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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Commission considers forming county historical committee

Updated: Jun 19

Dressed in historical attire, Jayhawk-Linn Junior High School history teacher Jeana Brownback stands by as her class listens to a speaker during a field trip to the Mound City Historical Society's one-room school house earlier this year. The society hopes to get educators and their students more involved in the society's activities. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)



By Charlene Sims, info@linncountyjournal.com


MOUND CITY – At the end of the Linn County Commission meeting on Monday, May 20, Commissioner Danny McCullough was going through his list of things that he was concerned about and started talking about the historical museums in the county.


McCullough brought up his concerns about working with the different historical groups in the county. He mentioned that the latest issue was a decision on which sign offer to approve for historical signs, either for the Linn County Museum  in Pleasanton or the Trading Post Museum north of Pleasanton on U.S. Highway 69.


However, any move by the commission that would result in loss of funding to one or more of the county’s five museums likely will result in pushback. 


The museum in Pleasanton and the museum in Trading Post have a long history of competing for funding and recognition. However, with the recent resurgence of the Mound City Historical Society and a major cash infusion into renovating its historical park in the county seat, the prospect of a loss of funding would likely be met with resistance.


McCullough told the other commissioners that he had asked County Counselor Mark Hagen to look into the matter and see what the commission could do.


Hagen said that he had done some research and had found a resolution about county advisory committees that was approved while Commissioner Jim Johnson was chair of the commission.


Hagen told the commissioners that the resolution seemed to show that the commission had actually considered and approved, at least in principle, an advisory commission on a historical society.


Basically, it was to get volunteers to apply for the advisory historical committee just like they do for the planning and zoning and they would be the central point of contact for all the historical societies to submit their applications for some kind of annual budget, said Hagen.


At present, the county gives each historical society/museum an annual budget of $8,000 for a total amount of $40,000. The money is passed out to the Pleasanton, Parker, Trading Post, La Cygne and Mound City museums.


Hagen said at present this method does not have a real mechanism for coming back from these 501c3 entities to say where it was spent or how it was spent. Hagen told McCullough that was the issue that he had raised.


“So for transparency and accountability purposes,” Hagen said, “there is a mechanism in place now for the commission after it takes it under consideration to set up a historical commission and these members. You would have to decide what these museums and what these types of organizations would be. 


“There would be a little bit or a kind of a conflict of interest if a museum member or officer of the museum were to come in and be a voting member of the county committee because they would have their own interest at heart and that sort of thing,” said Hagen. “So the way the resolution was drafted is that there would be a sponsor or a staff person who would do this.


“I think it talked about the historical society would name the economic development director as the staff person who would own that commission much like planning and zoning owns the planning and zoning committee. 


“Museums are supposed to be for drawing the public here. It’s an economic development function, but it could be public works, it could be someone else. They are the ones that would be non-voting members on the commission. They just go there and set it up, they screen the applicants for membership. 


“The museum people can attend as, let’s call them ‘ex officio’ members, much like my position here is a member of the commission but in a non-voting status. So the decisions on applying for commission money would be voted on and make recommendations to this commission and you decide to allocate the money to that commission actually to the staff person and then the checks would be prepared and issued to them. Does that make sense?”                                                                                                                                                              

Hagen told the commissioners that it would require a couple of steps:


  1. Vote on establishing a historical commission or Linn County Historical Society.

  2. Decide on three or five members.

  3. Solicit the public for membership. It goes through a staff person to approve and submit the list much like you do for planning and zoning.

  4. The members of the determined committee would try to attract the museum people in as members, non-voting members because we are talking about money.

  5. They submit their budgets there and the staff person will tell you each budget year what they want the money for and what they spent it on last year.


“Because these are 501c3s they have their own tax accounting,” Hagen said, “and so they have money from everywhere and they may not want to share that with everybody else. They don’t want to share how much money they get from their budget. They have to file a tax return but they don’t want to tell everybody how they’re doing or how much they need the money.”


He told them it would be their decision to set up an advisory commission for the historical society, solicit members and then the different museums would report to them. This would be  identical to an applicant applying for a conditional use permit or a zoning change. Then the staff person does the research, makes a recommendation, the committee makes a recommendation and the commission decides how much it wants to spend.

 

County Clerk David Lamb pointed out that the county was into budget time now, and he did not know how they were going to get something like that put together before budgets.


“Well, I don’t know how we can just write out $40,000 to an individual and say ‘Here you go’ and call that a budget. So I guess we’ll have to move fast, I don’t know,” said McCullough. 


Commission Chair Jason Hightower asked that the decision on this be added to the agenda for next week.


In a telephone interview with Theresa Miller, president of the Linn County Museum and the Linn County Historical Society, she said that she a sent a brief note to commissioners Johnson and McCullough questioning exactly how this was going to work. Miller said that both the Linn County Museum and Linn County Historical Society were incorporated. 


Miller stated that she was not sure what this plan would look like and was not real confident in a positive outcome.


In a separate telephone interview Ron Nickelson also expressed his concerns about the proposed committee. The president of the Mound City Historical Society, Nickelson said he planned to attend the next commission meeting to get more information.


A couple of years ago, Nickelson and other members of the society began efforts in earnest to repair and renovate the structures located in the society’s historical park on Main Street. The group has raised tens of thousands of dollars to replace roofs on all of the building, make repairs to two cabins, rebuild the roof of the barn, and remodel the house. The society is currently renovating the former railroad depot building.


Nickelson said the $8,000 the group gets annually from the county plus membership dues and cash raised at fundraisers like its Chicken Mary’s dinner on Sundays has created an annual cash flow of about $13,000 a year. As renovation is completed, that annual income will be used to create a capital improvements fund to pay for a five-year painting rotation and a 20-year roof rotation.


That’s why he believes it is critical for the organization to continue to receive that annual stipend from the county.


“That $8,000 is extremely important to us,” he said.




 

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