Tumult at Sequim museum — resignations, financial questions, 'hate messages'
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Joe Smillie/Peninsula Daily News
Steph Ellyas, manager of the Museum and Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley's exhibit center on Cedar Street, tends to bookwork Thursday. Ellyas will leave the museum Monday, leaving no one in place to open the exhibit center next week.

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– The Museum and Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley will close its exhibit center at 153 W. Cedar St., Saturday afternoon, as usual.

When it reopens, however, is anybody's guess now that key staff members have announced their resignations.

“I don't know. I don't know what they're going to want to do about it,” said Priscilla Hudson, vice president of the MAC's board of trustees and a long-time volunteer.

Several staff members, including Steph Ellyas, manager of the exhibit center, and Lyn Fiveash, coordinator of the museum's history exhibits, told museum officials they are leaving their posts as of Monday, March 31.

The move leaves the museum without staff to open the exhibit center's doors unless something changes before Tuesday.

Six descendents of Dungeness Valley pioneer families were added as trustees in a contentious meeting March 20.

“We're a tight-knit organization,” Executive Director DJ Bassett said. “They felt they weren't going to be able to work with the new board members.”

The trustees have called a special meeting for Saturday morning to discuss possible solutions.

New trustees

“We'll see what the new board plans to do,” Bassett said.

New trustee Jerry Brownfield was disappointed when he heard the exhibit center's staff was leaving.

“I don't know why this is so volatile,” Brownfield said. “Because I think we all want the same thing: for the museum to prosper.”

The new trustees, elected to the board after calling for an immediate vote on their membership applications, joined, he said, to try and stem the museum's mounting annual losses.

In 2012, the museum took in $165,624 in revenue and spent $247,117, a loss of $81,493, after losing a combined $179,609 the previous three years.

“We just want to come in and see why and correct this problem,” Brownfield, a retired contractor, said. “We've got a lot of good business heads in this group.”

The MAC was shy of its bylaw-minimum nine trustees before the March 20 meeting, when four trustees who were added through an email vote of existing trustees joined the board.

The MAC has had 22 trustees leave the board since 2011.

'Hate' messages

But Hudson said she and other members of the museum's trustees and employees have received anonymous “hate messages,” including midnight phone calls, since September.

“I don't know what they want besides taking over the MAC,” Hudson told the City Council Monday. “And because I'm not a pioneer, I don't count.”

Brownfield said none of those messages came from the new trustees.

“I can guarantee you, that's not anyone on this group,” Brownfield said.

Open books

Brownfield said the new trustees wanted to be on the board in order to get more insight into the MAC's financial standing.

“I have tried to be open about finances, our infrastructure problems, our maintenance needs, etcetera,” Hudson said.

Brownfield said emails and phone calls requesting expense and income information often went unanswered.

“We just never got responses,” he said. “The only way we could get that information was to get on the board. And now we have.”

All volunteers?

New trustee Bob Stipe told the Peninsula Daily News earlier this month that the museum should recruit more volunteers to preserve the facility.

But Bassett, who makes an annual salary of $42,000, said the detailed documentation and preservation required to run a museum requires full-time expertise.

He noted other part-time employees of the museum make very little for their duties.

Ellyas was paid $700 a month for managing the exhibit center.

Mike and Kathy Bare are paid $400 a month for managing the Dungeness Schoolhouse.

“About 12 cents an hour,” Bassett said.

Brownfield said the new board members do not plan to get rid of paid staff, but want to have a better gauge on their value to the museum.

“We're not trying to eliminate anybody. We're trying to figure out who's doing what and for how much and if that's right,” he said.

Ask city help

Hudson and Claire Manis Hatler, widow of Emanuel “Manny” Manis who turned up skeletal remains of a mastadon, now the museum's centerpiece, while digging a pond on his property in 1977, pleaded with the City Council on Monday night to step in to help the museum.

“Please help save this museum, as this museum has helped save the history of Sequim,” Manis Hatler said to the council.

Unsure of their role in a private nonprofit with no official affiliation with the city, councilmembers asked City Manager Steve Burkett to see if the city could do anything.

“At least we could look into it and see what our role is, if any, and see what's going on and if there's something we can do,” Councilman Erik Erichsen said.


Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 28. 2014 12:30AM
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