Veto of additional payment to seafood museum

Here is the text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s Sept. 23, 2011 veto of the City Council proposal to make an $18,400 payment to the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum, which would have canceled the 20 percent funding reduction councilmembers had voted to make at this time last year.

I hereby veto Resolution 496-11, which proposes to cancel the 20 percent decrease in funding to the seafood museum that the City Council had voted to make at this time last year, when the current municipal budget was being drafted.

In justifying this $18,400 payment to the seafood museum, the council says the three contracts with the museum had not been amended last year to reflect the 20 percent funding reduction, which reduced seafood museum funding from $92,000 to $73,600.

I agree that these three contracts – a $60,000 management agreement to operate a museum, a $24,000 advertising agreement to display the city logo on the sails of the two schooners, and an $8,000 sponsorship of the museum’s summer camp — should have been updated for council approval. However, the museum management was aware of the 20 percent reduction when it was made a year ago. In fact, at the time, museum leaders asked the administration to allow the monthly payments to continue at the $7,000 per month rate instead of the being reduced to $5,600 a month. The administration agreed to do this, but warned the museum that funding would be exhausted about nine months into the year since the council had decreased funding.

At a time when our general fund is at its lowest level in nearly two decades, when questions are being raised about funding obligations the city may or may not have for the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, and as plans continue for a new multi-million-dollar seafood museum, which will have its own share of maintenance and operating expenses, I cannot in good conscience approve this $18,400 payment to the seafood museum.

The fact is, everyone who needed to be aware of this funding reduction was aware of it. To satisfy the contractual issue, the administration had proposed amending the contract retroactively, as councilmembers had considered doing for the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum contract several months ago.

It is unconscionable for the City Council to now propose this payment. It’s unfair to the dozens of agencies that have absorbed 20 percent reductions in city funding. It’s unfair to taxpayers and municipal employees who have endured financial challenges over the past several years, while funding for the seafood museum has been gone unchanged all the while.

Frankly, the issue of funding for the seafood museum also presents an occasion to question whether the museum is meeting the obligations of the second of its three contracts with the city, the advertising agreement that requires the museum to display the city logo on the sails of its two schooners.

There has been no evidence that either schooner has been in the water for months now, yet you now propose that we cancel the reduction to this contract and fully fund it in the current budget.

This week, the city received a months-past-due bill from an unsatisfied vendor – builder of one of the schooners, in fact – who apparently had been hired by the museum to make repairs to one of the schooners.

I cannot sit by idly and not raise questions about these issues. There should be results – and there must be accountability — where public tax dollars are being spent. And, make no mistake: privately-managed museums in Biloxi have evolved into multi-million-dollar endeavors that have come to expect a growing level of public funding.

During the recent budget negotiations, a councilmember questioned how I could often speak of the importance of preserving and promoting our city’s history and heritage, yet not support the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum.

My support of this museum dates back to its origin in the 1980s. I frequently hauled tables and chairs and helped set up for the annual drawdown. I helped locate door prizes or food donations, and worked in the seafood museum kitchen to help prepare food for the drawdown. I respect and appreciate those volunteers and supporters who carry on that tradition today.

I do indeed believe that this city has a responsibility to preserve and promote our history and heritage. At the same time, the seafood museum is not the exclusive purveyor of our history and heritage. You also find it in places such as the Biloxi Lighthouse, the Visitors Center, the Old Brick House, City Hall or any number of locations along the waterfront. You find it in annual events such as the seafood festival, the cemetery tours, Mardi Gras or the Blessing of the Fleet, to name a few.

You also see our history and heritage in the faces of the people of Biloxi, and I believe that those people expect their city leaders to see that their tax dollars are used in a prudent and accountable fashion.

The funding decreases approved last year should remain intact. This $18,400 lump sum payment to the seafood museum should not be made, and we should expect more accountability from the seafood museum.

Full package: To see a PDF of the veto, which includes supporting documents,
click here.