To the Editor – Sent to the News-Review, KPIC, etc.
People sometimes do not realize that once they have committed themselves to a legal 501-3-c that they have also committed to follow a line of laws and ethics that are meant to protect the organization. In this particular case, I am speaking about a local organization, Douglas County Historical Society, or DCHS for short.
There have been some very small ‘details’ in terms of Ethics broken recently. Which would be no big deal except to say that, “the devil is in the details.”
Recently a docent saw some workmen removing lumber from the property of the Floed-Lane House (DCHS). Docent stopped said behavior. After all, as far as the docent knew, no one had permission to remove the lumber. Keep in mind that this lumber is 2×6 pieces, probably no more than 5 feet long. The idea of making back stairs, or picnic tables with the lumber had been tossed around. No final decisions had been made about what was to be done. Turns out within a few minutes a boss from a roofing project next door to the Floed-Lane house came to the museum and informed the docent that the owner of the house next door said that the roofer could use the said lumber for ‘toe boards” while they roof the next door house. The owner of the house is a prominent business owner in Roseburg. The business is on the corner of Washington and Rose. The owner of the home is a Christian and professes doing things properly. (He is also a member of the DCHS Board)
Taking a few boards might seem like a very small thing. Until you realize that there is NO shortage of income in the family of the said business owner/leader.
When it comes to museums here is one definition about the code of ethics that those associated with museums must follow. This definition comes from the American Alliance of Museums: “Ethics principles that help people make choices about what they ought to do. Ethical practices are based on rights,obligations, or other values. Acting ethically means adopting behaviors that,if universally accepted, would lead to the best possible outcomes for the largest possible number of people. A commonly agreed upon set of ethical principles and practices encourage people to act beneficially and for the common good.
“Acting ethically is different from acting lawfully. Laws usually reflect ethical standards that most citizens accept. AAM’s Code of Ethics for Museums reminds us that “Legal standards are a minimum. Museums and those responsible for them must do more than avoid legal liability; they must take affirmative steps to maintain their integrity so as to warrant public confidence. They must act not only legally but also ethically.”
“A code of ethics is a statement of shared values that informs museum behavior and practice so as to maintain integrity and warrant public confidence. (source: https://www.aam-us.org/programs/ethics-standards-and-professional-practices/ethics/)
Between the idea of ethics, and using the logical argument of the ‘slippery slope’ then one realizes the need to point out: Does the homeowner next door to the museum understand what this small act of basically theft undermines the whole principle of ethics that museums and their boards and volunteers must follow?
This small act sets an example for others in the organizations. Others learn that boundaries within the organization are fluid, and that it’s OK to take stuff off the property, no matter what the reasoning, even when it is for personal use. Probably the most important ethic principle that applies under this circumstance is this:” The museum is a good steward of its resources held in the public trust.” Is using the lumber from the property of a non-profit museum the good use of a resource? Personally, I don’t want to eat food off of lumber that has had people’s feet all over it. Another question: If the lumber had been stacked on city property just a few lots away, would the home owner have given permission for the lumber to be used at least without permission? IF not, then why do two different modes of logic apply to the different properties? The person who follows this behavior has minimized other people’s behavior whose logic seems to follow the same exact path.
Months and months ago, a weed eater was purchased for DCHS. It was brand new and still in the box. The tool was absolutely needed for the backyard space behind the museum. Some weeks later a couple of board members noticed that the weed eater was gone. Later it was discovered that a board member took the weed eater out of the box, and then used it on one of her rental properties. When it was brought back, it wasn’t even cleaned up first. There was no permission asked to use the tool, and it was flat out unethical to use it. Membership or community monies are used to buy this lumber and the weed eater mentioned. In the case of the lumber, it was bought by an older member of the society and she trusted that the materials would be used in a correct and ethical way. In the case of the weed eater, the purchase was made from the general fund. But, who is it that the monies from the general fund comes from? Short answer: It comes from YOU! It comes from people buying the Umpqua Trapper, it comes from donations from people who trust that the organization will spend funds in a reasonable and trustworthy manner. It was honorable to spend the money on a weed eater. Keeping the yard looking nice is one way to attract the public and encourage them to come into the museum and visit.
It is the writer’s experience that the lifetime of a weed eater just isn’t that long . The person who ‘borrowed’ the weed eater without anyone else’s permission on the board actually just got home from a week’s long trip to Europe. The point is there is NO shortage of funds in that household either. Why is it ok to put wear and tear on a weed eater that was bought specifically for the purpose of use for a non-profit ok to use on personal property, especially when we are looking at a family who has the income to buy their own??? The same amount of energy it took to drive to the DCHS storage building and unbox that weed eater and take it to the rental to use is was probably nearly identical to the expense of energy of driving to a hardware store, purchasing one, and then driving to the rental.
One note, this person may not be a prominent member of the Roseburg area. But, she is an active member of area, and she lives downtown and espouses that she cares about the area. She was on the Downtown Association board and was actually asked to leave. I have no idea why. But, I wonder now, if perhaps boundaries might have been an issue? And I also wonder now, again, using the slippery slope argument, just when will this person draw the line? Is she going to know when to stop??
