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ALPLM DRAFT TESTIMONY

Illinois House Tourism Committee | Thursday, April 15, 2021


Melissa Coultas, Acting Executive Director, ALPLM

Chairman Robinson, Spokesperson Severin, and members of the committee…

My name is Melissa Coultas. I am the acting executive director of the Abraham Lincoln
Presidential Library and Museum – a unique state agency charged with engaging the people of
Illinois in historical literacy, scholarship, cultural appreciation, education – and, yes, tourism.

I am joined by David Kelm, our Chief Legal Counsel, and Brett Cox, our Chief Fiscal Officer.

On behalf of the entire ALPLM staff, our Board of Trustees, more than 600 active volunteers and
the public we serve, thank you for having us with you today.

I have a lot to say about the testimony you heard from the Foundation. But before I get to that, let
me highlight the status of our agency, as I believe we have made great strides over the past year
and a half to create the keystones of stability and success.

We began 2020 with a newly appointed Board of Trustees. Eleven citizens who serve without
compensation, but have tremendous credentials to provide oversight and guidance. They include
a longtime museum leader, a respected historian, the ALPLM’s former head of library services,
and many others with valuable experience.

Since the start of 2020, our Board has met nearly every month to take action on work our team
has advanced to finally set forth policies, procedures and standards that the ALPLM has
neglected in the past.

The strides we’ve taken might not have gained media attention, but they addressed inefficiencies,
oversights and past stumbles in order to establish stability.

Let me give you a sense of that work.

 Our Board has approved several, industry-leading policies including a modernized


collections policy to guide our work. This policy took months to create, but we finally
have a blueprint for protecting the priceless collection that taxpayers have entrusted us
with.
 We created staff-led committees including a team to manage a detailed Diversity, Equity
and Inclusion plan aimed at addressing under-represented populations and underserved
communities.
 We’ve installed a state-of-the-art building management system to monitor environmental
conditions, are finishing a complete security upgrade and are about to begin a multi-
million dollar roofing project.
 We brought in a new Chief Fiscal Officer, who has overhauled our processes after an
extensive, near-forensic review of how dollars flow in and out of our agency, and
 It has been my goal to make decisions in consultation with our library and museum
professionals. As a result, I’m proud to say, we have not faced a single union or rules
grievance in nearly two years.

We are also excited to welcome our new Executive Director, Christina Shutt in June. She will be
the first person of color to hold the Executive Director title at the library and museum named
after the President known for abolishing slavery. That’s remarkable.

Ms. Shutt brings to Illinois strong credentials, including an educational background in history
and library science and archives management. And she has the experience of guiding a museum
through the complex process of earning national accreditation.

As we’ve focused on change, we have made it a priority to be transparent and accountable to the
citizens of Illinois. Afterall, nearly 92 percent of our operational funds come from tax dollars.

Our staff has shown remarkable nimbleness throughout the pandemic.

Even with two shutdowns, the ALPLM welcomed our 5 millionth visitor last July. That makes us
the fastest to 5 million of all Presidential Museums in the nation.

To serve Illinois citizens and taxpayers, our leadership team quickly stepped forward to ensure
that employees – who were no longer on site – had meaningful, written work plans to keep our
mission moving forward.

It would have been easy to simply shut down, go home and wait months for the signal to return
to the office, but taxpayers pay us to work – and we did. Our staff of nearly 90 people met goals,
completed projects and dutifully checked in with their colleagues and leaders.

Of note – we developed and offered a wide variety of virtual programming to engage patrons,
and gave educators valuable resources to help ease the burden that teachers faced in keeping
students plugged in.

In total, our agency provided content, information and programming to over 161,000 patrons in
2020, including reaching hundreds of educators who serve some 77,000 students. That’s
comparable to the number of people we would have served if the ALPLM had remained open all
year.

In less than two weeks, we are excited to open a new special exhibit highlighting Illinois’
musical history called “State of Sound: A World of Music from Illinois.”
This unique exhibit is curated in-house and serves as a reminder that while sharing Abraham
Lincoln’s life and legacy is a big part of what we do, our mission also includes showcasing the
broader history of Illinois.

I encourage all of you to come see the Museum and this remarkable exhibit. Tell your friends
about us and encourage your constituents to visit, because, as our new marketing campaign says:
“History is closer than you think.”

I opened with all this information about our accomplishments to emphasize that we at the
ALPLM understand the trust placed upon us as a state agency and public institution.

Let me emphasize…

 We’re fortunate to have the investment of Illinois tax dollars… this support helps us
weather challenging storms;
 And we are obligated to make sure that our work holds a justifiable value to taxpayers.

Our entire ALPLM staff shares a commitment to these simple, common-sense priorities.

We would love to tell you that our work is strongly supported by a collaborative, transparent and
accountable foundation – one that measurably relieves our reliance on tax dollars. Unfortunately,
we can’t.

After more than a year of trying to understand the operations of the Foundation, we simply can’t
show you or the taxpayers that the Foundation has anything but a parasitic relationship with the
ALPLM.

The value our staff works so hard to provide for taxpayers doesn’t seem to be of interest to the
foundation.

Take for example the State of Sound exhibit I spoke of earlier …

A full year ago, we presented the Foundation with a plan for this ambitious exhibit. We asked the
Foundation to raise just $20,000 to help. But despite a long list of potential donors connected to
the exhibit, the Foundation provided a little over 25% of our request in monetary donations.

