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Fischer criticized for museum woes

Published Oct. 1, 2005

City Council member Larry Williams, jumping full force into the campaign to unseat Mayor David Fischer, is hammering Fischer for his oversight of Florida International Museum.

Williams contends Fischer violated the city charter by failing to inform City Council members sooner about the museum's financial mess.

The council member filed a sweeping public records request with the museum and mayor's office Thursday. He wants financial statements, board meeting minutes, contracts and assorted other records.

"It comes back to the word "leadership.' There's no leadership," Williams said.

He noted that meeting minutes show that the museum board _ including Fischer and City Council member Connie Kone _ knew in September that the Splendors of Ancient Egypt exhibit was at least $4-million in the red, but that council members were not given detailed information until December.

At that point the museum requested, and subsequently received, $3.9-million from the city to stay afloat.

Actually, the museum's financial troubles were widely known before the September board meeting. The Times had reported in July that the museum was at least $3-million in the red.

"It was really well known the museum was losing a lot of money," said Fischer, who faces a tight re-election campaign against retired Army Gen. Bill Klein.

Fischer said that in September the museum board had not come up with its plans to seek additional city money, and when it did the matter was delayed by the racial disturbances.

Williams' opposition to Fischer's re-election has been common knowledge for months, but he has stepped up his efforts for Klein lately. Klein has mailed residents in Williams' council district a lengthy endorsement letter from the council member.

Williams was active in Votes of Informed City Electors, or VOICE, the group that successfully pushed to change the city's form of government to one in which the mayor runs day-to-day operations. Several key VOICE organizers are campaign advisers to Klein.

"Larry wants to topple the mayor, obviously," Fischer said. "If he does it and gets his man in there, his power increases considerably."

_ Times staff writer Susan Aschoff contributed to this report.