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Infighting, incompetence and intransigence at the Lincoln museum

Friday, Jul 11, 2014

* SJ-R

A museum consultant who has been reviewing Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum operations since last September has concluded that a lack of planning is hampering the institution.

Karen Witter, former associate director of the Illinois State Museum and now an independent museum consultant, made those and other findings detailed in a 44-page report sent to museum and Illinois Historic Preservation Agency officials late last month. […]

She said that loss of staff, vacancies in key positions and the overall state budget situation have created additional pressure on the remaining staff, a deficiency cited by library advisory board chairman J. Steven Beckett in his call for divorcing the library and museum from IHPA. […]

She said the library and museum’s lack of a strategic plan causes multiple problems for the organization.

“There is no unifying set of priorities across the various entities involved with the ALPLM,” she wrote. “There is no strategic direction to address staff shortages and financial resources. There is no clear set of priorities to guide staff activities and allocation of time in accordance with the highest strategic priorities.”

* But that’s barely scratching the surface. Illinois Times

Witter questioned the expertise of staff and found that vacancies in key positions, particularly the lack of a director of education and a director of exhibits, are hindering the institution. ALPLM also lacks a state historian to oversee the research and collections department. IHPA director Amy Martin has said that the hiring process is underway and that filling those positions is a priority.

“There are many talented staff members with diverse and relevant experience, but fewer people with the museum experience and expertise which are essential for an institution of the scope and caliber of the ALPLM,” Witter wrote. “There is not a culture of supporting ongoing professional development to provide staff members training in museum best practices and other relevant issues.”

* There’s even friction between the people at the museum and the people who run the museum foundation

The foundation, which sells memberships that come with free admission to the institution, must pay a fee to IHPA each time a member visits the museum. Witter found tension due to a perception that foundation memberships are costing the ALPLM revenue it might otherwise realize from paid admissions.

“The membership program is perceived to be ‘the Foundation’s’ program that benefits the Foundation rather than ‘our’ program, which benefits the overall ALPLM institution,” Witter wrote. “There are missed opportunities for engaging members. It appears the Foundation plans member events, and the ALPLM plans public programs/events independently of each other. … The requirement for the Foundation to pay a fee to the state each time a member visits the museum is highly unusual. It appears to create a disincentive for the Foundation to encourage members to become repeat visitors, which is contrary to practices in other museums where members are encouraged to visit frequently.”

The payment arrangement fuels a “yours vs. mine” situation, Witter wrote, and would probably be “perceived negatively” by outside reviewers tasked with evaluating ALPLM for accreditation.


* Back in 2010 evaluators from the American Association of Museums found many of the same problems as Witter. But

“There is little evidence that ALPLM has followed up on the valuable recommendations and resources referenced in the report,” Witter wrote in a summary of shortfalls.

These warring factions appear to be frozen in place, and it ain’t a good place, either.

* And finally

“The three boards (IHPA, foundation board and library advisory board) operate relatively independently from each other and aren’t aligned around a common vision and shared strategic priorities,” Witter wrote. “(T)here is not a shared understanding of the roles and responsibilities of each entity.”


* I took a friend to the museum a few months ago. We’re in the midst of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial, but you’d never know it if you were at the museum. The missed opportunities with that alone make me wanna tear my hair out. The NY Times has an excellent day by day blog about the Civil War. With the amount of material at the library, the museum could’ve highlighted the war month by month with artifacts, documents, photographs, etc. already in its collection. But, no. They took a pass.

It’s mind-boggling to me why those people can’t get their acts together over there. Stop fighting over the state’s crown jewel before you ruin it, folks.

* Related…

* ALPLM Management Report

* ALPLM Management Report Appendices

* Mackevich’s response

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Stones - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 10:58 am:

    I suppose Honest Abe is rolling over in his grave over this stuff. We can’t even seem to run the Lincoln Museum properly.

  2. - A guy... - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 11:00 am:

    What a shame.

  3. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 11:01 am:

    == Witter questioned the expertise of staff ==

    Wonder how those unqualified individuals got hired in the first place?

  4. - ILPundit - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 11:01 am:

    Based on Mackevich’s response, she seems prepared to ignore this report just like she ignored the 2010 report.

    Having a yellow post-it-note from the Speaker has its privileges, I guess.

  5. - Plutocrat03 - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 11:03 am:

    Any wonder that the voters are cynical to the call for more and more money (for all governmental levels) when seemingly every agency can screw up a good thing?

  6. - Anyone Remember - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 11:03 am:

    As bad as this is, what would it have been with Newtson?

  7. - VanillaMan - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 11:06 am:

    So, it seems that the person who decided to go around the governing and funding processes that are in place and phone a friend, (MJM), for a coup, is also challenged in many other ways.

    I have heard who those who know her, that she is a gem of a boss to work for as well. There are job openings which go unfilled because it would mean working alongside her, keeping those jobs unfilled.

    We know how to do this right. We put everything in place in order for the Library to succeed as well as many other institutions operated under the IHPA. We’re not seeing coups at the other institutions. Hmmm, I wonder why.

    This report is an attempt to put an unemotional spin into this mess and extract an individual who needed to have retired a decade ago. I think the name on that museum is Lincoln’s, not hers.

    Sincerity isn’t enough. Going rouge is unacceptable when what is needed is professional governance and management. Someone may personally know Mr. Speaker, but abusing that relationship in order to stage a coup in order to take over a state institution - isn’t acceptable.

    We know how to do this. Someone over at the Museum is keeping us from doing what we know how to do. Retirement is a good way to resolve this problem.

