© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Leaders Ask Former Sen. Danforth To Enter Fray Over History Museum

(via Flickr/Reading Tom)

Updated 3:55 p.m. October 18

Sen. John Danforth has accepted his role as negotiator.

In a letter submitted today to the civic and political leaders who made the request, Danforth outlines how he understands the role he is being asked to play - "a responsibility that is prospective only. ... I will not examine or express opinions on past circumstances" - and emphasizes that his law partner, Frank Wolff, is a long-time legal adviser to the History Museum. "The relationship could reasonably raise questions about my impartiality as a negotiator," Danforth says, but continues, "I understand my request for assistance is made with the knowledge of all parties of this relationship."

There is no indication when the sides expect a contract to be negotiated.

Our original story:

St. Louis mayor Francis Slay, St. Louis County executive Charlie Dooley, and leaders of the boards that oversee the Missouri History Museum are asking former senator John Danforth to help address concerns they have about the governance of the museum.

The letter to Danforth, dated Oct. 16 and made public today, stems from reports in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on a controversial land purchase made by the museum's Board of Trustees. In one report, former members of a commission that is supposed to oversee the  History Museum's day-to-day operations told the paper that they did not know about the purchase beforehand.

A contract signed in 1987 between the board and that commission put the day-to-day operations into the hands of the trustees, contrary to the intent of the law that created the Zoo-Museum District and the commissions for each of the museums.

As the letter explains it:

"In an era where increasing levels of transparency and accountability are expected by all citizens, we have asked the ZMD (Zoo-Museum District), the History Museum Subdistrict and the Museum to jointly revise and update the governance provisions of the contract to reflect the proper relationship between the public and private interests.

The letter asks Danforth to negotiate a new contract that

"incorporates meaningful provisions to protect and defend the public/private partnership and the interests of both the taxpayers who fund 60 percent of the History Museum and the private donors who fund the balance."

The letter specifically states that Danforth will not be addressing any other issues raised about the sale of the land, which was owned by former St. Louis mayor Freeman Bosley.

Danforth is a partner at Bryan Cave, which has served as the History Museum's legal counsel for many years. But the letter writers say they have every reason to believe that Danforth,who is also a former ambassador and special envoy, will act "with only the best interests of the community at heart."

Officials at the History Museum did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.