Barrington mayor wants answers about history museum's operations
Barrington Village President Karen Darch is raising the prospect of an investigation by "appropriate governmental agencies" into whether the town's history museum is complying with laws for nonprofit organizations, if concerns from residents and others about its operations are not addressed.
However, Barrington History Museum leaders dispute accusations that they are being unresponsive to the community and refusing to make items in the facility's collection available to those who wish to view them.
Some current and former residents, including families who say they are denied access to items they donated, have expressed concerns in letters to Barrington officials and at a village board committee meeting last month.
Darch followed up with a stern letter to the nonprofit museum, noting the complaints and questioning whether it is satisfying its mission to preserve Barrington-area history and serve as an educational center. She said the museum has yet to respond to her request for a meeting to form a working group on improvements.
"We believe that such a collaborative approach would be far more productive than the alternative, as some residents have suggested, which would be to request investigations by the appropriate governmental authorities into such matters as, for example, the museum's zoning compliance with its special use as amended, the real estate tax exemption(s) which may be applicable to the museum's real estate, and the museum's compliance with the applicable federal and state statutes and regulations relative to not-for-profit and charitable organizations," she wrote.
Darch said of particular concern to Barrington officials are issues surrounding the caretaking of artifacts, photographs, letters and meeting minutes that have been in the museum's care for many years.
Museum President Michael Harkins and Chairman Dean Maiben say the facility isn't denying access to anyone and that historic items and documents are cared for properly. The museum is fulfilling its educational mission, in part by providing trunks of historic items for sixth-grade classes in Barrington Area Unit District 220, they say.
Maiben contends some of the friction stems from the museum's refusal to allow documents to leave the premises for use by the 2015 Barrington Sesquicentennial Committee. The old papers related to local history at the museum require special care to preserve them, he said.
"If anybody wants to see something we have in the collection, they come here and read it," Maiben said.
Volunteer docent Joe Voss said he operates tours and tries to have the museum open from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Old newspapers, historic photographs, Jewel Tea Co. memorabilia, themed exhibits such as vintage wedding dresses and documents from families who helped found the Barrington area are part of the museum.
Harkins said the museum's commitment to the community is evident in its plan to expand its Main Street property by constructing a replica of the first free-standing Jewel store in Chicago. There are four buildings on the site, including the Wichman Blacksmith Shop donated by the village and moved there in 1999.
Harkins said the Jewel national visitors center would have rotating exhibits and pay homage to Barrington's being the company's headquarters from 1930 to 1984. Museum visitors already come for an extensive Jewel collection that includes vintage Autumn Leaf china the company sold door to door back in the day, he said.
"People will come here just to see this (Jewel center) from all over," Harkins said.
Peer Lykke, who chaired the 2015 Barrington Sesquicentennial Committee's history work group, raised questions about the museum's finances and other matters at the village board meeting last month. Internal Revenue Service records show museum expenses topped revenue by $61,693 in 2017 and by $111,111 in 2016.
Lykke said while the museum never cooperated with the village's 150th anniversary committee, its problems in the community date back about 20 years, when it began shifting from Barrington's history to Jewel's. The museum needs someone in charge who can secure donations and strengthen its connection to the community, he said.
"This autumnal china thing from Jewel is just one of the most bewildering things," said Lykke, a museum member. "This is supposed to be the Barrington History Museum."