From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 19 - 1/4/01
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Questions and Answers with Laurie Latta of the Museum of the Mountain Man

Faxed Questions and Answers with Laurie Latta, Director of the Museum of the Mountain Man

Last September , I asked the Sublette County Historical Society for an interview regarding the county funding it received for the Museum of the Mountain Man. Museum Director Laurie Latta requested that I fax her a list of questions. I faxed my first list of questions on October 5. I was not satisfied with Ms. Latta's first set of answers, and on October 20, I faxed a follup set of questions. What follows is a transcript of my questions and Ms. Latta's answers. I've excluded one question and answer, which I judged not to be relevant.

- Rob Shaul


To: Laurie Latta, Museum of the Mountain Man Dave Bell, Sublette Countv Historical Society

Fm: Rob Shaul, Publisher

Subject: County Funding For The Museum Of The Mountain Man

Dear Laurie and Dave,

I received a phone call from Laurie yesterday. She requested that I submit a list of questions to the Museum concerning my investigation of the county tax dollars that have been given to the Museum over the years. Based on my review of the past 10 years of Museum Board budgets the Museum of the Mountain Man has received approximately $650,000 in county tax dollars.

Here are my initial questions:

Rob Shaul: I've been told that there is some type of "contract" between the Museum Board and the Mountain Man Museum concerning the services you provide the county. Is that a written contract or a verbal agreement? What are its terms? Is it renewed or negotiated regularly, similar to the way the doctors negotiate the clinic contracts with the health care board?

Laurie Latta: I have included a copy of the agreement between the Museum Board and the Sublette County Historical Society. The Museum Board is currently working on the agreement to specifically delineate the State Statute that provides for such an arrangement.

RS: I understand the county owns storage buildings and possibly property on the Museum grounds. Would you please verify this and specifically delineate what is owned by the county?

LL: The Sublette County Museum Board owns the storage buildings. The artifacts owned by the county number in the thousands. Large items such as rolling stock, and furniture are stored in the buildings.

RS: What responsibility does the Museum have in collecting, displaying and preserving Sublette County historical documents and artifacts that have nothing to do with the mountain man era here.

LL: Enclosed please find a copy of the Sublette County Historical Society's Mission Statement. The Museum (Sublette County Historical Society, since one of the Society's responsibilities is oversee the activities of the Museum) considers the era of the mountain man a huge part of Sublette County History. It is the first written record of our early history in the area. I noticed in reviewing the text for the Daniel book that the mountain men begin the entire compendium, as well they should. The Research Library has over 2500 articles including the PW Jenkins papers, the Todd collection, the Madge Funk collection, and others. The photo documentation project has well over 3000 items in it now. Exhibits each year focus on various Sublette County historical events. This year, for example, the town of Daniel is featured to honor their 100th year and a large project on the Civilian Conservation Corps is displayed and will be the subject of a lecture in January. The 75th birthday of Sublette County was headlined and the military display featuring our vets was so popular with not only Sublette County folks, but our visitors, that it was retained this year. A Colorado River project funded through the NEH is planned for next year, with focus on the Green River.

RS: I'd like more specifics on how the taxpayer dollars the Museum receives have been and are being spent. For example, in this year's funding request to the Museum Board, there is a line item of $3,000 for "Acquisitions." What exactly was purchased with this money?

LL: Acqusiitions include such items as the Duncan painting of our local Rendezvous re-enactors, books for the Research Library, a Hawken rifle, and local artist John Dickie's iron work of the mountain men. Funds from the Museum Board pay for the receptionists in the summer, the utilities, exhibitions, and maintenance.

RS: I understand that your facility is called the "Museum of the Mountain Man" and not the "Museum of Sublette County" and thus a significant portion of your activities are spent on collecting mountain man era artifacts and histories from places outside Sublette County. Are funds the Museum receives from the Museum Board ever used to care for or acquire historical items from places outside Sublette County? Is there some type of partition established which prevents the Sublette County taxpayer money from being used to preserve history from places other than Sublette County?

