Marcisz responds to Zimmerman criticism of Arizona Historical Society

The Scottsdale Independent recently ran an opinion piece by Dick Zimmerman that was critical of the Arizona Historical Society. The principal assertion of the piece is that the Arizona Historical Society is inefficient and arrogant.

That opinion appears to be based on inaccurate and incomplete information — here are the facts.

Mr.  Zimmerman notes that AHS receives an appropriation of $3 million annually, but he neglects to mention that this budget has been cut nearly in half since 2011 (when it was $5.7 million). This “cost to taxpayers” is not “hidden,” all appropriations are publicly available on the state of Arizona website.

Mr. Zimmerman further asserts that the AHS executive director is paid more than the governor. While that is true, context is important: There are 690 state employees who are paid more than the governor. Astute readers of the Scottsdale Independent will know that it is common for conservatively run state, county and local governments to provide professional staff salaries that are higher than those of elected officials.

In his piece, Mr. Zimmerman asks, “what do taxpayers get in return?”

The answer is, “a lot.”

Since the Arizona Historical Society was established by the first territorial legislature in 1864, our charge has been to collect, preserve and publish the history of this great state. Not the government’s history — the people’s history. We save and share the stories of Arizona’s urban and rural communities, cultures, organizations, large industries, small businesses, families, and individuals.

We provide access to those stories via exhibits and archives at 21 buildings — not six as claimed by Mr. Zimmerman — we manage at four major locations across the state.

Last fiscal year we served 20,000 patrons and researchers at our archives and libraries and 70,000 visitors at our museums. 1,620 students, teachers and parents participated in our National History Day program this year. We do all that with a staff of 44 very dedicated historians and other professionals (down from 80 in 2002).  These services are delivered at the lowest per capita appropriated expense of any historical society in the West and Midwest — 46 cents per resident, as compared to 56 cents in Oregon and $4.99 in Colorado.

We leave it to readers of the Scottsdale Independent to judge whether this is efficient. As to the unsupported assertion that AHS is “arrogant,” we can only extend a welcoming hand to Mr. Zimmerman.

As the society’s president, I invite Mr. Zimmerman to contact me through the Arizona Historical Society at pkyle@azhs.gov. Dick, let’s chat over coffee.  I’m hopeful that our mutual dedication to Arizona history will lead to a more constructive relationship in the future.

Editor’s note: Mr. Marcisz is president of the Arizona Historical Society Board of Directors

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