County Commission appoints new museum board member; Tonkin not returning

(Former Fremont County Museum Board member Butch Tonkin during his Tuesday interview with the Fremont County Commission. Joshua Scheer photo.)

(Lander, Wyo.) – The Fremont County Commission has re-appointed Carol Chidsey and added Erin Shirley to the Fremont County Museum Board. Not returning is longtime board member Butch Tonkin.

Two seats were open on the board, both incumbents sought re-appointment, and Erin Shirley was the lone challenger. The commission’s Administrative Secretary Becky Enos said Butch Hudson pulled his name from consideration.

The vote was done with closed ballots at the end of Tuesday’s commission meeting. The terms are for three years.

Tonkin was the first to be interviewed. The commission grilled him and the others on what they felt the board’s role and mission should be, as well as the hot topic of a possible reorganization of museum administration.

He said he thinks the board’s role is primarily administrative and sets policies and procedures for the system. “The first goal, set by the commission, is to get the stuff accounted for,” Tonkin said. While he said he believes the goals should be accomplished simultaneously, the second would be “trying to meet the needs of the people coming as best as we can.”

Commission Chairman Doug Thompson asked if Tonkin had a firm position on either the current administrative system, one director for each museum, or a proposed new system of one ‘director-like’ position overseeing three site operators.

“I’m not opposed to having a single director at this point in time,” Tonkin said. He later added, “It’s too early, in my book, to really make a decision one way or another. I see merit to both ways.”

Tonkin said he believes the museums to be a repository for history and to provide people access to the history. “Our mission is to educate the public about our history,” he said.

While acknowledging that the board has some tensions right now, he believed everyone was listening to each other, but that “sometimes people get defensive.” When asked about fundraising intiatives, Tonkin said none were in the works right now in Lander and Riverton. He also noted the board’s budget has been essentially frozen in the last few years.

In general, Tonkin said the board shouldn’t get involved in day-to-day operations, but said he has helped out at the Lander museum with some things to “fill a void, temporarily.” “I’m just doing the best I can, folks,” he said.

Chidsey was appointed to the board earlier this year to fill a vacancy. She had to reapply now that the seat’s term limit was complete.

The first question asked of Chidsey was if she had any fundraising ideas. She listed a number of possible grant opportunities and said there is potential for local fundraising as well. “That’s what I do for a living is fundraising,” she said.

With regard to the board’s role versus a director’s role, Chidsey said she believes the board should focus on the overall strategic plan for the museum systems and let the directors handle day-to-day operations. When asked where the board could improve, she said it really needed to identify its mission and discuss its goal.

Chidsey told the commission the board’s priority should be to find out what the community wants most out of a museum.

“Right now I don’t think it’s very good,” she said of the current management system. Chidsey added that perhaps a single “business manager” to oversee all three museums would be best. She suggested the board needs to set a standard that everyone can work from. “We need to set out our mission,” she said. Having a single business manager would help, she said, especially in the realm of budgeting.

“I think we need to work on preserving our past,” she said. “Not just items, but through stories and events. … I think we need to encourage each museum to be its own entity.”

Chidsey also spoke of utilizing the county museum system as a hub for other historical entities to come together around and be mutually supportive.

Shirley told the board about her experience working with board, having served on a hospice board in the past and now working for one. She said a board is “a group that needs to set a goal and figure out how to get there.” She acknowledged that boards tend to bring people with clashing personalities together, but she said she believes in diplomacy and board etiquette.

When asked about fundraising ideas, she said she wasn’t aware the county needed that, but said there seems to be potential locally.

Thompson asked her for her feelings on a possible administrative reorganization. “It seems to me some of the minutia the museum board tackles in its meetings could be handled by one person,” Shirley said.

She said she felt like community outreach from the museums is important and that the community needs to see the museums as functioning well. “It’s a lot about PR and goodwill,” she said.

Thompson also asked her about her experience in seeing a construction project through. Shirley noted her work with Habitat for Humanity, where she oversees the building of homes.

Erin Shirley during her interview. (Joshua Scheer photo.)

Erin Shirley during her interview. (Joshua Scheer photo.)