Carter G. Woodson museum could lose funding under city council proposal

One council member believes the money is better used elsewhere.
St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton believes the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum's funding could be better used elsewhere. Times files (2013)
St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton believes the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum's funding could be better used elsewhere.Times files (2013)
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ST. PETERSBURG — In another attempt to thwart the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, City Council member Wengay Newton has proposed cutting the organization's funding and funneling it elsewhere.

The money, $31,996 from the St. Petersburg Housing Authority's Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, fund, is the museum's largest source of financial support and has been used primarily to pay utility bills, purchase office supplies and pay the salary of their part-time office manager, the museum's only paid employee.

"Without the City donated PILOT funds, the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum would have to close its doors," museum director Terri Lipsey Scott wrote in an email Sunday.

The council will vote on Newton's proposal in its meeting today.

Newton, whose district includes the museum at 2240 Ninth Ave. S, said he wants to give the money instead to the Write Field program, sponsored by Poynter and the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Urban League's Summer Training in Youth Leadership and Employment program.

Newton contends that the museum, which was created in the early 2000s as part of the Jordan Park housing project upgrades and funded by a federal grant, is no museum at all but an "event center" for board members.

"I'm not going to sit around and sing kumbaya for something that isn't working," he said during an interview with the Times. "That's retarded."

Newton said he has always voted for those SPHA funds to go to the museum but feels the board never utilized them responsibly. They never hired a full-time curator, he said, or made an effort to apply for grants or other forms of funding.

Council member Karl Nurse said he doesn't expect Newton's proposal to get much support.

"I don't know if this is a personal dispute," he said, "but I think it's clear that losing the Woodson museum would not be a good thing for the community."

Nurse insinuated that tensions between Newton and the museum could be motivated by the same personal feuds that seem to have put the museum at odds with its landlord, the SPHA. He added that the housing authority, under the leadership of CEO Darrell Irions, "seems obsessed with putting them out of business."

In May, tensions between the housing authority and the museum erupted when SPHA approached St. Petersburg College about taking over the museum — without telling the Woodson's current board. At an SPC board of trustees meeting, dozens of museum supporters expressed concern for what they called a "hostile takeover." Bill Law, the college's president, immediately halted the college's involvement with the museum and said they would not broach the subject again until the museum and SPHA had resolved their differences.

At an SPHA board meeting two days later, Woodson director Scott proposed a workshop between the housing authority board and her own museum board to address the issues. The museum gave a presentation to SPHA in late June, outlining the litany of programs, guest speakers and exhibits they've sponsored so far this year.

But Irions said the presentation didn't include a course of action for how to become what the housing authority has called a "fully functioning museum."

Scott said her board is still unclear about what exactly that means.

Since those midsummer meetings, the museum's rent has been raised from $25 a month to $100 a month. From 2006 to 2012, they paid no rent.

Last week, at the SPHA monthly meeting, member Jamie Bennett made a motion to schedule another workshop with the board, but it didn't move forward because the vote ended in a tie.

The museum's current lease ends in January.

"We do need to have this opportunity where people sit down and talk, and I don't understand why we cant even do that," Bennett said.

Contact Katie Mettler at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kemettler.

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