The person who gave the permission to the contractor to take the lumber minimizes the behavior of the woman who took the weed eater. Probably because if he finds her wrong he has to realize what he himself has done. But, realize it or not, they have now entered into a partnership of non-verbal, and non-ethical compliance. If the pattern holds, then more and more serious laws and ethical rules can be broken and each will, more than likely, protect the other’s behavior. How long will be it be before artifacts are taken from the museum and ‘sold’ and how much of it will go into their pocket?
The Floed-Lane House has in the past couple of years made a stunning physical transformation. Part of it is due to the state paying for a new fence which adds a whole new feel for the place. This was part of the deal that was made by DCHS and the state, whereby DCHS let a tiny slice of physical property go towards the road realignment project. The State of Oregon Heritage Commission under Oregon’s Park and Recreation department in Salem issued DCHS a couple of HUGE grants. One for a little over six thousand dollars for a HVAC system that was meant to protect the artifacts inside the museum from the extremes of heat, cold and moisture. The state basically paid for the system in full. The state also put a large chunk of cash towards the replacement of the front lower porch on the museum. The state contributed around seventeen thousand dollars to that project alone! This project was necessary because the supports under the decking of the porch were so rotten that there was nothing supporting the upper porch. It was a severe danger to visitors and volunteers alike. Without the state the project would have never been completed, reason being non-profits have a habit of running on shoestring budgets, holding onto every dime they can, always looking at another form of fundraising, or ways to earn income so that the lights can remain on, let alone accomplish a major and necessary upkeep project.
Next, the porch project then required a paint job. There were bids obtained towards the paint job. Bids came in at approximately 18K. The board decided that the organization could not afford such an expense. The board decided to do the job themselves, and to try and get the public involved. Proudly, they did. People donated time, materials, skills, and equipment. There was a paint party held, and some people came and participated. What this showed is community support for the project and TRUST. The community TRUSTS that the board is doing the proper things behind the scenes to make things happen. The community TRUSTS the board members to follow a code of ethics and the law to keep the organization above board and above reproach.
The community is trusting that the board members are NOT using DCHS property for their own personal gain, even if it is ONLY to save money that might be spent on a few pieces of lumber or a weed eater.
There are photos that exist that show tools from the above paint job (which is not quite finished) – were laid on a unprotected pristine steamer trunk donated less than two years ago by the descendants of the Lane Family. It is one of a collection of four. They came full of clothing, old wool blankets from the time of Joe and Polly Lane. There were kitchen utensils and other goodies in the trunks. The Lane Family descendants gave this gift to the organization basically with no strings attached. They trusted that the artifacts, the steamer trunks and their contents would be correctly cared for! TRUST! Just like the general public and the membership, the family trusts the board to do the right thing!
When it was asked that the trunk be protected, a member of the board grabbed a piece of donated clothing and put it between the trunk and the painting tools. This took the original lack of consideration for the object and made the issue twice as bad. There were large plastic garbage bags not even 10 feet away. Again, we see boundary issues, the abuse of trust, and a total lack of consideration for the trust put into the board by the membership of DCHS and the community.
There are yet a couple more issues that I could describe, but this should be enough to get the public’s attention, and make the said board members think twice before they violate ethics rules or laws again. I personally would have them thrown off the board. I have asked them to step down, but they have refused to vote themselves off, or to voluntarily step down. The board is now being run by 3 or 4 key people. The state is being contacted about all of the things going on at the board level.
For those who want to know, I was President of the Board until two days ago. This is how I know about these things. I saw this go on with my own eyes. It was me who told the workers to put the lumber back. It was myself and my husband that noted the weed eater gone, and were in shock to discover that it was used on a rental by a fairly well off board member. It was me who took photos not only of tools being on a steamer trunk, and then the piece of clothing being used to protect the steamer trunk, but also of stuff being strewn on top of and burying other artifacts, and of food being left in the storage room to attract pests (we pay a monthly fee to kill pests, why attract more?). I have quite a few photos.
It was I who was told that I was ‘ranting’ and that my words were unpalatable when in fact, the words, were statements of the facts. The words pointed out the ethical and legal violations. In words board members were asked in a non-identifying and non-threatening way that they stop all unethical and unlawful behavior. I even suggested that volunteers stop working early so that they still had energy to clean up tools, etc., properly.
I am NOT looking for attention or even a good word. I am looking for artifacts to be treated with honor and consideration as required by the state laws, ethics, and reasonable logic. I am asking for DCHS owned resources NOT be used for personal gain unless it pertains DIRECTLY to helping DCHS. For example, I’d have no problem loaning the weed eater to a neighbor so that he could get the weeds between us and him if he wanted. But, don’t use it in your personal yard, or business – rent free.
Note: One last point, the two people mentioned above have donated significant time and money to the effort. But, this does not mean that they can abuse the power of those facts when it comes to handling of artifacts, or the borrowing of resources or tools. Having said that, the most egregious act in my opinion is the failure to protect the artifacts.
Written on behalf of members of DCHS, the community at large, the descendants of the Lane Family (and other descendants of the pioneer families who have donated artifacts, time, and money in the past), the state, and others who have interest in protecting the very rich past of Douglas County, Oregon. My goal: To stop ethic and legal injustices, to bring attention to behavior that could get worse. To make the state of Oregon aware of the issues at hand in Roseburg, Oregon. To protect the artifacts (i.e. Treasures), the reputation and the spirit of Douglas County Historical Society.