  8. - wordslinger - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 11:16 am:

    –Witter questioned the expertise of staff and found that vacancies in key positions, particularly the lack of a director of education and a director of exhibits, are hindering the institution. ALPLM also lacks a state historian to oversee the research and collections department.–

    I’m not an expert, but those would seem to be important positions for a library and museum.

    I think it’s time to call in The Two Bobs to conduct some interviews of the people running the show.

    “So, what would you say…. you do here?”

  9. - 47th Ward - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 11:29 am:

    ===The Two Bobs===


    “The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.”

  10. - CirularFiringSquad - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 11:30 am:

    Looks like Madigan was on track to let ALPLM go solo.
    BTW if we just shelled out $28K for the Witter report why does HPA want to search for another consultant?

  11. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 11:31 am:

    ===Looks like Madigan was on track to let ALPLM go solo.===


    Mackevich needs to go, too.

  12. - Tequila Mockingbird - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 11:48 am:

    Totally dysfunctional with an undertow of Illinois politics. That’s a shame, because it has so much potential. Would it be different if Abe was a democrat?

  13. - wordslinger - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 11:55 am:

    –Would it be different if Abe was a democrat?–

    LOL, there has to be some kind of year-end award for that one!

  14. - dupage dan - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 12:02 pm:

    Wow, competing incompetencies coalescing around a critical institution in Illinois with political infighting involving major players and important opportunities missed. How unusual.

  15. - OLK 73 - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 12:13 pm:

    Our old Senator Peter Fitzgerald was right back then: It was a cesspool of corruption from the beginning of planning right through today. I’m 55 and I hope to live long enough to see some type of genuine reform in this state.

  16. - Skirmisher - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 12:13 pm:

    In my dealings with the museum, I discovered that there is considerable friction between the museum people and the historians working for the Foundation. The fact that the people responsible for setting up displays, etc. could not get along well with the people with the historical knowledge , did not seem to bode well for the future of that place.

  17. - Skeptic - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 12:16 pm:

    “but fewer people with the museum experience and expertise which are essential for an institution of the scope and caliber of the ALPLM,” and even fewer who are willing to put up with the B.S. that goes on there. But there’s always room for another couple Deputy Directors. That’ll solve the problem!

  18. - ILPundit - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 12:29 pm:

    By the way, when was the last time you saw a state employee feel the need to release their own “response” to a report their own agency commissioned? I mean, this isn’t an audit. This was a report by a professional intended to help make the place better.

    Seems like Mackevich is still running her own program, ignoring her bosses, and correctly assuming that the Governor’s office is too impotent to stand up to her.

    It’s pretty incredible when you think about it. I mean, they had no problem dumping the director of IDOT, but they can’t deal with this?

  19. - History1 - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 12:43 pm:

    The ALPLM Board and the Foundation Board are both nightmares; they have no idea what their roles are and they’re constantly exposing the state to liability through self-dealing, half-assing legal issues, etc. Everyone over there wants to run their own little fiefdom. IHPA is the only competent actor in this farce.

  20. - Ginhouse Tommy - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 12:47 pm:

    Sounds like a house cleaning is in order but that’s not likely to happen.

  21. - Wally Kubon - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 1:49 pm:

    Come on folks! Lincoln was the greatest of the great. Get your act together. Lincoln is Illinois and Illinois is Lincoln.

  22. - Past the Rule of 85 - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 1:56 pm:

    the only way this will be satisfactorily resolved is to remove it completely from state control. Unless the museum and library can be taken over by the Smithsonian or a national foundation, it will continue to sink in the muck of Illinois politics.

  23. - IHPA - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 2:23 pm:

    Part of this is the consequence of Blagojevich allowing IHPA to remain a patronage dumping ground for Republicans and other Cellini loyalists. This is another agency that was unfortunately overlooked by Quinn’s “fumigation” of state government.

  24. - Kerfuffle - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 3:35 pm:

    I’ve been a volunteer at the museum since the beginning and while I don’t think it has gone down hill, it has become stagnant. Richard Norton Smith got out and was followed by a complete disaster, who was followed by …well let just say I agree with Rich that Mackevich needs to go, too.

  25. - State Worker - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 4:02 pm:

    Mackevich hires outside attorney to try and convince her supervisors that she doesn’t report to them. Response? Nothing.

    Mackevich goes rogue and conspires with Speaker and Beckett to get herself out from under control of IHPA. Blindsides agency board and Govs office. Response? Nothing

    Professional study shows Mackevich has done nothing for four years to respond to professional recommendations to improve library. Mackevich replies by trashing the report. Official response? Nothing.

    I’m reminded of that scene in “A Few Good Men” when Nicholson looks at Cruise, smiles and says, “I get it, now. She outranks you, doesn’t she?”

    IHPA may supervise Mackevich, but as a Governors appointee, only the Governor can fire her.

    It seems to me that the problem here is not the governance structure, it’s the Governor himself. Only he can take definitive action here, and he’s apparently too frightened by the Madigan connection to act. Or he could just be incompetent.

    Either way, amazing we are almost 2 months into this mess and the Governor still hasn’t done anything.

  26. - LincolnLounger - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 4:04 pm:

    Between the egos of Steven Beckett and Mackevich, and the territorial attitude of Julie Cellini, it’s hopeless.

  27. - Precinct Captain - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 4:09 pm:

    ==- Rich Miller - Friday, Jul 11, 14 @ 11:31 am:==

    He did say that the museum should be taken over by the federal government. Could he be lying that that is what he wants? Sure, but it is clear the circus structure running the place now doesn’t work.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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