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Museum Foundation issues response to concerns of Tumbler Ridge Mayor

TUMBLER RIDGE, B.C. — The Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation has issued a response to concerns from Mayor Don McPherson about how the museum is run and the District’s decision not to continue to fund its operation.

On April 17th, the Foundation detailed their response to an open letter from the Tumbler Ridge Mayor’s Office that was released to residents at a District meeting on April 12th. Museum Foundation director Dr. Charles Helm said that the Foundation’s responses were included below each applicable paragraph for context. 

The open letter from Mayor McPherson, along with the responses from the Museum Foundation, can be read in their entirety below. Below the most recent release to the Museum Foundation’s response to the District of Tumbler Ridge, we have also included two other letter from 2017 that are cited in the Foundation’s response.

Open Letter Regarding Council’s Funding Decision for the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation 

Council has made the very difficult decision to pause funding of the Museum until a number of conditions have been met. This is not something we have done out of the blue. This is the consequence of Council’s request for information and changes to the operation of the Museum going back a decade. It was also not something Council has done lightly as over the past years we have been working with experts from the Royal BC Museum, Ministry of Jobs Tourism and Skills Training, and the head of Tourism development for British Columbia. 

The request from the Museum is a yearly amount equal to $200,000. Over the course of each Council term we are asked to make a $800,000 investment in their organization. This equals, roughly, $1,500 for every family of 4 in our community. 

“This kind of analysis is most relevant when considered in the context of what each family contributes to facilities such as the curling rink, hockey arena, library, aquatic centre, golf club etc, plus a comparison of the economic and other benefits these facilities bring to the community.”

Our town is blessed in many ways but when we are looking at this level of money Council needs to ensure the funds are spent in appropriate ways. Since the Museum’s inception the District has contributed $2,425,000 in cash, the free use of a building, maintenance of the building which is expected to cost hundreds of thousands in the coming years, constant advocacy, and significant Council and staff time. 

“We believe that we have not missed any opportunity to express our gratitude for funding provided over the years by DTR, and our appreciation of what this has meant to the community, region and province.”

“The building is a DTR asset and was provided to the TRMF for use as a museum in 2008. The decision was made after reviewing a number of proposals by others; the TRMF‟s proposal was deemed to be the best use of the facility, which at the time was derelict. Maintenance has largely been the responsibility of the TRMF. The costs referred to were for issues that existed before DTR purchased the building from the school district, some of which the TRMF has dealt with. DTR funding supports heating and electrical services which it would have to provide regardless of who occupies the building.”

“The statement fails to mention that DTR funding has been leveraged to generate almost $1,250,000 of external funding for renovations and upgrades to the facility. These have significantly decreased operating costs (e.g. new furnaces which have essentially halved the heating bills), and enhanced the facility (e.g. universal access to entrance, lobby, exhibit area and washrooms). These and other upgrades have saved DTR significant long-term costs.”

“Again, a total dollar amount is most relevant when compared to equivalent amounts for other facilities and institutions. We believe that the amount of Council and staff time referred to is incurred as a result of the DTR approach of trying to manage the Museum. It is encouraging that the Mayor and the Council Liaison to the TRMF have recently said that they want to get away from this kind of approach in future. We have pointed out that the example of the Peace River Regional District (PRRD) should be followed: the PRRD has been contributing an equal amount of funding, without incurring such burdens on their time.”

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In 2015 I represented our community at the Peace River Regional District and helped secure a 4- year agreement for the PRRD to contribute $200,000 a year bringing the Museum’s total yearly operational funding to $400,000. 

“We appreciate whatever support Mayor McPherson and his predecessors may have provided.”

However, for at least the last 7 years our Councils have consistently requested the Museum focus more on tourism development and education. 

“All such requests have been responded to, with explanations on how tourism and education are indeed priorities that are shared between DTR and TRMF. We have always prioritized tourism development: the creation of the Geopark is an obvious example, as are our current initiative of the Northern Dinosaur Trail, our dinosaur trackway tours and our educational programs (both of these were initiated in 2003 and have been provided annually). Our educational programs are highly regarded within the museum fraternity and have been emulated by other museums.”

The focus from the top of their organization must be on these items and not advancement of anyone’s scientific careers. 

“We are discussing the most appropriate way to address this statement and its implications. Our response will be provided in due course.” 

In our meetings with the Royal BC Museum they noted that the current research budget of the museum took an incredibly high percentage of the Museum’s overall funds and was outside of industry standards. 

“We have not been provided with any details of such claims. In order to respond meaningfully to such a contention we need to be told what information RBCM was given in order to reach such a conclusion, as well as details of „industry standards‟. The numbers that Mayor McPherson presented in this regard to the PRRD on April 12th suggest that the information DTR is going by is false. If documents and explicit recommendations from Royal BC Museum exist, they need to be shared with us. We note that Royal BC Museum does not have extensive experience with vertebrate palaeontology research and programs, and may not be ideally placed to make such comments. Royal BC Museum and TRMF are both members of the BC Museums Association, and we believe that communications of this kind should be transparent.”