LL: The history of the mountain man is Sublette County History. Many of the articles relative to the mountain men were donated by Sublette County residents. All items in the Museum have a connection to Sublette County history even though they may have been purchased outside the county. Many items were simply donated many years before I assumed the position of Director and before my current Board of Directors took a seat on the Board.

RS: Currently the museum has its "Sublette County at War" exhibit on display. Is there policy to always have a Sublette County-specific exhibit at the Museum even if it doesn't involve the mountain man era? If so, is there a specific place these county-specific exhibits are placed - like always in the basement?

LL: Many Sublette County exhibitys are also displayed upstairs - and of course, this is related to the fact that the mountain men are Sublette County history! The gun exhibit currently on display is a local collection; we have had a snowplane exhibit and a dogsled exhibit that have local connections. Clothing exhibits have appeared upstairs, and many exhibits done by our local students have appeared upstairs. The founders of the Museum were interested in offering information on natural history, as well, so many representatives of animals and early tools, etc. from what is now Sublette County are on display. Next year, an exhibit on rodeo will be showcased upstairs and it is anticipated that local rodeo history or artifacts will enhance the exhibit. We are currently working on a new wing upstairs to house even more Sublette County artifacts upstairs and to fund an elevator to make the lower galleries more accessible. The potential for the new wing is such an exciting opportunity for the Museum and the residents of Sublette County!

RS: What is your total annual revenue? What are the revenue sources (ticket sales, memberships, grants, government funding, etc) and how much do each of these specifically contribute to the overall revenue picture?

LL: We are a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization. Our elected Board of Directors and our finance committee, which answers to the entire Board, are responsible for making the budget and financial decisions on behalf of the organization. We do not make public disclosure of the financials.

RS: I'd like to see a breakdown of your most recent annual budget. In your annual report to Historical Society Members, only the percentages were given. I also need to see the actual dollar amounts.

LL: See above answer.

RS: To what extent is the Museum dependent on the funding it receives from the Sublette County Museum Board? What percentage of your annual funding comes from the Museum Board? The amount of funding you have received from the Museum Board has nearly doubled in seven years. Why? Do you anticipate your funding requests to the Museum Board to continue to increase as they steadily have over the past decade?

LL: Approximately 1/4 of our budget depends on the Museum Board funding and at this point is critical to continue to make the strides the Museum has made over the past years. Because the Museum has now catalogued and inventoried everything and properly stored it, the costs have risen in the past few years. Additionally, to protect the artifacts and provide for their conservation, the Museum participated in a Conservation Assessment Program last year (a federally funded grant made this possible.) The staff at the Museum is currently carrying out the objectives laid out in the conservation assessment to improve and protect the artifacts for future generations. This year, for example, a separate work space will be completed to protect the artifacts stored in the same area. It is anticipated that the requests will not change dramatically in future years barring a major maintenance or security problem.

RS: I understand that the Historical Society and the Museum are working to grow an endowment to support future operations. What is the current value of the endowment? What is the goal? Has any county money been placed in the endowment?

LL: No county money has been placed in the endowment. It is funded with private donations. The Sublette County Historical Society wished to create an endowment of one million dollars to insure the museum's fiscal vitality in the future. We are approximately 1/3 of the way to our goal presently.

RS: Once again, I'd like to interview one or the both of you to answer these questions. I started my investigation two weeks ago and I understand that Dave was gone last week, but I was somewhat surprised by the request for these questions yesterday. I would have been happy to provide these from the get go.

I'd like to meet with you for the interview either this afternoon (Thursday), tomorrow (Friday), or Monday. Please let me know as soon as possible if you will agree to sitting for an interview and when that can be arranged.


To: Laurie Latta, Museum of the Mountain Man

Dave Bell, Sublette County Historical Society

Fm: Rob Shaul, Publisher

Subj: Your Answers to the Museum operation & Funding Questions

RS: Dear Laurie and Dave, thank you for your answers to my initial set of questions concerning the operation and funding of the Museum of the Mountain Man. However, several of my questions were not answered and some of your responses were unclear. I have several follow-up questions.

