Museum management discussed in Bethany

As the refurbished Bethany Beach Museum begins to take its final shape, so also the final shape of the group that runs it begins to be formed.

At the March 13 meeting of the Cultural and Historical Affairs Committee (CHAC), Vice Mayor and CHAC Chairwoman Carol Olmstead proposed the final stage of merging the committee with the Bethany Beach Historical Association (BBHA), an external group that was originally charged in 1997 by the town council with advising the town on the project, seeking funding for it and encouraging public participation in the preservation of artifacts.

Since then, CHAC was created as an internal town committee and charged with similar tasks, which have proceeded with limited direct involvement but ongoing support from the BBHA.

To date, the BBHA and CHAC have remained largely independent, with the BBHA supplying docents for the museum and holding a wider public membership, with separate funding through membership fees, while CHAC oversaw the museum renovations, funding and artifacts. In 2005, CHAC moved to formally begin the merger between the two groups, with an eye toward a single chain of command in regard to the museum.

Olmstead, in suggesting the completion of that merger at the March 13 meeting, said there continued to be confusion as to what the two groups did and who was in charge of what function. She proposed ending that confusion by completing the merger and changing the name of the museum’s public membership entity – forming a sort of “friends of the museum” group, along the lines of the Friends of the South Coastal Library.

Under Olmstead’s proposal, CHAC – as an official town committee – would oversee the museum in its entirety. The “friends” group would offer membership to the public, with dues collected to benefit the museum. The group would also likely continue to supply the docents for the museum. But CHAC would formally take over administrative functions at the museum and, Olmstead said, account for dues and other donations as part of its own budget, if earmarked for the museum.

The vice-mayor referenced a recent visit by a tour group to the museum as one example where there was a need to clarify responsibilities. She said the town manager had not been informed of the planned visit and emphasized that he should have been. BBHA members questioned the need to make advance arrangements for a handful of people to visit the public lobby in which the museum is housed.

But with the administrative issues and ongoing confusion in mind, Olmstead’s suggestion was for the completion of a shift already accepted by the committee. That still met opposition from two of the BBHA members who serve on CHAC.

BBHA Secretary-Treasurer Margaret Young opposed the merging of finances between the public membership and the town-controlled museum budget, citing the need to ensure that public membership funding went only toward the intended tasks at the museum. She also objected to the idea of informing current BBHA members of the change with a letter from CHAC – the BBHA should inform its own membership, she said.

She was joined in her opposition to the idea by BBHA member Carolyn Hughes, both citing a need to consider the idea at greater length and discuss it with other BBHA members.

Despite that opposition, CHAC moved forward on the merger plan, voting 4-2 to recommend the change to the town council for formal action. Olmstead emphasized that there was a need to clearly establish how the museum was being run as a pattern for the future. She said she feared that changes in town or committee leadership could result in chaos in the future if the duties and responsibilities of the various entities were not clarified now.

She said she hoped to continue, and perhaps expand, the public involvement in the museum, offering the notion that CHAC would host a meeting once or twice a year in which members of the “friends” group would receive an update on museum happenings, as well as a presentation of a historical nature.

While Olmstead was resolute about the change, she backed off bringing it to a vote of the council later in the week, opting instead to simply report the committee’s overall favorable vote on the notion to the council as part of her chairwoman’s report.

But Young arrived at the March 17 council meeting prepared to debate the issue. She particularly objected to the notion that the two BBHA members present at the March 13 CHAC meeting could be seen as a fair representation of the BBHA’s 80-plus members, with no advance notice of the topic or a vote being given prior to that meeting. She further noted the separate financial status of the two groups. But there the council cut her off.

Olmstead emphasized her plan to continue discussion of the change at a future CHAC meeting, before a council vote, and Young was asked to confine her arguments on the topic to such a time. What degree of voice BBHA members will have on the topic in a CHAC vote is unclear, but they will at least have another chance to make their feelings known to the committee, its chairwoman and the town council.

In other CHAC business on March 13, committee members examined a list of historical locations in the town, provided by Young. The goal was to begin to target a number of the locations for historical markers, both organizing a limited list as a starting point for production and to begin to look at the wording for the individual markers.

Committee members agreed to review the list in depth for their next meeting, while Olmstead was to pursue more information on the costs for various types of markers.

The committee is also awaiting the final touch to the museum project – a planned mural to accent the archway over the lobby. The mural design would focus on a map of the town as it existed when first established, accompanied by drawings of a number of historical structures. A draft of the design was due to the committee in the near future.

CHAC is due to meet again on April 10, at 1 p.m.