Vote to determine museum’s future causes concern

Participants at the meeting on Saturday.

The future of the Simon’s Town Museum is hanging in the balance after high running costs has forced Heritage Western Cape to change the way provincial-aided museums are managed.

Due to excessive high costs for annual audits per museum by the Auditor General and the burden of administration, it has been suggested that Simon’s Town joins the proposed Cape Town and West Coast Regional Museum as a state-funded satellite museum.

This would address the administration and audit challenges.

Alternatively, they could “opt out” and become a community museum, which meant there would be no financial support.

Instead, the museum would be financed by the community, which would have to fund all costs including maintenance, staff, insurance, security, audits and administration.

The Board of trustees called a meeting on Saturday March 24 where interested parties were asked to vote on how they thought the museum should be run as the board is expected to provide feedback by Saturday March 31.

The outcome of the vote was intended to guide the board before making its decision.

However, the voting process has left members of the Friends of the Simon’s Town Museum concerned.

They feel the process was not done ethically and participants were not properly informed of the options available.

It appears that no confirmation of voters was carried out and ballot papers were passed along to all present. The lack of control meant that individuals could have cast more than one vote.

The exact number of attendees is unknown as a number left before the vote was cast, however, the outcome was 35 votes for a satellite museum, 45 for a community museum and nine spoilt votes. The option of waiting to make the final decision after the new museum ordinance is approved in 2019 was not indicated on the ballot.

Ward councillor, Simon Liell-Cock explained that there were nine province aided museums in the City and West Coast and they all faced the same challenges hence the proposal by the museum services to consolidate administration.

He said because no museum in the country was financially viable, the only realistic option was to “opt in with conditions” and in the case of the Simon’s Town museum, there were some concerns regarding ownership of the building and the museum’s collection and said it had become apparent that there was a desire among certain individuals to obtain control of the museum and remove the authority of museum services to dictate Human Resources, management guidelines and policies.

He said a clear mandate was given to explore the “opt in with conditions” option at a community meeting in November last year but the mandate was ignored, hence the meeting on Saturday.

“It is clear that the meeting was held to obtain a different outcome and the voting system and the voters were loaded to achieve the “opt-out” option,” he said.

The concerned members feel that the option to become a community museum could have dire consequences for the museum.

There would be no guarantee of sponsorship or funds from museum services. No business plan has been prepared and costs of running the museum could not be provided at the meeting

The group said salaries for two staff members would be well over R200 000 a year (at current rates) as the chances of finding sufficient volunteers were slim, and without sufficient volunteers, visiting hours would be limited and further reduce income.

With the building being over 270 years old, considerable maintenance would also be required. As an example a portion of the roof is about to be replaced at a cost estimated to be R400 000.

However, chairman of the board of trustees, Eddie Wesselo said the meeting was an “exploratory” meeting only to guide the board on the general feel of the community and that no decisions had been made.

He said it was a difficult situation as former residents who had been forcibly removed from the area had to be given the opportunity to vote too.

Mr Liell-Cock said it must be clarified that the vote was merely an indication of the feelings of those present at the meeting. The decision on whether to opt-in or not remains a board decision and the board must take into account all the factors before them.