Lease Extension Allows Time For Officials, Foundation, Black Caucus To Reach Pact
The Memphis Commercial Appeal
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
NASHVILLE -- The State Building Commission granted the National Civil Rights Museum a three-month extension on its lease Monday to allow time to work out a long-term renewal.
Meanwhile, a group calling itself the Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Community Oversight Committee presented state officials Monday with three "draft proposals" for the Memphis landmark's future governance.
All three would take control of the museum away from the 32-member nonprofit board that has operated the museum since it opened 17 years ago.
The Building Commission has jurisdiction over all state-owned property. Earlier this month, the full commission delegated authority to its three-member executive committee to extend the museum's lease with the Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation for 90 days past its Sept. 30 expiration date.
The committee also removed from the museum's lease a provision that would have allowed the Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation to purchase the museum property for $1. The foundation, which leases the museum property from the state and operates the museum, no longer wants to buy the property and is instead negotiating with the state for a 50-year lease.
Earlier this year when the foundation expressed interest in buying the museum, it set off a reaction among some community leaders, including Shelby County Circuit Judge D'Army Bailey, a museum co-founder, that the facility would be "privatized" because the foundation is private and nonprofit.
There's still controversy over the museum's future, however, and the lease extension to the end of the year is aimed at giving state officials, the foundation's board and community leaders, including the state legislature's Black Caucus, time to try to work out an agreement.
A group of community leaders has been meeting with the Black Caucus about the museum's future. On Monday, Rep. Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis, the Black Caucus chairman, sent a letter to the Building Commission outlining the group's draft proposals. They include:
Continued state ownership but with the creation of a new state board to operate the museum. The museum's employees would become state employees.
Transfer of ownership from the state to the city of Memphis, which appoints a public board that would operate the museum similar to how the city's other museums are operated. Employees would be city employees.
Continued state ownership but with the creation of a new nonprofit board that would operate the museum, much as the existing board has. Staff would be employees of the board.
Under all three scenarios presented by the community group, funding for the museum would be from a combination of state and local governments funding, foundation grants and museum fees, and the new boards' memberships "must reflect the participants in the civil rights movement -- with at least 80 percent (of the membership) would be of African-American descent."
Contact Nashville Bureau chief Richard Locker at (615) 255-4923.