Museum board ups director hours, approves budget

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Beaverhead County Museum director will have more hours to keep the museum open and prepare for events, the museum board decided last week.

The board approved upping Executive Director Candi Whitworth’s position to nearly three-fourths time, working 40 hours a week during the summer months and 20 hours a week in the winter months at its Aug. 18 meeting. Whitworth had been limited previously to less than 1,000 hours in a year.

The hours of the museum – and the months it’s open and closed – have not changed. The museum is open during the summer and largely closed in the winter, other than for special events or rented use of the Depot Theatre.

The museum’s board started closing the facility in the winter to combat a tightly-constrained budget a few years ago. Then-executive director Cheryl Pierce also resigned, due to the cost related to her full-time salary and benefits. She was later re-hired on a part-time basis, which helped beef up the museum’s financial reserves.

Museum board treasurer Neal Straus said the change is doable by taking some of those financial reserves and putting them toward staff salaries. The museum’s association (its fundraising arm) will be asked to supply $11,000 for the current fiscal year for building and facilities improvements. The budget also includes funding for new and existing exhibits, part-time help and other basic operations needs.

“My personal belief is we still need a full-time director, but I think this is a step in the right direction,” he said. “There is a risk. If we are unable to increase our contributions or grants, then we wouldn’t be able to repeat this next year. For the current year, we still have a health (cash) reserve at the end of the budget year of $25,000.”

The staffing level change for Whitworth is doable in this budget with the one-time use of reserves, Straus said, and the fact that Whitworth has her own health insurance and would not need the county’s service. If the board intends to continue that level of staffing, Whitworth will have to supplement revenue with grants, something former director Lynn Giles said she managed when she filled the role.

“This is what I worry about,” board member John Breen said, reminding the board of the budgetary difficulties with a full-time director. “The reason we have extra money right now is because we didn’t pay for a director last year. I want to see a full-time director too, but we have to make sure we have the money to pay for it.”

“We can’t do this on a shoestring,” Board chairman John Garry said. “The past director Cheryl did not do any fundraising. I think we’re going to be looking to you, Candi, to fundraise like mad to get this.”

Whitworth said she intends to seek grants for a number of museum items, and wants to leave the museum in a good place when she chooses to retire.

“When I leave this position eventually, I would like to leave the museum in the place where people come to visit,” she said. “I want it to be a museum we and the community are proud of.”