Claremore Daily Progress

February 13, 2014

BLINDSIDED: Local museums caught off guard by Gov. Fallin’s consolidation plan

Randy Cowling


Gov. Mary Fallin has proposed Claremore’s J. M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum and Will Rogers Memorial Museum be incorporated into the state’s tourism department.
The reorganization came during Fallin’s State of the State address and was a complete surprise to local museum directors.
“I found out about it by reading an online story about the consolidation. Neither Rep. Marty Quinn or Sen. Sean Burrage were aware of it,” said Wayne McCombs, J. M. Davis Museum executive director.
“Like directors of the other state agencies proposed, I was not consulted in advance of the announcement by the governor in her annual Executive Budget Book. One of our staff members happened to access it online Monday and bring the governor’s words to my attention,” said Steve Gragert, director of the Will Rogers Memorial Museum and Birthplace Ranch. 
Fallin’s plan would incorporate the two Claremore museums, the Oklahoma Arts Council, Oklahoma Historical Society and the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission into the Tourism and Recreation Deaprtment.
Quinn, who is seeking the state Senate seat being vacated by Burrage, is concerned about the lack of input, since the governor will likely want his support for future projects or tax cuts.
The governor purports the consolidation would save the state 15 percent, about $4 million.
The reported savings through consolidation is not much when the state has a much larger hole to fill to bring the budget into balance, Quinn said.
The J. M. Davis Museum receives $304,000 annually in state funding, according to McCombs.
It has four full-time and four part-time employees. The state funds help pay for maintenance, salaries, supplies and utilities.
The Will Rogers Museum receives $740,000 in state funding, Gragert said. The museum has seven full-time and 11 part-time employees. It has only one more employee than it had when the museum opened in 1938, despite doubling its space.
“As much as I value the mission of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, it is not clear to me how ours fits within the scope of theirs. Yes, we are very much a tourist destination, one that attracts people from every state in the Union and scores of other countries, but we are one focused on education and cultural understanding, on the life and humor of one man, not on ‘natural assets and cultural amenities,’ which is the primary focus of the OTRD mission,” said Gragert.
Both museums have a large group of volunteers — Friends of the J. M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum and Docents at the Will Rogers Museum.
“I don’t believe her (Gov. Fallin) purpose is to eliminate the funds we receive,” McCombs said. “Possibly it is a cost-saving measure. I don’t know the details, because we have yet to see any specifics.”
McCombs said anyone wanting to express their concern with the consolidation should call Gov. Fallin’s office in Oklahoma City at (405) 521-2342 or in Tulsa at (918)581-2801.
“I fear for the continued top-level preservation of our collection of state assets. The 5 percent cut projected for state agencies this year would be hard enough for us to manage, atop the already 25 percent reductions we have had over the past six years,” Gragert said. “But Will Rogers’ art, archives, and artifacts, our priceless collection, could really be at risk if faced with the additional extreme funding reductions recommended by the governor for OTRD in FY-2015. We now face that bleak future, and no one has offered us an idea of how we are to deal with it and still protect the assets entrusted to us and keep our doors open for our visitors from Claremore and beyond.”
Earlier this week, McCombs and Gragert  met with Tanya Andrews of the Claremore Convention and Dell Davis of the Claremore Chamber of Commerce.
The group will be among those attending Claremore Day at the Capitol today, where they hope to tell legislators the importance of the two museums in the region.
McCombs and Gragert said no bill has been introduced in either the House or the Senate related to such a consolidation.
Three years ago, Rep. Leslie Osborn of Tuttle introduced a bill that would have totally eliminated the museums’ funding. The bill never made it out of committee.
In 2009, Gov. Brad Henry made a reference to consolidating the Claremore museums, but nothing resulted, McCombs said.