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Commissioners hear compromise proposal on Seneca County Museum, move closer to decision

TiffinOhio.net Staff

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From left: Commissioners Mike Kerschner, Anthony Paradiso, Shayne Thomas (TiffinOhio.net Composite)

Tiffin, Ohio — Seneca County Commissioner Anthony Paradiso proposed a compromise option for the future of the Seneca County Museum Thursday morning, as the board moves closer to a decision on the topic.

On March 19, the museum was closed to visitors due to COVID-19. On April 10, former director Tonia Hoffert was laid off from her position due to anticipated revenue losses related to the health crisis. On July 30, the commissioners were presented with an unsolicited proposal from the Barnes-Deinzer Seneca County Museum Foundation. The plan featured the foundation taking on more operational control of the museum, while also committing more funding.

On Aug. 27, Commissioner Shayne Thomas pitched his proposal for the future of the museum before Commissioner Mike Kerschner also presented his ideas on Sept. 3.

Paradiso said Thursday that after much time spent talking to several stakeholders, and after doing research, he was ready to present his proposal. Before outlining his plan, he stressed the importance of the museum to the community. “I believe in the museum and I value it,” he said. “It was given to us as a gift, and under any plan we adopt, we will continue to be the owners of the Seneca County Museum.”

Paradiso said he used aspects from Thomas and Kerschner’s proposals, and deeply considered the ideas and opinions of the people he talked to throughout the process.

“Under my compromise option, no one gets exactly what they want, but everyone walks away with something,” he said. “If everyone works together and is willing to compromise, the biggest winner of all will be the people of Seneca County.”

Paradiso stressed that the plan would require involvement and teamwork from the Seneca County Historical Society, the Barnes-Deinzer Museum Foundation and county government.

Under the proposal, a three-year contract would be signed with the Barnes-Deinzer Foundation giving the group operational control of the museum. The foundation would be responsible for operational expenses above utilities and basic maintenance, including capital projects.

The foundation would also be tasked with working on fundraising ideas with the long-term goal of reducing the museum’s reliance on county funding. Other responsibilities of the foundation would include hiring a new director, creating and executing a marketing plan and scheduling tours and events. Before outlining the role of the Seneca County Historical Society, Paradiso gave kudos to the group.

“This group is full of volunteers with great institutional knowledge, passion and ideas,” he said.

Under the Paradiso plan, the museum would bring back former director Tonia Hoffert in a new role. Paradiso envisions Hoffert and historical society volunteers reaching their potential by being responsible for tasks that fit directly within their skillsets. These duties would include completing the digital inventory, managing the Facebook page and giving tours.

Paradiso said the county would not save as much money as it would if it went with the foundation’s initial offer, as it would continue to pay Hoffert’s salary. He did say that the county expects to save about $10,000 annually under his proposal.

“These savings help make the future of the museum less reliant on the unpredictable swings of the local economy,” he said.

Paradiso detailed a reorganization and re-establishment of the museum advisory board to help set clear goals for the future of the museum. The board would help with accountability and would serve as the eyes and ears of the commissioners. Although the commissioners would still own the museum, they would commit to being as “hands-off” as possible.

“We would not micromanage, but the advisory board would be there for us to lean on if there are ever disputes,” he said.

Paradiso hopes a newly designed board would avoid any “gridlock” that the last museum advisory board experienced by appointing many unbiased professionals from respected local organizations who have the same goal, to help the museum be the best it can be.

Paradiso said he believes his plan accentuates the strengths of all involved.

“We gain some big picture planning, marketing and other strategies with foundation leadership while retaining the institutional knowledge from Hoffert and other Historical Society volunteers,” he said. “This leads to a better product at the museum, at a lower cost to the taxpayers.”

Paradiso said one advantage of working with the foundation is its status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and its stable and reliable funding source.

The commissioners appeared to react positively to the plan and directed Paradiso to speak with members of the foundation and the historical society to see if it was agreeable to both sides. If the board moves forward with the plan, Paradiso hopes to open the museum again in March.

“There’s a lot to be done between now and then, including forming the advisory board and starting meetings, working on creating structure and duties, competing the inventory and approving a budget for 2021,” he said.

More discussion on the topic is expected next week.

In other business, the commissioners heard a quarterly update from Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership representatives and approved $425,000 in CARES Act Funding for county projects, including an upgrade to the radio communications systems that help safety service personnel communicate during emergencies. The commissioners have now committed about $900,000 to county projects and $1 million for assistance to residents, businesses and non-profits.

The total distributed to the county is about $3.3 million through the program.

During new business, the board approved:

  • An annexation agreement on 9.8 acres of land in Hopewell Township to the city of Tiffin.
  • The extensions of cooperative development agreements with Hopewell, Clinton and Eden Townships  for 20 years.
  • A $25,000 supplemental appropriation to the Workforce Investment Act Fund for contract services.
  • Appointing Rhonda L. Best as a special prosecutor on behalf of the Seneca County Prosecutor.
  • The emergency management services contract with the Seneca County Local Emergency Planning Commission on behalf of Seneca County Emergency Management Agency.
  • Setting Nov. 5 at 10 a.m. to receive sealed bids for the sale of county-owned property near the Seneca County Justice Center.

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