City pushes for changes at Elgin Public Museum

  • The Elgin Public Museum's Executive Director Peggie Stromberg retired after 22 years June 28 and the board is selecting a replacement among three finalists after the city pushed for changes to address the institution's long-term viability.

      The Elgin Public Museum's Executive Director Peggie Stromberg retired after 22 years June 28 and the board is selecting a replacement among three finalists after the city pushed for changes to address the institution's long-term viability. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/12/2019 9:48 PM

The Elgin Public Museum will have new leadership after the city pushed board members, including by withholding funding for a time, to take action about the museum's viability, officials said.

Executive Director Peggie Stromberg retired June 28 after 22 years and the board is selecting a replacement from among three finalists.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Board President Martha Yochum would only say of Stromberg's retirement, "her health is precarious right now but her love for and support of the museum has never wavered."

The board is finalizing an exit agreement with Stromberg, board vice president Mike Surerus said. He declined to disclose details. "She is an at-will employee, but the board also chose to recognize that Peggy gave over 20 years of service to the museum," he said.

Mayor David Kaptain said the board asked for Stromberg's resignation after months of conversations with city officials.

Without changes, the institution will fail in two years, according to an examination of its finances done at the request of the city, Kaptain said. The city has an obligation toward the museum, which is treasured by many, he said.

"They need sustainability," he said. "We told them, 'You've got to start making some kind of a transition here.' (Stromberg) was having some health issues at the time and we said, 'Let's look at some reorganization, rejuvenation."

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The city owns and maintains the museum at 225 Grand Blvd. and the museum maintains its collections. The museum gets $54,000 annually from the city, paid in a lump sum in January, February or March; the payment this year came in April, city spokeswoman Molly Center said.

That's because City Manager Rick Kozal withheld funding while the city pushed the museum to make changes, Kaptain said. Eventually, "I intervened and said, 'Let's release the money,' because they need to stay in operation and they couldn't pay their bills,'" Kaptain said.

The museum transferred money out of its reserves during the funding gap, Yochum said. She declined to comment on the city's actions, saying, "We are working to keep the museum viable and relevant. We would not want to misspeak and jeopardize our existence."

Kozal and Stromberg didn't respond to requests for comment.

The museum operates under a 1988 agreement that can be terminated with 90-day notice by either party and is automatically renewed every five years if there is no renegotiation, Center said. The new agreement started Jan. 1.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Late last summer the museum's board and elected city officials began discussing "potential options for enhancing the museum's operations," Center said. "There was a short delay (in payment) while discussions occurred regarding participation by the city and museum industry experts in the recruitment and interviewing of a new executive director," she said.

The part-time position was advertised in May at a salary of $40,000 to $45,000. Stromberg made $59,400 in 2017, federal tax forms show.

Maria Cumpata, the city's director of parks and recreation, and Liz Marston, director of the Elgin History Museum, were part of the applicant selection process; the final decision will be made by the board, Surerus said.

The museum had about 3,600 visitors last year and has a $100,000 operating budget for the current fiscal year, Surerus said. The bulk of its funding comes from the city, plus income from programming, membership and admissions, he said.

The museum ran deficits of $50,000 in 2017 and $59,000 in 2016, tax forms show.

"Our budget has decreased significantly. We have been operating at a loss for a while," Surerus said. "When the board finally makes the decision with the new executive director, we are hoping to increase different kinds of revenue and bring in additional programming."

The museum was built in 1907 with donations mostly from the Lords family of Elgin. It is the oldest building in Illinois built as a museum and still serving that purpose, according to its website. The museum received just over $2 million in city funds since 1993, with a peak of $100,000 from 2001 to 2003, Center said.

Surerus expressed optimism about the future.

"We have a wonderful staff on hand that is eager and we have a board that is ready to establish new partnerships with other nonprofits in the area, as well as finding ways of creating new sustainable forms of revenue."

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