Opinion: Arizona Historical Society can do a better job

Reasonable people would not object to using some public resources to preserve history. However, reasonable people would expect that all such public funds be used effectively and efficiently. In the case of one Arizona state agency, that is not happening.

Dick Zimmermann

Dick Zimmermann

The Arizona Historical Society is a state agency that receives a cash allocation of over $3 million dollars every year. That, however, is only a portion of the annual cost to taxpayers, who also pay to maintain six state history museum buildings in Tucson, Tempe, Flagstaff and Yuma.

Those costs are hidden since they are not included in the AHS budget. The building costs are buried in the budget for the Arizona Department of Administration, which manages and maintains all state-owned buildings.

The mortgage payment alone on the 80,000-square-foot Tempe facility is $1.3 million per year. Therefore, the annual cost of maintaining the half dozen AHS facilities is easily more than the $3 million in cash.

So, what do taxpayers get in return for the $5 to $10 million dollars that the AHS consumes each year? Not much. Total attendance at all six history museums was less than 23,000 last year, and attendance has been declining rapidly for the past 10 years. Apparently, each museum visitor costs taxpayers hundreds of dollars. The AHS does archive documents as well as operate state history museums.

However, that function is redundant to the mission of the Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records. That state agency also operates a museum at the state capitol. Therefore, taxpayers are supporting the overhead for two state agencies that do basically the same thing.

The AHS, with approximately 40 employees, is a top-heavy organization with some six figure and near six figure salaries. The director is paid more than the governor. The AHS museum in Tempe is especially wasteful. It has 10 state employees, a huge mortgage payment, and received less than 3,400 visitors last year. That museum in particular has a history of incompetence and inefficiency. It has received media ridicule with articles such as “The Museum that Couldn’t Think Straight” by Terry Greene Sterling in 1996.

In addition to being wasteful, the AHS is a rather arrogant state agency. As public records show, it has never had a satisfactory performance review because it refuses to comply with state policies. State agencies are reviewed by the Office of the Arizona Auditor General. The auditor’s records show that deficiencies identified by past audits and reviews have never been corrected.

Arizona deserves better. The AHS needs to be combined with another, better managed, state agency. It’s redundant management structure and most wasteful museums need to be eliminated. Taxpayers deserve better performance for the funding they provide to preserve Arizona history.

Editor’s note: Mr. Zimmermann is a resident of Tempe

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