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History Museum hires firm to search for new president

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 20, 2013: The Missouri History Museum will spend $100,000 on a search firm to find a replacement for Robert Archibald, with the new president expected to be in place by the end of the year.

The museum’s trustees learned on Wednesday that the search committee had accepted a proposal from the search firm Phillips Oppenheim, founded in 1991, which helps nonprofit organizations recruit top executives. Among clients listed in its proposal are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera and museums in cities such as Cincinnati, Cleveland, Houston, Indianapolis, Seattle and San Diego.

Archibald's departure from the history museum in December after 25 years followed negative publicity surrounding his compensation and the purchase of land on Delmar for a community center that was never developed. He is nearing the end of a six-month consulting contract with the museum that pays $45,000 a month.

Earlier this month, Bob Cox, a retired executive with a long career at Emerson, began serving as interim president of the museum, on a part-time basis.

Phillips Oppenheim was chosen by a search committee chaired by trustee Donna Wilkinson and made up of members of the museum board, commissioners of the museum’s subdistrict of the Zoo-Museum District and outsiders -- Henry Givens, James Buford and Marylen Mann.

According to the contract approved by the museum trustees, the firm will be paid in four $25,000 installments, one in each of the first three months of the search and the balance when a successful candidate accepts the president’s position or six months have elapsed, whichever comes first. The museum will also pay expenses of up to $25,000 unless a higher amount is authorized by the search committee.

According to the proposal accepted by the museum:

“If, during the first 18 months of employment, the person recruited is discharged for cause, or through no fault of the organization voluntarily leaves the organization even though the Missouri History Museum wants the individual to continue his/her employment on the agreed terms, we would be obligated to find a replacement at no additional charge except for out-of-pocket expenses. If dissatisfaction does arise with the recruited candidate’s performance, you should contact us promptly so that we may discuss the situation with you and, if necessary, with the recruited candidate.”

The firm also said that while the agreement is in effect and for a year after it ends, Phillips Oppenheim would not recruit any member of the museum staff or recruit the successful candidate for any other position unless the museum agrees or that person’s employment has ended.

In its projected timeline for the history museum search, the firm said it would spend the first month getting to know the museum, interviewing key decision makers and drafting a detailed description of the job and the qualities sought in the new president. It then will begin looking for qualified candidates in the second and third months.

In the following two months, candidates are interviewed and their references and backgrounds are checked. By the end of the sixth month, Phillips Oppenheim expects to have selected a candidate and completed contract negotiations.

The search will be managed by Jane Phillips Donaldson, who co-founded the firm in 1991 and has more than 30 years of experience with nonprofit organizations. She heads the board of the University of Illinois Foundation.

Archibald left the museum shortly before Christmas after signing a contract to continue as president for 2013. The contract had been shortened to one year from three years after questions about his leadership surfaced, and his salary remained the same, at $375,000.

The change came about the same time the trustees accepted a new governance arrangement with the subdistrict commissioners, giving the commissioners more say over issues such as budget and compensation. The sharing agreement was brokered last fall by former U.S. Sen. John Danforth.

When he left, besides his consulting agreement, Archibald was also paid $580,000 for what the museum said were unused vacation days. Museum officials said the sum was paid out of private funds, not tax dollars, though critics of the arrangement said that the money from both sources is essentially part of the same pool.

Four inquiries into museum operations have been conducted in recent months. One, led by former U.S. Attorney Edward Dowd Jr., found in its preliminary report no credible evidenceto support allegations that museum documents had been shredded, removed or concealed.

The circuit attorney’s office also is conducting an inquiry that continues, and Alderman Joe Roddy has also conducted a hearing into museum operations.

A fourth report, an appraisal of the land at 5863 Delmar bought by the museum in 2006, found that though the tract was bought for $875,000, its value at the time was about $260,000.

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.