RS: Concerning the Historical Society's Memorandum Agreement with the Museum Board, unless I misread it, the document Laurie faxed concerns a one-time transfer of historical items from the Historical Society to the Museum Board. The Museum Board agreed to protect, preserve and and display the artifacts.

However, today, the arrangement is opposite. The Historical Society, through the Museum of the Mountain Man, preserves, protects and displays artifacts for the Museum Board, right? Is there a Memorandum Agreement or contract which lays out the current relationship between the Museum Board and the Historical Society?

LL: My understanding of the arrangement is what I originally explained in the answers to your first set of questions.

RS: I'd like more specifics on how the taxpayer dollars the Museum receives have been and are being spent. For example, in this year's funding request to the Museum Board, there is a line item of $3,000 for "Acquisitions." What exactly was purchased with this money?

LL: Acquisitions expenses

Total: $3000

1. Gun cases for Sublette County gun collection $500.00

2. Iron sculpture of mountain men from local artist $500.00

3. Tipi for the Museum grounds $500.00

The rest of the money will be expended to add to the areas of weakness in the Research Library at the close of our fiscal year. We are consulting with experts at this time. Our fiscal year does not run on the same calendar as does the county's.

RS: You didn't answer my initial question #5. Please answer clearly these two questions:

(a) Are funds the Museum receives from the Museum Board ever used to care for or acquire historical items from places outside Sublette County?

(b) Is there some type of administrative partition established which prevents the Sublette County taxpayer money from being used to preserve history from places other than Sublette County?

If your answer to question (a) above is yes, please give me some examples of the types of artifacts from outside Sublette County which have been purchased with funding you've received from the Museum Board.

LL: I believe I answered this question succinctly in your previous query. Anything that is purchased whether within this county of from elsewhere and where Museum Board money is used since my tenure here is relative to Sublette County history. Obviously not every artifact that can help tell the story of our history remained in this county forever until it's inclusion in the collection.

RS: I'm disappointed by youre decision not to disclose your financials. The Historical Society approaches Sublette County taxpayers each year asking for public money to support the Museum of the Mountain Man. Don't you think the public has a right to see your financials to verify that the money you ask for and have received was truly needed? It makes you look like there's something to hide. I ask you to please reconsider.

LL: The Sublette County Historical Society is a 501( c)3 organization that is run by an elected board of directors. We have just undergone an audit which showed our financials to be appropriate. I don't have a problem sharing the information. I won't share it with you. I sense that you are committed by your line of questioning to discredit our organization and the countless people who have given thousands of hours of volunteer time and money to make the Museum a crown jewel for this county and the State of Wyoming. I don't think you are at all interested in the good things that folks like P.W. Jenkins, Jim Harrower, Elton Cooley, Paul Hagenstein and many, many others have done during the years. Believe me, if the Sublette County Historical Society did not need the county assistance to continue to provide the excellent programs and exhibitions we provide for our Sublette County folks and our visitors, we would not ask for it.

RS: I'd much rather conduct this exchange in an interview rather than by faxes. It would be easier and quicker. Please give me a call at 367-3713 if you would rather sit for an interview. If not, I look forward to your written responses.

Sincerely, Rob Shaul

Mission Statement for The Sublette County Historical Society:

The Mission of the Sublette County Historical Society shall be to accurately collect, preserve, and expose the historical artifacts and events that have contributed to the culture of Sublette County and to encourage interaction of all the people in the endeavor resulting in the knowledge of and pride in our culture throughout history.

See The Archives for past articles.

Copyright © 1999, 2000 The Sublette County Journal
All rights reserved. Reproduction by any means must have permission of the Publisher.
The Sublette County Journal, PO Box 3010, Pinedale, WY 82941   Phone 307-367-3713
Publisher/Editor: Rob Shaul