The new board should then conduct a transparent search for a permanent director — one free of interference from council members. Public interviews are a good idea.

We want the American Jazz Museum to succeed. But officials must be honest about the museum’s problems, open to new approaches and good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Kansas Citians should insist on evidence of that this summer.

  Comments