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Putting the cart before the horse.
It's a common mistake when beginning a new project. People get so excited about thoughts of the end result that they innocently skip over some of the most essential steps along the way.
That is what we believe has happened with the Marion County Historical Society and its plans for a local history museum. The society and its members have hundreds of fascinating items to include in exhibits and a list of possible volunteers to help with the day-to-day happenings at the museum, but several key components are missing.
For starters, the history museum doesn't technically have a home yet. Yes, the Lebanon City Council told the historical society in November of last year that it could use the third floor of the Centre Square Arts and Culture Center (the former Lebanon High School building) for the museum. The council was also clear that it was not making any financial commitment at that time.
Based on recent appearances before the fiscal court and the tourism commission, historical society members seem convinced that the third floor would be available to them rent-free, but no agreement has been signed to date. The dotted line is still blank.
That's problem No. 1.
The second bump in the road is the fact that the historical society doesn't have a clear, drawn out, step-by-step business plan for the museum. The historical society did present a draft proposal to the Lebanon City Council in January, but the council was not comfortable making a 10-year commitment with guaranteed pay raises for the two part-time employees.
The historical society invited city council members to a meeting Jan. 27, but the ice storm likely disrupted that plan.
Several questions still remain. Who will manage the museum? How will it survive financially?
We don't blame the Lebanon City Council or the Marion County Fiscal Court for their hesitation to commit tax money to this or any other project without details, details, details. Those governing bodies need much more specific information to make sound decisions.
It's perfectly reasonable for the city council, the fiscal court and the tourism commission to know that the project they have been asked to support financially has a clear plan and eventually will become self-sustaining.
To that end, the Marion County Historical Society still has some work to do, but they need some help, as well as some direction. Monday, during the Lebanon Tourism Commission's meeting, commissioners told historical society members, quite bluntly, that they need a plan for this museum before it could get off the ground. Commissioners also told the historical society that it lacked organization, which we are sure was hard to hear, but the truth nonetheless.
As Tourism Commissioner Jim Richardson said, "I feel like we have 55 people on a bus and we don't have a driver."
Someone (or maybe a couple of people) needs to take the wheel. That person or those people need to set up a meeting with city, county and tourism representatives at the same time.
For the past several months, the historical society has been treated "like a ping-pong ball," as Tom Lund put it at the Lebanon Tourism Commission's meeting Monday afternoon. The historical society has asked for assistance from the city, who then sent them to the county, who then sent them to the tourism commission.
The result of all that bouncing around is conflicting and competing information. This no doubt has led to misunderstandings, frustration and confusion about what may or may not have been promised with regard to this project.
We find that unfortunate.
We propose that historical society President Dale Royse, Marion County Judge/Executive John G. Mattingly, Lebanon Mayor Gary Crenshaw and tourism director Chris Hamilton sit down in the same place at the same time with the sole purpose of discussing the museum. This way Royse can find out exactly how much detail the city and the county need to make their decisions.
This museum has been a dream for many people for years, but certainly that dream involves a museum that stays open for decades. Gathering all of the necessary information won't happen overnight, and that means people must continue to be patient if they want this project to be a long-term success.
Eventually, the historical society will need to know what it will receive from the city and the county. The tourism commission has already expressed its willingness to contribute up to $20,000 ($10,000 per year for two years) to the project, although that support is conditional pending commitments from the city and the county.
In the meantime, the historical society needs to expand its private fundraising efforts. We know it is selling books and DVDs on local history, but a more public campaign is needed as well.
In the end, we hope the city and the county can find some way to help financially. However, even if they say no, at least the historical society will know where it stands. And that will give them a much better idea of what they need to do to move forward.
We hope a person or group of people will step up and be the support system that the historical society needs right now. We are confident that a Marion County history museum could be extremely beneficial and worthwhile for this community, but it must be done right.