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If at first, going behind your governor's back to try to broker a flim-flam scam with Iraq doesn't succeed in bringing instant riches to your bankrupt Third Worldish state, fire your state museum's well-regarded director and go for eBay instead.
Most places, folks would call that some insane s***.
In Louisiana, that's just called another day in the lieutenant governor's office.
Tucked inside an unmarked, nondescript corner building on Chartres Street in the French Quarter are hundreds of thousands of carefully cataloged artifacts spanning more than three centuries of Louisiana’s cultural heritage.
The Louisiana State Museum system, with five nearby facilities that are open to the public, uses the four-story, climate-controlled storage facility to house the rest of its vast collection of historical records, gilt-framed paintings, period clothing and other artifacts that date back as far as Louisiana’s colonial days.
As state lawmakers have grappled with an estimated $600 million shortfall in next year’s budget, the museum system’s financial picture appeared bleak — an initially scheduled 37 percent drop in its state appropriation on top of years of funding cuts that left the museum system with its lowest budget and smallest staff in more than a decade.
After six months on the job, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser has been looking for ways to cut costs and raise revenue for the museum. One idea he’s exploring: selling the system’s storage building, which sits on 7,700 square feet of prime French Quarter real estate, and some of its more than 400,000 artifacts — those that are deemed to be of limited value.
“Why are we storing art in the middle of the French Quarter in such a valuable building?” Nungesser said. “That’s such an expensive building to maintain. I’d much rather see that cost going into maintaining and improving our museums.”YOU JUST KNOW that Billy Nungesser is going to bring the same common sense, expertise and attention to detail that he did in his James Bond mission to do a world-class deal with a shady go-between to realize riches for Louisiana by refining Iraqi oil and building Iraqi supertankers to transport it.
One small detail slipped by Nungesser, though. Nobody in authority in Washington or Baghdad knew what the hell he was talking about.
Oops. But this museum deal will work out a lot better, just trust him. And besides, he's learned his lesson about doing sketchy stuff behind the backs of folks who need to know:
A former two-term president of Plaquemines Parish, Nungesser was elected lieutenant governor last fall and took office in January. By law, the lieutenant governor oversees the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, which includes the Louisiana State Museum — a system that includes museums in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and other cities.UH . . . just do what Nungesser says, because lieutenant governor. Really, this'll work. Just ask Nungesser's predecessor, Jay Dardenne, who's now Gov. John Bel Edwards' commissioner of administration, who described selling the storage building . . . as an iffy proposition..
Last month, Nungesser dismissed the system’s director, Mark Tullos, a Baton Rouge native who took over in 2013.
In interviews, several board members — who declined to comment on the record — said they were surprised to learn about Tullos’ departure only after the fact. They saw Tullos as a decent guy who held the system together despite steep budget cuts and additional challenges, like last year’s mold outbreak at the 1850 House — a house museum that is part of the Lower Pontalba Building — and the collections building.
Nungesser was vague about why he fired Tullos, but he said museum leaders didn’t have a well-thought-out budget and seemingly “just went from one fire to another fire.”
“Not that Mark didn’t do his best job, but we needed — you’ve got to have somebody at the top setting the rules, the goals and what’s expected of people,” Nungesser said.
“If — it’s a big if — but if that building were sold, it would have to be declared surplus," he said, "and there’s a statutory scheme that governs what would happen.” In other words, the money wouldn't go to the state museum; it would go into the general fund of a state that has bigger problems than raising money to run the state museum.
Uh . . . what does Dardenne know? People say he's a RINO anyway -- a Republican in name only. He's probably not even voting for Trump.
No, we need to talk to an expert. Yeah, that's the ticket.
But if he wants to start listing items from the collection on eBay, he’s going to have a hard time convincing [longtime museum-board member Rosemary] Ewing.
“If it’s valuable on eBay, it’s valuable to us, too,” said Ewing .
Ewing was part of the board that hired Tullos. She “thought he did a really good job” and would have appreciated a heads-up that he was being dismissed.
Others once involved with the museum contend that Baton Rouge politics plays an outsized role in the system’s management.
“I’ve been a director at five different institutions, including the Louisiana State Museum, and it’s the only place that I’ve ever worked where there was incredibly and completely unprofessional interference in the day-to-day operation of the museum,” said David Kahn, who now is executive director of the Adirondack Museum in New York.
Kahn was forced out of the local director’s job by then-Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, who pushed for legislation giving him the power to hire and fire the director. Not long afterward, he forced out Kahn, who had been hired two years earlier.
On the surface, Kahn said, selling the warehouse building is feasible. He recalled ill-fated incidents involving Formosan termite swarms and a fire years ago in a first-floor restaurant, Irene’s Cuisine. The museum recently told Irene’s its lease will not be renewed after 2018.WHAT the hell do they know?
But such a sale, others say, may offer only a short-term solution.
“We may sell this place, but we’ve still got four stories of collections that we’re going to have to save and store somewhere,” Ewing said. “You don’t (display) everything all the time. You rotate it. That’s the attraction of a museum.”
Yes, it is good that the good people of Louisiana have a lieutenant governor who sweats the details. Oh, wait. Maybe he just sweats.