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Museum group under fire – Former employees raise questions

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Former employees have raised questions about the practices of the North Carolina Museum of History Associates in raising money for the museum, The News & Observer in Raleigh reports.

Former Museum Director James McNutt, who has a history of conflict with Associates’ Executive Director Eve Williamson, contends the museum suffered because the Associates provided only an estimated 3 percent of its annual budget directly to the museum last year.

The Associates group says all of its budget is a donation to the museum because the money is used to promote the state institution.

The Associates paid Williamson $80,000 last year, more than McNutt was earning before he resigned last fall.

The museum booster group failed a financial audit by Ernst & Young in 1994.  Two of the organization’s accountants have quit since then, one complaining about the group’s accounting methods.

The Associates fired a third accountant in December for undisclosed reasons.

Employees and some of the booster group’s own records suggest controversial purchases by the nonprofit group. These include a $7,500 painting of Williamson’s family, wedding presents for three assistants valued at $500 each and expensive “test” dinners at the Williamson’s vacation home to sample food to be served at associates’ events.

The Associates also provide Williamson with a car, upgraded in 1997 from a Chevrolet station wagon to a Lexus.  Williamson told the News & Observer that she pays about $1,700 towards the $7,800 lease.

Williamson has admitted to using Associates funds to pay for baby-sitters for her grandchildren during fundraising events such as the Associates’ annual Spring Frolic.

“My children have volunteered at the Spring Frolic since 1986,” she told the newspaper.  “That was just part of the package we offered them.”

Williamson has denied any wrongdoing and asserts that any irregularities come from the difficulty of keeping up with the organization’s rapid growth and success.

Judy Hoyt, president of the Associates’ volunteer board, says the board has launched an internal investigation.

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