Zimmerman questions meddling in advisory council’s decisions
It was with utter dismay that I read a recent headline stating, "Board to Help Preserve History."
I have been a volunteer member of the Johnson County Museum Advisory Council for the past six years. It came as a real slap in the face to have our past actions in the distribution of the County Heritage Trust Fund criticized by a Johnson County commissioner who insinuated the museum's projects were favored for finance over others. At the Aug. 16 county commission work session, commission chairman Doug Wood made several recommendations, including the establishment of a new, seven-member Heritage Trust Grant Review Board, "to better evaluate use of the funds." He also suggested trust fund monies support art projects in the county and that any money in the trust fund not allocated by the committee be placed in the county general fund to be spent at the commissioner's discretion.
With the exception of the formation of a new review board, the other commissioners verbally rejected his recommendations. I was disappointed to see that the resolution the commission unanimously passed Oct. 11 authorizes the commission to transfer monies to the general fund as they see fit.
It is not the first time commissioners have meddled in the committee's diligent review process. Two years ago, we heard from them after we rejected an application from the Arts & Cultural Enhancement Committee because it didn't fit the concept of historic preservation. The application was sent back to us by the county commission with the clear message to approve the funding of the "Children of the Trails." That sculpture now sits in front of the County Administration Building funded in the amount of $60,000.
It is human nature for individuals closely involved with a particular project to believe their situation to be unique and special to the degree that in some cases they should deserve special concessions, i.e., speed up, or better yet eliminate, the review process that others are expected to follow.
The action of the board of county commissioners to fund projects for the Shawnee Indian Mission and the Mahaffie Farmstead and Stagecoach Stop circumvented the grant application and review process. These gifts were not made through the grant process. No grant applications were submitted by either group outlining the historical significance, scope of work, budgets, project staff or accountabilities. Members of the history museum professional community were not given an opportunity to review or comment on the merit of the projects. Still, $67,000 was given to Shawnee Mission and $75,000 was given to Mahaffie Farmstead.
I do not fault anyone directly involved with the Shawnee Indian Mission or the Mahaffie Farmstead in asking for special consideration. They should not be involved with those projects if they didn't feel they were the most deserving historic sites in Johnson County. The fault lies with our elected officials in not just allowing, but helping those special interests circumvent the review process.
I had the pleasure of knowing Robert Osborne, Johnson County's most respected philanthropist. Mr. Osborne enjoyed sharing his fortune with worthy causes not only in Olathe, but throughout the county. With a promise of an Osborne contribution came the stipulation the recipients raised matching funds. Though I never asked why this procedure was used, I would surmise that the concept of requiring matching funds was to gain support of the project in the local community. To get local residents involved and "buy" into the significance of the project in a way that would provide continued support for the future. Acquiring matching funds from another governmental agency diminishes not only the need, but also the desire, of the local community to participate.
Anyone considering serving on the new Heritage Trust Fund Grant Review Board should now be prepared to respond positively to the county commissioners' whims. Unless politics change, you can expect that when a pet project of theirs comes up that doesn't fit their own established review process, your integrity will be questioned and you will be discarded.