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Ailing Confederate Museum Seeks Peer Review

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Ideally, Hunt says, these experts will be able to say how other museums have dealt with problems similar to those of the Museum of the Confederacy: declining visitation, physical encroachment and financial disarray. "Given the extent of the difficulties," she says, "I think we're going to fast-track this."

The scope, speed and success of this emergency peer review will depend on how much funding the museum receives from the General Assembly.

Earlier this week, the House of Delegates Finance Committee advocated granting the museum the $700,000 it had requested, while its Senate counterpart suggested only $50,000. What the museum will actually receive is "still in negotiation," says Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III, D-Richmond, whose district contains the museum.

The museum would use $200,000 to pay for the peer review process and a "very rapid marketing plan," among other things, Hunt says.

The museum's financial problems turned controversial late last year. David H. Rankin Jr., a former treasurer and board of trustees member at the museum, said the museum's executive director, Waite Rawls, was "dishonest" with him while preparing a draft of the museum's budget in 2004, appearing to inflate revenues and expenses "out of thin air."

Others have raised questions about Rawls' handling of the budget too. Some former board members have said it was unnecessary for the museum to pay an outside consulting firm $150,000 during the 2004-2005 fiscal year.

In December, Rawls told Style that the museum was on pace to run a deficit of $500,000 by the end of the 2005-2006 fiscal year, which ends in June. If attendance numbers follow museum officials' projections, the loss could be as much as $750,000. Unless the General Assembly pitches in, Rawls said, the museum would mostly likely go bankrupt. He would not say what the museum would do if it didn't get the state money.

Rawls also dismissed charges that he ran up expenses. He described Rankin and Witt as "disgruntled employees" with little working knowledge of the museum's current financial situation. His supporters say the museum has done its job to stay within budget constraints. Through museum spokeswoman Sarah Dowdey, Rawls said last week, "For now, we are expecting the General Assembly to do the responsible thing."

Rankin and some former members of the museum's board have been calling for the state to mandate an independent audit of the museum's finances before giving it more money, but legislators won't require it. "It's always good to have a clean audit," Lambert says, but adds, "Well, I think that those on the board should make that decision."

Lambert and Rawls have advocated moving the White House of the Confederacy, now hemmed in by hospital buildings, to a new site. The Historic Richmond Foundation and other groups vehemently oppose this uprooting until all other options have been explored. S



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