Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Barbara Cooper's E-mail
PRESS RELEASE Representative Barbara Cooper, Chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators wishes to announce that the State Officials have been invited to address the following community concerns regarding the future of the National Civil Right Museum.As you may or may not be aware, I, along with Representatives G.A. Hardaway and Joe Towns, Jr. are hosting a public hearing to discuss several issues surrounding the Lease Agreement Between The State of Tennessee, Tennessee State Museum and The Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation, Inc., the recent addition to the museum, the composition of the board for the museum or the Foundation, and the renovations planned for the museum. The hearing will occur on Monday, August 20, 2007 at the AFSCME, AFL-CIO Martin L. King, Jr. Center located at 485 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee 38103 at 6:00 p.m. It goes without saying that The National Civil Rights Museum (“NCRM”) is a treasure within our community and indeed the world. Accordingly, this living, breathing memorial, which pays tribute to a struggle for human and civil rights and to a giant among men, should not be left in the exclusive hands of a few, privileged citizens. The museum is for everyone and should be treated and run as such.Lease Agreement First, we need to determine whether there is an existing written lease agreement between the State and the museum. The document entitled Lease Agreement Between The State of Tennessee, Tennessee State Museum and The Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation, Inc. (the “Lease” or “Lease Agreement”) states that the term of the Lease is effective from November 13, 2000 through March 30, 2007. However, in the minutes of the State Building Commission, Executive Sub-Committee, dated October 19, 1998, on page 14 of 26, it states that the term of the Lease is from October 1, 1998 through September 30, 2007. So, first, we must determine whether the Lease ended in March or will end in September. If we are still under a written Lease Agreement or an extended renewal period until September 2007, then there are several areas of concern regarding provisions of the said Lease:1. Paragraph 6 of the lease entitled Record Keeping states: “The Foundation shall keep adequate records and books of account for the NCRM, including but not limited to operation and maintenance of the Premises in such form as the State may prescribe. Such records and books of account shall be open for inspection [or] audit by the State’s Representatives at all reasonable times.” To my knowledge, these records and books of account have never been inspected or audited. This may be a terrible oversight that may need to be corrected by calling for an immediate audit.2. Paragraph 7 of the lease entitled Limitations on Use states in part: “The Foundation shall obtain the written approval of the State in order to advertise or post any exterior sign. The Foundation shall keep the Premises good, clean, sanitary, and secure condition.” It is my understanding that written approval was never sought or received to advertise the “Rock N Soul Museum” on the NCRM’s billboard. It is unclear whether the Foundation has ever sought permission to advertise or post anything. Further, the NCRM premises have not been kept in good, clean, sanitary, and secure condition. The paint on the two classic vehicles parked in the front of the museum has noticeably deteriorated, and the cars have rusted. (See attachment). According to other reports, the building has cob webs on the doors and windows and trash is often around the building. (See attachment). Also, the Lorraine Motel sign needs repainting. (See attachment). This is embarrassing and must be addressed.3. Paragraph 8 of the lease entitled Compliance with Laws states in part: “The Foundation shall obtain all necessary permits and licenses and pay all charges, fees, and taxes required by the State of Tennessee or its political subdivisions for the operation of the NCRM and the Premises.” It is my understanding that there have been several occasions where rallies, concerts, receptions and other events, not directly related to the NCRM, have been held there. It is unclear as to what are the guidelines for approval of such events, where are they allowed to be held, and under what terms.4. Paragraph 11 of the lease entitled Inventory states in part: “When the Foundation desires to replace an inventory item, the Foundation shall first notify the State of the inventory control number of the item to be replaced, along with the reason for the replacement.” We know that some State inventory has been replaced such as the Lorraine Motel sign outside The King Room. What are the procedures for such changes?5. Paragraph 12 of the lease entitled Maintenance states in part: “The Foundation shall be responsible for all maintenance of the Premises, including but not limited to, electrical, plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning repairs, maintenance of roadways, parking areas and drives, replacement of carpeting, and exterior paint on structures. The Foundation shall maintain the exterior of the Premises in good condition, and shall be responsible for the condition and appearance of outdoor areas in the vicinity of any structure covered by the Lease, including condition of grass, trees and shrubs, general appearance, and trash pick-up. . . . The State shall have the right to conduct regular inspections of the Premises, facilities and equipment furnished under this Lease upon reasonable notice to the Foundation . . . . [T]he state may terminate this Lease and/or undertake said repair or replacements and the Foundation shall pay the cost of any work or materials purchased by the State [and] . . . [t]he Foundation must obtain prior written approval from the State before making any material alteration of the Premises under this Lease.” Clearly, there are several issues related to this paragraph. I understand that material alterations have occurred or are underway and once again, the condition of the NCRM is less than ideal.6. Paragraph 21 of the lease entitled Changes to the Lease states: “This lease may be modified only by a written amendment which has been executed and approved by the appropriate parties as indicated on the signature page of this Lease.” If the minutes mentioned above is the only documentation extending the Lease until September 2007, then that is inappropriate since it is not in writing or executed by the proper parties. Therefore, this would suggest that there is presently no lease agreement between the State and the NCRM and the lessor, the State, technically has retained legal possession of the NCRMThe Museum AdditionWe are aware of a subsequent museum addition, namely, The Exploring the Legacy Expansion. It is still unclear who owns this facility. If it is state-owned, then where is the documentation indicating the State’s ownership and the accompanying lease agreement? We must have these questions answered now. Executive BoardIn President Robertson’s letter dated April 13, 2007, she states: “Could we have greater diversity? Of course, and we endeavor, through our nominating committee each year as members rotate off the board, to improve the overall composition of the board with a goal of it being reflective of our community.” However, the by-laws referenced in President Robertson’s letter do not indicate any attempt at improvement. A careful reading of the by-laws, to the contrary, indicates that a super-majority vote of the board is basically an exception to the three-year term rule for at least the major players on the board. It is, therefore, unlikely that retention of power by a dominant few on the board will ever “ensure fresh ideas and promote long-term growth” for the NCRM if they basically determine who serves on the board and determine the agenda and future of the board. Essentially, the community that Dr. King represented: the nameless, the rejected, and the marginalized, have no voice on the board. This must be addressed.IV. Lord Cultural Resources RenovationOn February 9, 2007, Joy Bailey, a Senior Consultant with Lord Cultural Resources, submitted a bid proposal for a complete renovation of the NCRM to President Robertson. It appears that the bid was taken in anticipation of the Foundation purchasing the NCRM for a dollar in March. However, as previously stated, this did not occur, so in all likelihood, the possessory right to NCRM reverted back to the State. Nonetheless, it is unclear who from the Foundation will provide direction and oversight for the renovations, and it is unclear as to whether the State has had input on these intended renovations. More importantly, we need to know if a contract has been signed with Lord Cultural Resources and if so, has it been presented to the State for approval. These are all questions which we intend to address at the public hearing. Further, has there been any opportunity for public input and civil rights organizers who have the greatest stake in how the civil rights movement is interpreted and presented.In conclusion, I hasten to point out that this is not a vendetta or crusade against the Foundation or the board. This is about the NCRM and preserving a legacy which belongs to the people that gave it birth. I look forward to working with you to resolve these aforementioned issues.