Wednesday, September 06, 2017

City Goes After Railway Museum President David Wood

Anyone who has attended San Angelo's Railway Museum knows the critical role Board President David Wood has played in that operation.  His tours reveal his deep knowledge of San Angelo's rail history and the extent of his personal commitment to the operation as many exhibits are personally owned by Wood.

The railway museum is in the historic Santa Fe Depot and the nonprofit railway museum has operated there for over twenty years.  It's been an all volunteer operation.  The City no longer trusts the museum's number one volunteer who has challenged the city for not meeting its maintenance obligations under the lease.

Oddly, the city gave its auditorium to the San Angelo Performing Arts Council (SAPAC).  It provided $6.2 million in funding and another $1 million in historic tax credits.  The City gave SAPAC years to meet its fundraising goals before forking over millions in direct taxpayer subsidies.  Why the dramatic contrast in support?

City Council will need to explain why it fell over backwards for SAPAC while knocking the railway museum off the rails.  Both nonprofits enrich the community.  Both bring "heads to beds," tourists to town so they can rent hotels and buy meals.

Back in May San Angelo Live reported:
Wood and his board of directors are concerned that the city may be making a move to evict the 20-year-old museum of railroad history for a corporate suitor. 
City Council took the first step toward eviction with its action not to renew the lease.

What happens next with the old depot is up in the air. Rumors are that the City is interested in leasing or selling the old depot to a private company, such as Texas Pacifico, who runs a real railroad operation here. Spokeswoman for Texas Pacifico Liz Grindstaff said her company currently has a lease on their existing location and any speculation about leasing the depot is premature.

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela should recall the pain former Assistant City Manager Liz Grindstaff caused him with her role in the Furniture Fiasco, the unauthorized purchase of over $100,000 in Water Department furniture.  That debacle occurred in Valenzuela's first City Council meeting.

Grindstaff coordinated City Hall renovations, which originally excluded the city auditorium as it was in "good condition."   She left the city to join Texas Pacifico Railroad, which city staff recommended helping with a nearly $250,000 economic development incentive.  After City Councilman Winkie Wardlaw opposed the incentive Liz Grindstaff ran for his seat and won.

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela's investigation into the unauthorized furniture purchase hardly met the standard of competency.  It failed to answer the most basic questions and is unsigned and undated.  Yet yesterday Valenzuela had his attorney ignore the city's log like failures while pointing out the stick in David Wood's eye.

Time will reveal the city's true intentions. The Railway Museum Board must try to read the tea leaves.  If the city is intent on making money from real estate tossing David Wood off the board would make no difference.  It would be sad if the city's opaque approach splintered an all volunteer group with a noble mission.

It's incumbent on City Council to make their intentions clear.   The public can infer the city wants David Wood gone.  The question is do they want the whole operation out as well?

The Railway Museum does not have the city's PR resources which have already been unleashed in surprise attack fashion.  It does have over twenty years of goodwill in the community it can mobilize.  Will David beat Goliath?

Update 9-6-17:  A splintered railway museum board gave city staff the fodder it needed to not renew the lease.  So far all the communication has been from the anti-David Wood camp.  Goliath drove David out.  He resigned last night from the museum board so the organization has a chance to renew the lease.  It has an uphill climb to convince City Council the organization has revamped.

Update 9-19-17:  The City gave a decimated Museum board six months to get its act together after the city ran roughshod over the Museum's volunteer leaders.

Update 3-6-18:  City Council approved a lease extension for the Railway Museum through 6-15-2018.  

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