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Council feels that the Museum needs to be a place that children can go to have fun. 

“We strive to make the Museum attractive to as many age groups as possible. Creating a kid-friendly environment is a constant work-in-progress for us. Being a destination for numerous school groups every year is evidence of our success. So was the impassioned presentation recently made to Council by two Tumbler Ridge teenagers on the value of the Museum to the community – it was heart-warming to hear from them how kids in town value what we have created for them. Our educational programs are currently only provided for kids, although we are working on developing programs for adults as well. Details on all these aspects have been provided in writing to Mayor and Council.”

In 2015 we requested plans be developed and implemented to address this. We do not feel this has changed in a way that justifies the $1,200,000 that has been received in operational funding over the past three years. When Council requested their education plans what we received was disappointing in its quality especially considering the Museum leadership’s background in education. 

“DTR questions on this have been responded to in detail in writing (e.g. July 26th 2017, an 8-page letter; September 8th, 2017, a 4-page letter), as well as at presentations to Mayor and Council in Council Chambers. These include September 5th, 2017 (which can be watched on YouTube on the DTR website) and February 2018 at a Policies and Procedures meeting. A further response was to invite Mayor and Council to visit the Museum, to allow us to explain what we do in the fields of education and kid-friendly activities in person. In the summer of 2017 Mayor McPherson agreed with us that this was a good idea. Formal written invitation was sent on July 26th, 2017, with follow-up on September 8th, 2017 and February 2018, along with further verbal invitations – no response has been received and no visit has taken place. Text of the initial invitation includes: “We would like to invite you and your Councillors and staff again to our facility, give you an updated tour of the DDG and PRPRC, and then answer your questions in an informal setting. Please would you consider this letter as such an invitation, at a time of your convenience?” 

“We also suggested informal monthly meetings or the reconstitution of the Museum Development Committee as ways of improving communication. (The Museum Development Committee was a successful committee in the past, comprising the MLA, two representatives from Council and the DTR CAO or EDO, and two representatives from the Museum Board of Directors and the Curator. To this we would suggest adding the liaison from the PRRD and a representative from Treaty 8 Tribal Association.)”

“Finally, while DTR may comment on use of its contributions over three years ($600,000) we do not believe it is relevant for it to comment on the PRRD contribution or contributions from other sources.”

With the addition of the Global Geopark, secured through the hard work of the Museum, Council was extremely happy and proud of the work that had been done. 

“It is good to see this acknowledged. However, it contradicts the statement that we do not consider education or tourism a priority.”

However, we wondered how this new creation would be funded and how the two organizations would work together. In January of 2017 we requested that these organizations consider a closer working relationship and to explore amalgamation as recommended by the head of Tourism development for BC. 

The Museum refused to do this. 

“This is correct. We believe that it was an inappropriate (if well-intentioned) recommendation made without a proper understanding of the two organizations and the consequences which would have followed amalgamation. It is acknowledged now that an MOU between the two organizations would have been more appropriate at that point.”

The Museum then withdrew their scientific support from the Geopark… 

“This myth seems to keep recurring, despite numerous attempts to put the record straight. For example, our letter of 26 July 2017 to Mayor and Council states: “Your letter states that the TRMF has withdrawn its support for the TRUGG. I need to stress that this is not the case and has never been the case. As your letter acknowledges, the TRMF was the prime reason that the TRUGG came into existence, and it is unthinkable that we would not continue to support this organization, celebrate its achievements, and continually strive to make it as successful as possible, with particular reference to the 2018 UNESCO re-evaluation process.” And our letter of 8 September 2017 states: “I hope that my letter, my presentation to you, and my personal meetings with you have made it clear this perception (that the museum withdrew its scientific support for the Geopark) is simply untrue, and was the result of a misunderstanding between us. In fact the opposite is true, as we continue to act as a critical support and anchor for the Geopark, cherish its achievements, and wish to help in areas where we can constructively maximize the chances of successful revalidation in 2018 at the UNESCO Global Geoparks Network visit.” 

“This point has been reiterated at presentations to Mayor and Council, most recently on March 12th 2018 at a Policies and Procedures meeting.”

… and have since called a number of other scientific advisors and had them do the same. 

“This is incorrect. Our scientists called their scientific colleagues to inform them that the TRMF funding application to DTR had not been approved, and that as a result they had received termination notices. On April 7th Dr. Helm and Mayor McPherson had a meeting, at which Mayor McPherson mentioned this concern. Dr. Helm explained how this was another misunderstanding, and clarified what had actually transpired. Dr. Helm realized how damaging such a misunderstanding could be, and on three occasions during the hour-long meeting asked Mayor McPherson if he would please explain this to his Councillors and clarify the situation. Despite this, comments made by Mayor McPherson and Councillor Krakowka at the Policies and Procedures meeting of April 9th (which can be viewed in YouTube video on DTR website: 0-44 to 0-46) perpetuated the misunderstanding.”

The vice-president of the Museum said this move would ‘doom the Geopark’. These actions serve only to hurt the community who has shown incredible generosity to the organization. 

