Lewis County Historical Museum on an 'Even Keel'
Jan 19, 2013 (The Chronicle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
When Johanna Jones took over as director of the Lewis County Historical Museum last March, she inherited a 100-year-old train depot, an extensive collection of local artifacts and a reputation for poor money management.
The first two, Jones, who served six years as the museum director for the city of Dupont, handled easily.
The latter has been more of a challenge. It's the result of former director Debbie Knapp, who stands accused of embezzling as much as $400,00 from the museum.
"It's been challenging," Jones said. "Day by day as issues come up we just deal with them. We took one bite at a time and have made it manageable."
The museum does not owe money, and the items in the gift store -- located in the entryway to the museum -- are all paid for, according to Jones.
"We are in a positive place financially," she said. "Yes we have less money, but we're keeping an even keel and we're doing fine."
President of the museum's board, Peter Lahmann, echoed Jones' confidence. With the help of two volunteer accountants, museum treasurer Daryl Lund has been able to get the books in working order, according to Lahmann.
"It's still tough, but we've cleaned up the accounting procedures," Lahmann said.
Still though, the museum's financials remain under a microscope, in large part because about half of the museum's funding comes from the county and local cities.
At a public meeting earlier this week, the Lewis County Commission discussed the need for regular auditing of the museum -- a procedure that Commissioner Bill Schulte described as "pretty much non-negotiable."
Money the county gave to the museum for an audit was instead used to put their books in order, according to Schulte.
"I understand that they're just trying to keep their doors open, but if they're going to accept public money, they ought to audit on a regular schedule," Schulte said. "No audit, no more money from the county."
"When they apply for lodging tax money, it would be a plus to have audits as part of their standard operating procedure," agreed Commissioner Edna Fund, who is highly involved with the Historical Museum.
Financial wrongdoing at the Lewis County Historical Museum first came to light in late 2011 after an investigation by Fund and Chehalis City Councilor Dennis Dawes.
Authorities believe Knapp, 52, wrote herself $137,000 in unapproved paychecks and used the museum's debit card to make personal purchases at local businesses. According to court documents, the museum's fund had $460,000 when Knapp was hired in 2008, but by November of 2011, the fund was empty, and the museum had $13,000 in unpaid bills.
Knapp was arrested on Dec. 29 and the museum board terminated Knapp's employment in early January 2012.
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