Official: Museum reports ‘without a factual basis’

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

PICKENS — County officials say recent media reports about the finances of the Pickens County Museum of Art and History are misleading.

A statement released by Pickens County tourism and marketing director Helen Hockwalt said a recent news story claimed that the State Law Enforcement Division has a pending inquiry into the finances of the museum.

The county’s statement said that the former executive director of the museum, Allen Coleman, contacted SLED some time after he was terminated by the county for inappropriate conduct.

“We were contacted by SLED last month and we provided them with all information they requested,” the statement reads. “We also referred them to our external auditing firm for an outside perspective on the county’s financial management practices, both generally and as it pertains to the museum.”

The preliminary contact from SLED was only made “to determine if sufficient information exists to warrant an actual investigation,” the statement said.

“This is a routine step when a citizen complaint is received,” Hockwalt continued. “There are no financial irregularities or monies transferred from designated accounts into the County’s General Fund as alleged.”

The statement disputes the story’s assertion that more than $70,000 was drawn out of museum accounts.

“This assertion is completely without a factual basis,” the statement said. “Records that are readily available to the public from the Finance Office show a fund balance in the contingency account for the Museum of $73,318.00 as of (July 27), with any and all revenues and expenditures accurately recorded. Much of this information is also available on the County website.”

Pickens County is audited annually by an independent external auditing firm.

“In our most recent audit, this firm noted that there were no material weaknesses, significant deficiencies, or noncompliance with financial statements noted,” Hockwalt’s statement said. “In fact, Pickens County has been awarded the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association for 11 consecutive years.”

A member of the Pickens County Cultural Commission recently shared her concerns about the museum with county council.

Gilda Hendricks spoke before council members at their June meeting, stating that the administration of the museum “currently is off-kilter.”

“The function of the commission is no longer clear, nor its purpose or mission being met,” Hendricks said.

She said the county tourism department currently running the museum is “either unwilling or unable to meet the requirements of the cultural commission, and its operations are ineffective.”

“The museum has no director, according to the current budget,” she said.

She said the commission is no longer being provided accurate treasurer reports and other reports and is no longer being allowed to “serve in the planning and functioning of the museum.”

“This should be rectified,” Hendricks said. “It is the acting director’s responsibility to see that this commission or board is tended to.”

“Both the museum and the Hagood Mill site were well-run and productive prior to the restructuring of the department a little over two years ago,” Hendricks said. “Since that time, things have begun to fade.”

She said the commission had no say in the decision to discharge Coleman.

The ordinance establishing the commission states that body shall assist county officials in selecting a museum director, subject to the right of the administrator to employ or discharge that position, she said.

“In spite of our voiced concerns about the way things were going, the interim administrator terminated the director with no consultation whatsoever,” Hendricks said. “Yes, it was the administrator’s right, but at that time we did not have a permanent administrator, so the interim making such a decision without board input was probably not in the best interests of the museum.”

She said there has been “a tremendous fall in museum attendance” and blamed it on “ill-advised directives.”

“Programs and exhibits are at an all-time minimum,” Hendricks said. “The current staff is simply not producing adequate programming and is failing to market what little is produced. Even the Facebook page for the museum is repetitive and is not up-to-date.”

She said in the past two years, the commission has experienced “a lack of appreciation for our past services and an implied silencing of our current advisory position.”

“When we make suggestions or voice concerns, we’re told that we’re only creating confusion,” Hendricks said. “With our small number and our silenced voice, we feel almost forbidden to work on any planning, fundraising, membership recruitment or other forms or support. Some of us feel like we’re just waiting to be told we’re no longer needed.”

She said the commission was concerned the tourism director was not making their questions and concerns known to council members.

“If that is not the case, then you are ignoring us,” Hendricks said.

She said her statements weren’t meant to air “personal grievances,”

“It is for you to know the conflicts that have been going on in the museum,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks said the county ordinance regarding the cultural commission needed to be revisited or updated.

“The adherence to Ordinance 184 seems to have been abandoned with no updated mission being created,” she said.

Hockwalt’s statement asserts the county’s continued support of the arts.

“It is correct that the County Museum is going through a transition in leadership,” the statement concludes. “But it is wildly inaccurate to suggest that the County is withdrawing support for the Museum or its mission. In fact, Pickens County Council is currently considering an additional $120,000 budget outlaw for repairs to the facility.”