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Director of State Museum Fired
Efforts to Transform Center Fall Short

Associated Press

The Gazette

January 23, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

    DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa State Historical Museum director Curt Simmons has been fired for apparent lack of success in boosting attendance and increasing the museum’s prestige.

    Simmons was named director last January, but in an internal memo to state employees earlier this month, cultural affairs director Anita Walker expressed ‘‘regret’’ that Simmons was ‘‘no longer an employee.’’

    Walker declined to elaborate, citing personnel confidentiality concerns. But she acknowledged that efforts to ‘‘transform the museum into a world-class museum’’ have been less successful than she had hoped.

    ‘‘The museum has been struggling with a lack of funding we need for exhibits,’’ she said. ‘‘We have not been happy for a number of years with the level of attendance.’’

    Simmons said he disagreed with department heads over how much responsibility his employees should take for fundraising.

    A volunteer foundation responsible for soliciting donations for the museum was dissolved in 2003 over disagreements with government officials on ways to raise the museum’s profile.

    ‘‘Museums and government are a little bit of an odd mix,’’ Simmons said. ‘‘I’m a creative and energetic professional . . . but when you’re trying to make rapid changes within a bureaucratic system, it doesn’t always turn out well.’’

    Museums nationwide are suffering from school-group attendance problems due to strained education budgets and a greater emphasis on class work, he said.

    Simmons, who was paid $75,000 a year, received no severance package, and state officials did not issue a news release concerning his dismissal.

    Walker said a national search will be conducted for a replacement.

    Trustees for the State Historical Society, an advisory panel that oversees the museum, were left seeking more information about the dismissal of Simmons.

    ‘‘If a prominent state employee is ousted for some reason or another, I’d think there should be an explanation for that,’’ said trustee and former Des Moines Register columnist Chuck Offenburger of Jefferson.

    Walker, as department director, has the power to hire and fire employees without approval from the historical society.