Junior Museum steps toward independence
Council wants to wait for city policy on private-public partnerships
The Junior Museum and Zoo took a step toward independence Monday night, when the Palo Alto City Council voted to continue planning efforts to turn the museum over to the nonprofit Friends of the Junior Museum and Zoo.
Several council members expressed concerns about the timing; the Friends' proposal arrived on their desks before a general policy on private-public partnerships, which is working its way through the city's Policy and Services Committee.
Despite conceptually approving the splitting off of the museum and zoo, council members agreed that any final approval of separation or active planning by the city should await completion of the broader policy.
"I think it's very important that we do things in a proper order. We need a policy in place (first)," Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell said.
Labor issues could be a challenge, as the museum currently has more than seven employees who work for the city, Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison and a few council members pointed out.
Typically, pay ranges of nonprofit organizations are lower than the union-backed city pay rates.
"We want to know what's going on, and we feel that we don't know what's going on. We are concerned," said Adela Morris, a part-time zookeeper who has been with the museum for nearly 30 years.
"It has great potential, but we need to know what the plan is."
After the meeting, representatives of the Friends said they intend to continue with their efforts to find an executive director and plan for the transition, despite the council's decision to wait
"We have board members and parents who just love this place and want to keep the feel," Friends Co-President Aletha Coleman said.
A major advantage of being a separate nonprofit organization would be in fundraising.
The Junior Museum board has long been discussing the need for a major renovation of the Junior Museum and Zoo complex at 1451 Middlefield Road, immediately south of the Lucie Stern Community Center.
In late 2004, the Junior Museum & Zoo celebrated its 70th anniversary as a city operation.
Private funds built the building. The zoo was reportedly added in 1961.
As part of the 70th celebration, the board erected a large, bright new sign -- a multi-headed, multi-colored and, some would say, goofy-looking dragon.