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Conclusions of History Museum shredding investigation still under attack

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 26, 2013 - Despite an investigation’s unequivocal conclusion that no documents at the Missouri History Museum were improperly shredded, a commissioner of the Zoo-Museum District says he is not satisfied and will press the city’s circuit attorney to take a deeper look.

Charles Valier is one of three members of the ZMD board who have consistently pushed for changes at the museum in light of the purchase of land on Delmar, compensation to former museum head Robert Archibald and other issues. He insists that the investigation into shredding was not done properly.

Specifically, he said that the date on which informants have told him that documents connected with Archibald’s vacation days were shredded was not given enough attention in the investigation by former U.S. Attorney Edward Dowd.

But in an interview with the Beacon, Dowd reiterated that his investigation was thorough and found no credible evidence of shredding. His view of Valier’s claim and his plan to pursue the investigation with Jennifer Joyce’s office?

“I think that’s a joke,” Dowd said.

At issue is whether documentation about Archibald’s unused vacation days – time for which he was reimbursed $566,000 late last year, before he resigned as head of the museum – was improperly destroyed and carted out of the museum by Karen Goering, head of operations at the museum.

When Valier and other commissioners of the ZMD made public information given them by anonymous sources about possible shredding of documents, the museum’s board of trustees hired Dowd’s law firm to investigate.

It released its preliminary report last week, saying that it could not find any credible information that shredding had taken place. Dowd said that allegations by one security officer – an officer who admitted having ill will toward Goering because of a previous confrontation – had not been corroborated by others.

Valier has said that Dowd investigated the wrong possible date for the shredding, concentrating on Nov. 26 when he should have been looking at Oct. 26. But Dowd told the Beacon he had looked at both dates, even though surveillance tapes for Oct. 26 were not available when his investigation began because they are on a 30-day loop and had been erased.

Further, Dowd said, the security guard in question told his investigators that on Oct. 26, she was not working but was in California.

“We looked, as you would expect any investigator to look, at the entire time period,” Dowd said.  “We asked, were you aware of any time that any executive took anything out of this building and refused to let any security guard look at what is there or refused to provide a package permit slip.

“The answer from everybody in the entire building was no, except for that one security guard who said yes, she saw Karen Goering leaving on Nov. 26.”

He said that if Valier has any other evidence to the contrary, he should make it and its source known to investigators.

“If Charlie has a name,” Dowd said, “he should give it to us. He has an anonymous tipster that has caused all of this investigation about this, and he is still pushing this, saying we’re inaccurate, but he won’t tell anybody what the name is. That’s what you’re starting with.”

Valier said he does not know the name of the person who provided the information, but he insisted that Dowd cannot be 100 percent certain there was no shredding because he doesn’t have all the facts.

“I think he discovered there were no surveillance tapes for the dates in question,” he told the Beacon, “so he concluded that he had to look at surveillance tapes for other dates to justify his investigation.”

Besides Dowd's investigation, the circuit attorney’s office is looking into matters at the history museum, as is a committee of the Board of Aldermen led by Joe Roddy, D-17th Ward. That investigation has held one hearing and has scheduled another for March 7. According to a resolution passed by the board, it is looking into compensation, governance and other matters involving the museum.

The committee has subpoena powers, but no subpoenas have been issued at this point.

Roddy is also the one who asked Joyce's office to look into the situation at the museum.

The investigations were among issues discussed at a joint meeting Monday of the museum’s board of trustees and the commissioners of the ZMD history museum subdistrict.

After John Roberts, head of the board of trustees and de facto head of the museum until Archibald’s successor is found, detailed the Dowd investigation’s conclusions and said they would be turned over to the circuit attorney, trustee Steve Ehlmann, St. Charles County executive, wondered why that office is getting involved.

“In my experience,” Ehlmann, who previously served as a circuit judge, said, “you don’t send a report to a prosecutor unless you think there is something to prosecute.”

Roberts said he was “absolutely unaware of anything whatsoever” along those lines. And Dowd told the Beacon that sending the report to Joyce’s office was no more than a courtesy.

“I see absolutely nothing prosecutable in anything that we have looked at,” he said. “I don’t see any evidence of any wrongdoing by employees there in terms of shredding. On the shredding allegation, there was never a single person who said I saw someone shred something that had something to do with [Archibald’s] time and attendance records or vacation days. We interviewed everybody. We begged people to come forward.

“I’m always ready to cooperate with her, but there’s nothing to prosecute.”

On Thursday, the ZMD board will meet to hear a presentation of the history museum’s budget. Gloria Wessels, head of the board’s audit committee and one of the commissioners who has pushed for changes, said if stronger oversight is not put into place, the museum could lose public money. It now gets $10 million of its $14 million annual budget from tax dollars.

“What we want is to change the governance to commissioners who will be responsive to taxpayers,” Wessels said.

“If they won’t do that, we will lower their tax rate, and we have until September to do that.”

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.