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Search set for VMNH director

Sunday, February 22, 2009

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Virginia Museum of Natural History plans to hire a new executive director by August.

The museum's board of trustees on Saturday decided to begin advertising the position in March. Job interviews will be conducted in June and July with intentions of offering the position to a suitable candidate by Aug. 1.

Board members reasoned that if the advertisement is placed next month, it might not appear in some museum trade journals until May.

The position also will be posted on a Web site advertising state government jobs in Virginia. People interested in the job will have to apply online.

Earlier this month, former executive director Tim Gette left the Martinsville museum to become executive director of the Institute of Texan Cultures at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Gette is from Texas, and his wife remained there for the five years he was in Martinsville.

Gloria Niblett, the Virginia museum's director of administration and services, is serving as its interim director.

The advertisement that board members agreed upon shows that the person hired must have skills expected of executives and knowledge of all aspects of museum operations, as well as excellent leadership and communication skills.

Board member George Lyle of Martinsville said the ad will mention that the highest salary the museum can afford to pay a new executive director - at least in the foreseeable future - is a little more than $105,000 per year.

That is what Gette was earning when he left. The position's salary has been frozen due to state budget problems.

By mentioning the salary, Lyle said, board members will not run the risk of seriously considering an applicant and then finding the person no longer is interested because he or she thought the pay would be more.

Within the museum profession, he said, "a lot of people wouldn't want to take a salary reduction to work here."�

The museum board is developing two additions to a list of the executive director's "core responsibilities."�

One addition pertains to the director's involvement with the board of the Virginia Museum of Natural History Foundation, a private entity that raises funds to support the museum.

"We want to have a balance of responsibility," Lyle said, so the director does not get preoccupied in the work of a private volunteer organization instead of the public institution that employs him or her.

The museum is state-funded, but its foundation eventually may become "the tail that wags the dog if it gets a lot of money," said board member Philip Sprinkle of Martinsville.

Yet since the foundation works solely to benefit the museum, there should be a "tight link" between the two, said board Treasurer C. Novel Martin III of Roanoke.

The job announcement says the director's position includes "significant fundraising responsibilities."�

The other addition would specify criteria for bonus pay. A draft presented to the board says that bonuses should be based on state guidelines for executive management with consideration of successful completion of job responsibilities.

Board member Mervyn King of Martinsville said the criteria should state that "your bonus is for going above and beyond expectations."�

"I'd like to see some motivation" to earn extra pay, he said. "People work when there is motivation."�

But if a director does not receive a bonus when one is considered, that does not necessarily mean he or she has done a poor job, King said.

Board member Oliver Flint Jr. of Alexandria suggested specifying "every dollar and cent" of bonus pay to which a director may be entitled.

Board chairman Pam Armstrong of Martinsville said board members will consider the issue during the next couple of months and develop criteria that can be voted on at their May 2 meeting.

Under state law, the museum's director cannot receive an annual bonus of more than 5 percent of his or her salary, Armstrong said.

Also Saturday, the museum board learned that:

"¢ Museum attendance from October through December was 8,480 people, which was 27 percent under projections.

As a result, income from admissions was 13 percent below projections, said Niblett. She did not say how much income was received during the period.

She attributed the drop to economic conditions.

As a result, the museum has reduced operating hours for its box office and store, plus working hours for coffee shop staff, Niblett said.

"¢ Nominations are being accepted until March 27 for the foundation's 22nd annual Thomas Jefferson Awards.

The awards honor individuals and corporations for outstanding contributions to natural science and natural science education.

The awards ceremony will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. April 22 at the museum.

"¢ The foundation's 25th anniversary gala will be held May 2.

The foundation has embarked on a campaign to raise $5 million. So far, it has received $3.4 million in pledges, according to officials.

It hopes to collect $4 million in pledges by the day of the gala.

 

 
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