Where assistance has been provided, it comes in the form of “in-kind” gifts that we hadn’t
requested and, frankly, end up costing us in manpower and material … expenses we never
budgeted for.

When the pandemic began, we knew a lot needed to change. I described some of those changes a
moment ago.
But we also knew fiscal responsibility had to be an even bigger priority. As public service
professionals, I’m sure you’ll agree, it is our obligation to evaluate every dollar available to the
agency.

We looked everywhere and asked ourselves, “are we getting the greatest value we can get for our
institution and the State we serve?”

In July we set about trying to discuss topics relevant to the Memorandum of Understanding
between us and the Foundation.

Be aware, this MOU had not been substantially changed in 17 years.

So, we asked the Foundation for meetings to discuss the important details to modernize this
outdated agreement.

We asked more than a dozen times, but our requests were largely rejected or simply ignored.

In fairness, we were afforded two meetings to discuss MOU related topics last year.

 The first, foundation leaders gave us a mere 30 minutes to discuss only two issues out of
the dozen items we’d repeatedly asked to engage on.
 The second time, foundation representatives insisted the MOU did not need to be updated
and they questioned our professional qualifications to even discuss the issue.

Time and time again – for nearly a year – the ALPLM faced delay or outright rejection from the
foundation when we’ve requested simple information on fundraising efforts and basic finances
that purport to support to the ALPLM.

The Foundation accuses the ALPLM of presenting a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. That’s


embellishment at best.

After months of delay we graciously extended the 17-year-old MOU twice – more than three
months – to allow time for negotiations that never took place.

We even eliminated some of our initial requests in an attempt to get things moving. And, on the
day the MOU was set to expire, we offered a temporary, barebones agreement to at least
maintain some relationship.

We have made every effort to be professional and diplomatic in our public comments about the
experience with the Foundation – but I have to tell you bluntly – I have never experienced
anything close to this level of stonewalling and hostility.
Whatever it is that the Foundation does, the benefits simply do not appear to flow to the
ALPLM. The deal isn’t remotely fair to Illinois taxpayers, donors or the visitors we serve.

So – what are the facts as we understand them?

It’s impossible to be precise without details from the Foundation, but we have done some
research and come up with a couple of eye-opening numbers.

One is that over the past three years, we can only account for an average of $167,000 a year that
Foundation fundraising efforts have provided directly for ALPLM programs and infrastructure.
That must be balanced with the free state office space, utilities, and other services the Foundation
has enjoyed. That costs taxpayers about $87,000 a year.

So, the net benefit to the library and museum appears to be just about $80,000 a year.

We’ve done our best to identify the actual cash received from the Foundation as well.

By comparing the Foundation’s reported income to what we receive, the amount is just over
seven cents on every dollar – a mere seven percent. We concede some Foundation spending,
such as payments on its Taper Collection debt, indirectly benefits the ALPLM. But the details on
that are hazy – and other spending is a complete mystery to us.

The bottom line is that if Foundation donors think their money supports the library and
museum’s exhibits, educational programs or infrastructure needs, they are 93 percent wrong.

And if people thought they were helping the museum by buying Foundation memberships, they
were 100 percent wrong. For years, the Foundation has kept every dollar it raised through
memberships. It took a year to even get a rough idea of how much income the Foundation
captured from their membership program. How they spent it remains unclear.

The ALPLM – state taxpayers, if you will – provided the foundation with free admission and
other subsidized benefits. Illinois received nothing in return.

Taxpayers would not be well-served by returning to that kind of give-away to a private


organization.

Let me finally address the foundation’s insistence that a new director must start to negotiate with
the help of a mediator.

This makes no sense based on what has happened so far.


We began trying to reach a new agreement long before anyone was interviewed for executive
director, and the Foundation stonewalled from the beginning. If they would not engage then, why
reward them by delaying further and saddling the next director with this problem?

As for a mediator, what is there to mediate? We at the ALPLM offered topics to discuss, then
delivered a written proposal, and then produced an amended proposal. The Foundation has
offered nothing except a return to the status quo and refused to engage in any meaningful way.

The Foundation raised money on state property, supported by state resources, and used the name
of a state agency.

In our view, that means the taxpayers of Illinois deserve a clear picture of the Foundation’s
operations. Donors deserve confidence that their money is being used responsibly. The library
and museum deserves a partner who will work with us to plan for the future – with all the
transparency and accountability that you rightfully expect from us.

I’ll close with this… In our offices we frequently remind one another that our responsibility is to
“Do The Next Right Thing.”

That includes being honest and open about oversights or miscalculations. We’ll own up to our
mistakes because, it’s “the next right thing.”

We’ll address and work to repair what needs fixing. Because, “the next right thing” is to best
serve the taxpayers of Illinois.

“The next right thing” is to be open and honest, transparent and accountable. It’s our obligation
to you, to our staff, to our guests and to the taxpayers of Illinois.

Let me be abundantly clear – when it comes to putting the best interests of taxpayers first, our
patience with the Foundation’s delay tactics is over.

We’ve been told that we can’t move forward without trust. And we agree.

But Illinois taxpayers should no longer accept the nearly two-decade long “nod and wink” from a
Foundation that won’t reveal its financial value to the state. “Trust us” just doesn’t cut it
anymore.

President Lincoln is wise counsel here. He said…

“If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and
esteem.”

That’s the core of our consideration today.


After all the work we at the ALPLM have done in just the past year – through a new board, a
pandemic and getting an exciting new leader to Springfield – we refuse to forfeit the confidence
of Illinois and Illinois taxpayers.

Thank you.