Sorting out History – Challenges mount for state museum

The North Carolina Museum of History is troubled these days, but there is disagreement over whether the problems are mere growing pains or are more substantial, The News & Observer in Raleigh reported June 11.

The museum has been unable to hire a replacement for former director James McNutt, who left last August. The main exhibit needs to be replaced, and the museum’s booster group is facing a financial crisis that has led to a police investigation and the retirement of Eve Williamson, director of the Museum of History Associates for the last 22 years.

Interim director Janice Williams says the resolution of these problems has been slowed by the search for a director. The search has been problematic, she said, because the advertised salary of $76,299 is low.

Last week, Elizabeth Buford, deputy secretary of cultural resources, reported that her department will increase the director’s salary to $90,000, if the State Personnel Board approves. Since the Associates have agreed to add to that base, the hope is to offer $125,000 when a new advertisement is placed in August.

The pay increase will not address what some see as the biggest problem facing the new director, however — the relationship between the museum and the Associates.

Since McNutt left the museum, the Raleigh police have begun a criminal investigation into possible financial misdealings by the Associates. A N&O investigation uncovered dubious Associates purchases including $7,500 for a portrait of Williamson’s family that hung in their beach house and a bed for Williamson’s assistant.

Williamson announced her retirement quietly just before Memorial Day. Katherine B. Boney, who has worked for the N.C. Historic Sites Commission, N.C. Museum of Art Guild Board and Preservation North Carolina, will take over as interim director.

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