The Aberdeen City Council has approved the Aberdeen Museum of History board’s request to hire a full-time registrar to catalog and manage the museum’s collection.
The council approved two requests from the museum board Wednesday: one to hire a registrar to manage the collection, and another to transfer just under $1 million in armory fire insurance settlement money to the city’s museum fund.
The total transfer as part of the 2020 supplemental city budget was $991,150. The amount is what remains of the $1.3 million portion of the insurance settlement that was meant to cover the contents of the Armory building that housed the museum until it was destroyed by fire in 2018. The funds would remain in the museum account to be used for the care of the museum collection. There was no discussion among the council before unanimously approving the request.
The museum board, chaired by John Shaw, who is also the director of the Westport Maritime Museum, has been angling for a full-time employee to properly catalog and organize the museum collection that was spared from the fire since 2019. A request for a position then didn’t make the 2020 budget.
Wednesday, city Finance Committee Chairwoman Deborah Ross recommended the council approve $80,000 for a registrar position.
“The committee is very much in favor of moving forward with this position,” she said ahead of the vote. “The museum board has been waiting and waiting and waiting and would like to hire the position to inventory and have an accurate accounting” of the collection.
Under further discussion, Ward 1 Councilwoman Tawni Andrews said, “The board has been very patient and has been trying to get this position for a couple of years.” She said it was “very important to get somebody in there,” and that the hire would mean the city would “know what is in the collection” as the city continues to mull the future of the museum. She added the registrar position would provide a point person for organizing volunteers to help with the collection, currently housed in a warehouse on Port Industrial Road.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Kati Kachman noted that the $80,000 budget item would come from the fund transfer amount from the insurance settlement approved by the council just a few minutes earlier, and the hire would be a city employee. She said the board had done its homework in researching the position, and she thought, “As a council, we need to really decide if we are going to move forward with a museum, and make sure this collection is taken care of in the manner it deserves under our watch.”
The $80,000 cost of the employee is based on a salary of $50,000 plus benefits. The position will report to the city Parks Director.
Ward 4 Councilwoman Margo Shortt was concerned over the lack of a final job description at the meeting Wednesday, and said there should be some sort of time limit on the position itself, as the salary would be coming out of the one-time insurance settlement. Mayor Pete Schave has balked at the registrar position in the past because there is no known revenue source to support the position long-term.
Andrews said the museum board was in the process of refining the job description; the description differed from the one previously submitted to the city and required a lower salary and fewer qualifications. Parks Director Stacie Barnum, who is the city’s liaison between the council and the museum board, said once that job description is complete it will be submitted for approval to the city’s human resources department, then final approval from the council.
In the end, the council approved the hire, with only Shortt voting no.