Preliminary audit report in, history museum remains closed

County hopes to reopen it by end of the month

The History Museum of Hood River County remains closed as the county examines a preliminary audit report on the museum’s finances and how they may have been mishandled.

County Administrator Dave Meriwether reported last week that The History Museum was closed Aug. 9 after the county learned of “administrative and operational anomalies” with the museum’s accounting practices. The museum is currently in the process of applying for a 501(c)(3) federal nonprofit tax designation, and Meriwether said last week that museum funds may have been moved too soon from one account to another “in anticipation of that (nonprofit) formation, which is not yet in place or recognized by the IRS.”

Tigard accounting firm Pauly Rogers and Co arrived at the museum Aug. 15 to examine the museum books. Meriwether said the locks were changed on the museum doors to prevent any museum personnel, board members, or volunteers from gaining access to the building while the audit was being conducted.

“We just didn’t know how many keys were out there,” he explained.

Auditors with Pauly Rogers recently finished their investigation, but the museum doors still remain locked as the county reviews the preliminary report. At Monday night’s meeting of the Hood River County Board of Commissioners, museum board member Mary Ellen Barilotti, who was speaking on her own behalf, not the museum’s, was irked by the closure.

“We’re sort of upset that it had to close,” she said to the commissioners. “We don’t understand the reason why it had to close and considerable problems have arisen as a result of closing the building, not to mention Cemetery Tales. People are calling, there’s no one answering the phones, there’s nothing going on.”

Barilotti also noted that the issues at the museum that were reported “didn’t warrant the closure of the museum.”

The museum is operated by volunteers and board members and is staffed by one county employee, Connie Nice, as museum coordinator. When asked Tuesday morning whether Nice was still being paid while the museum was closed, Meriwether said he didn’t “want to comment on personnel matters.”

As for when the museum might open, Meriwether didn’t give a definite date.

“We hope to have the final (audit) report by the end of the month,” he said. “We hope to have the museum open before then, but I can’t say that for sure.”

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Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge


Museumanonymous says...

Isn't that so thoughtful of the county to hire a lawyer (Haskell Davis Dunn), an audit firm (Pauly Rogers and Co), pay to have all the locks changed, and utilize numerous publicly paid county staff to protect us from the big bad museum. Must be some pretty big "anomalies". $1,000,000? No? How about $100,000? No? $10,000 maybe? No? Wait, why are they even doing this? And with public funds?!

Just to be clear, the museum is already a nonprofit; the new account was designed to reduce risk and liability to the county allowing members, donors, and visitors to support the museum via credit card. The account was approved by the county legal team, added as a county vendor so transactions between the new account and existing county account could be made, and was set up to be managed solely by the museum board (put in place by the county commissioners). While the museum coordinator is the one county "employee" at the museum, she did not have access to the account except through the museum board as even further security to the county. The museum coordinator and the museum board were fully cooperative with the county and the auditors, voluntarily handing over all records and in good faith transferring the money to a different county approved account out of the one in question. Their cooperation was rewarded with the closing of the museum, the ransacking of the museum offices, confiscating artifacts, the removal of the gift shop, and the suspension of the museum coordinator. And maybe the reason Meriwether won’t comment on "personnel matters" is that they are in direct violation of several county union procedures for handling the discipline/investigation of public employees!

Keep calling the museum, emailing board members and volunteers, and keep asking questions. The public deserves to hear more than just the one-sided cover-our-ass legal BS the county administrator is spewing at the moment.

Posted 21 August 2013, 3:21 p.m. Suggest removal

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