The internationally recognized California State Railroad Museum and the California State Railroad Museum Foundation that supports it are crucial to Sacramento's cultural heritage and development of the downtown railyard.
But it is time to stop tiptoeing around what objective observers have known for some time: The foundation's current board is dysfunctional. That must be reversed if it is to raise $40 million for a proposed new Railroad Technology Museum in the historic Central Shops.
The disarray is apparent in just a couple of examples.
The foundation board, chaired by Robert Slobe, unanimously hired a project consultant to oversee construction, raise funds and lead the development of the proposed Railroad Technology Museum. After moving from Kansas City, he started July 5 last year. Days later, the foundation's executive director presented him with a totally new employment agreement without the knowledge or consent of the full board. That has turned into a big-mess lawsuit, with arbitration scheduled for Jan. 13.
The foundation also spent $118,000 in the last fiscal year on the Wilke Fleury law firm, which has a member on the board. It is also spending $6,000 a month on lobbying by California Strategies, which also represents Inland American, the owner of the railyard. Is that an appropriate expenditure of foundation funds, most of which are generated from state railroad museum activities, and would otherwise go to the state parks system?
The foundation needs an overhaul and change should start at the top.
Slobe has served on the board since the 1980s and has been chairman the last six years. While he has done a wealth of good in this region with his energy and charitable donations, his erratic behavior has alienated some board members and contributed to the disarray. People around Slobe have enabled his abusive outbursts for too long. Two public threats by Slobe detailed in a story Sunday by The Bee's Tony Bizjak are just some of the examples.
At the December meeting, Slobe should set an example for a new era and move on. Others should follow. This board has many members over age 65 and few under age 45. Only two women and two nonwhites serve on this board of 29 members. That needs to change if the foundation is to build broad support and raise funds for the future museum.
A 2007 independent governance assessment noted that the foundation's budget is "primarily dependent on earned income and membership" generated from the state park: museum memberships, museum store, excursion trains (including the Polar Express). It also manages grants and major gifts for State Parks. The report concluded that the foundation needs "much more active board involvement in fundraising and likely changes in the composition of the board." The Crocker Art Museum faced a similar challenge with its $100 million campaign and updated its board to reflect fundraising goals.
Gov. Jerry Brown just appointed a new State Parks director, retired Marine Maj. Gen. Anthony L. Jackson, who starts today. He should take a close look at the foundation, including the letters of board members who resigned with serious concerns about board conduct. State Parks should end an out-of-date 1999 contract with the foundation and not sign a new one until its board makes major changes.
The CSRM Foundation, celebrating its 25th year, has been a great asset and can be again if it steps up to the challenge of an overhaul. The current dysfunction should not continue.