Anniston to unify museum finances
by Patrick McCreless
Oct 16, 2013 | 4919 views |  0 comments | 76 76 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Anniston Museum of Natural History. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Anniston Museum of Natural History. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Anniston officials plan to consolidate the finances of the city's museums to better show the facilities' worth, in theory making it easier for the city to borrow money for potential retail development.

During its regular meeting today, the Anniston Museum Complex Board agreed to cooperate with the city and be audited by a single firm. The city plans to use the audit to help it borrow more money to potentially develop the Anniston Middle School site for retail, city officials say.

The complex board oversees the Anniston Museum of Natural History, the Berman Museum of World History and the various other boards that support the two facilities. Previously, each board had its own independent financial audits, sometimes through different firms. The city owns the two museums and the property around them and appoints the members of the complex board. The other boards have self-appointed membership.

After the meeting Danny McCullars, city finance director, said the various audits have kept the city from showing on its books all the money passing through the boards. For instance, the Anniston Museum Endowment Corporation has about $2 million, which it raised to support museum programs.

"We couldn't show that before in our records," McCullars said.

Other board organizations providing varying degrees of support for the museums include the MusANN Corporation, the Museum League and the Berman Foundation Board.

By giving a truer representation of all the city's assets, city officials can potentially borrow more money from lenders, McCullars said.

He said the city could potentially use the extra money to purchase the middle school from the Anniston City Board of Education and use the property for retail development. City officials expect the site to be a good retail location once the nearby Veterans Memorial Parkway is finished.

Some of the complex board members expressed a concern that the audit change might hurt the museums' ability to obtain grants. Cheryl Bragg, executive director of the Anniston Museum, said all the museum boards must have independent audits to qualify for grants.

"We need to qualify for grants," Bragg said.

About 55 percent of the museums' funding comes from the city, while the rest comes from donations, earned income and grants, Bragg said.

McCullars said the museums' grant applications shouldn't be an issue.

"I don't think it will be a problem," McCullars said.

Even without the benefit of borrowing more money, the museums and their boards need to be under one auditing system, McCullars said.

"The complexity and the interplay of transactions among the various organizations there calls for a look at all the entities in a holistic way," McCullars said. "Picking and choosing auditors for different organizations under the same umbrella is not efficient and does not lend itself to an opinion as a whole."

Robert Jackson, treasurer of the complex board, said he agreed with the city's concerns about the museums' finances. (Jackson also is vice president of sales and operations for Consolidated Publishing, which publishes The Anniston Star.)

"We have to become more consistent with how we handle our financial processes," Jackson said.

The complex board's decision was preceded by a closed-door executive session to discuss the issue, requested by city attorney Bruce Downey and city manager Brian Johnson. Downey said the executive session was to discuss, "controversies ... imminently likely to be litigated if the governmental body pursues a proposed course of action," as stated in Alabama's open meetings law.

Jackson said after the meeting, however, that there was no pending litigation against the board.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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