“We are not sure where this quote came from, and our Vice President does not recall making such a statement, but it sounds appropriate if it refers to our precious Geopark (which we worked so hard to establish) being threatened if the Museum cannot continue to operate in Tumbler Ridge. We feel obliged to inform Mayor and Council in cases like this of the potential consequences of their actions.” 

As a result Council, in July of 2017, sent a letter (attached) to the Museum expressing our disappointment in their development and treatment of the community. In the letter we informed the Museum they would receive no more funds until they developed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Geopark… 

“The July 2017 letter did not mention an MOU with the Geopark. There has been no formal or written request for an MOU, although this has been conveyed to us verbally. The MOU with the Geopark has been signed.”

…and submit to Council a plan to address their deficiencies in marketing, education, programming, and tourism outreach. 

“These concerns were addressed in letters of July 26th 2017 and September 8th 2017, with written request to DTR to respond if these explanations were not considered adequate. Dr. Helm as Acting President made a presentation regarding ongoing progress on these topics at the regular Council meeting of September 5th, 2017 (this can be viewed on YouTube on DTR website). In response Mayor McPherson read from a prepared typed document, which included the observation that Dr. Helm‟s presentation had “not shown any progress” in these areas. Our impression is that a decision (in the form of a pre- prepared statement) on the merits of the TRMF presentation had been taken before the presentation actually took place.”

Although this was requested in July 2017, the Museum did not start MOU conversations until March 2018 after funding was postponed. 

“This is incorrect. The conversation was begun through a letter from TRMF to the Geopark (cc‟ed to Mayor and Council) on September 15th, 2017. What is correct is that the process took longer than we desired, and we have accepted a portion of the responsibility for this (the TRMF and Geopark agreed to defer the MOU process until after the TRMF AGM).”

During the Council meeting on March 12th the museum representative informed Council there ‘would be no give and take’ from the museum during these discussions. 

“This is incorrect. On April 12th Mayor McPherson made a similar comment at a PRRD meeting and attributed the comments to Dr. Charles Helm. This refers to Dr. Helm‟s comments at the Policies and Procedures meeting of 12 March, where he said with regard to the planned MOU with the Geopark: “What I hope is that there is no need even for give-and-take. If you can just come together and agree on something, no-one needs to give and no-one needs to take, and that‟s what I‟m hoping for.” A YouTube video of this statement can be watched on the DTR website – the relevant section is at 1-01-30.”

Council has to this day received no information on progress for a plan for their improvements for marketing, education, programming, or tourism outreach. 

“This is not correct. These issues were addressed in detail in the letters of 26 July 2017 and 8 September 2017, as well as in verbal and powerpoint presentations to Council.”

I was first elected to Council in 2001. I have supported the Museum for nearly 20 years,… 

“This is not quite correct, as the museum has not been in existence that long.”

… have voted in favour of $2,600,000 in funding, have helped double their funding from the PRRD, and included their organization in numerous meetings with Minsters including a 30-minute meeting with the Premier. 

“We acknowledge the efforts that Mayor McPherson has made in the past to support the Museum. Providing this kind of cumulative operational-funding amount is only appropriate when equivalent operational-funding amounts that have been provided to other organizations and institutions are also provided for comparison.”

The Museum this year is still receiving $200,000 from the Peace River Regional District. Until 2015 this is the total amount of operational funding they received. The Museum have now shut their doors. 

“The Museum is in idling mode and has been obliged to provide notices of termination to all its staff. This enforced situation is the result of the DTR decision not to approve the TRMF Grant-in-Aid application.”

This is of concern; does that mean if the Regional District does not fund them next year they will now expect $400,000 a year from the tax payers of Tumbler Ridge to remain open? 

“This is speculation. The incoming Mayor and Council would assess any funding application for 2019 on its merits.”

The Museum has said Council is misinformed and maybe we are. 

“We appreciate that this is acknowledged.”

However, we have requested these plans countless times and have been ignored. 

“This is not correct, as has been explained above, through the letters of 26 July 2017 and 8 September 2017, presentations, etc.”

Council wants to see the Museum succeed; Council wants to see the Museum open. 

“These are shared desires.”

However, Council can no longer make $800,000 investments without accountability and progress. 

“Current accountability includes provision of annual audited financial statements to DTR, quarterly progress reports to DTR, presentations as required or as requested to Mayor and Council, and DTR liaison invited to all TRMF Board meetings. Museum requests to enhance communication and progress include the long-standing invitation to Mayor and Council to visit the museum, and the requests for the reconstitution of the Museum Development Committee.”

When the museum delivers the information and focuses on tourism development in the manner the Province and Royal BC Museum have advised we will be happy to resume funding. 

“We have not been provided with the recommendations that are alluded to. With the completion of the MOU with the Geopark, we believe that TRMF has complied with every request made by Council related to funding. The response of TRMF is to respectfully ask Council to acknowledge the existence of the documents, presentations and responses which have already been provided, which addressed the DTR questions. Reconsideration of our Grant-in-Aid request so as to allow us to reopen our facility and resume operations, followed by reconstitution of the Museum Development Committee, appears to us to be the most effective way forward.”

 

 

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