SD&G Historical Society called on the council carpet; board says it’s a victim

Coun. Maurice Dupelle asks some hard questions of SD&G Historical Society chairman Sue Holland-Lalonde and its lawyer, Marc Denhez, on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. A number of councillors have concerns about the taxpayer funded operation. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – Members of the SD&G Historical Society found themselves on the hot seat before city councillors Monday night over how they are running their operations, which include the Cornwall Museum.

Chief among them was Coun. Claude McIntosh, who is a city representative on the museum board. “To say there’s a controversy is an understatement,” he said, adding that the organization was “extremely dysfunctional”.

The SD&G Historical Society was brought under a city department in 2016 from the outside agency program and receives $100,000 for its operations.

“I wasn’t excited about some of the answers they gave,” McIntosh said in an interview with CNW following the meeting. “Giving them $100,000 and giving the curator an exit package. Nobody at the City of Cornwall ever got one on a retirement date. (In the) private sector, you don’t get gifts for leaving,” McIntosh said.

“That’s annoys me more than anything. We gave them $100,000, they wanted 2 per cent more ($102,000) and then we find out somebody’s got a ($65,000) surplus – either the museum or the historical society – and then they give, I know that figure, I heard it was $23,000 (exit package), I find that not kosher…using our money to fund somebody to leave,” he said.

While an amount was not discussed during the council meeting because it’s a personnel issue, the chairman of the board confirmed there was a payout.

Members of the society appeared dumbfounded to explain where the surplus came from, which was reflected in a copy of October meeting minutes, produced by McIntosh during the council meeting.

McIntosh speculates the contract between the city and the SD&G Historical Society won’t be renewed under the same terms when it expires in November. “I think there’s enough concern around council, they want to move in that direction (to have the city take over the museum with the curator as a city employee).”

But, in an interview with Cornwall Newswatch, the board chairman insists they’re the victims of “very bad publicity and social media, pioneered by” an unsuccessful job seeker at the museum.

“The applicant has sour grapes, has very strong social media connections and has a campaign (against us). We never, ever had any problems with the city before, ever,” chairman Sue Holland-Lalonde told CNW.

Board members later explained that it wasn’t just one person who left the board – it was three people – who orchestrated a “media campaign” against the board. The member who left had “a long standing issue with the retiring curator so he was at odds with rest of board.”

But current and former board members say their succession plan is not putting funding for the SD&G Historical Society and museum in jeopardy.

“If anybody questions if we’re fooling around with semantics, all one has to do is look at Don’s (Don Smith’s) salary. It’s significantly less. It’s like comparing a full professor with an assistant professor,” said Christopher Penney, former board president of the SD&G Historical Society.

Penney explained that the board decided years ago to upgrade Smith’s training under Ian Bowering instead of doing a “half-baked open competition” for the position. The decision was also based on no guarantee the society could afford a “senior curator,” Penney explained.

“It’s basically the same job but with an upgrade of training. He’s been asked to reapply for the job that he’s been doing, although he has an upgrade in education,” Penney said.

He was receiving “on site training” from Bowering, he said. “We were extracting some of that senior experience so it wouldn’t be lost forever.”

“They are all curators, they’re all in the field of curatorial practice. They’re all recognized,” Penney said.

“Those funding sources do recognize Mr. Smith’s credentials,” said Marc Denhez, the historical society’s lawyer. “That funding is not at peril.”

Smith received additional curatorial training under Bowering before Bowering retired, Penney explained.

But Coun. McIntosh said he was always left with the impression that the museum needed a curator in order to get operational grants. Coun. Dave Murphy was also of the same mind.

But McIntosh thinks that could all change after next month’s AGM. “If a new board comes in, I’ve got a feeling that’s going to happen.”

When asked if the Annual General Meeting on March 31 at 1 p.m. at the taxpayer-funded museum on Water Street would be open to the public, the society chairman said “we have a board meeting next week, we’ll decide that.”