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"$500k later, no museum"

From the Gary Post-Tribune, May 15, 2005:

$500k later, no museum
State audit raises questions for yet-to-be-built Discovery Center
By Steve Walsh Post-Tribune staff writer
Supporters of The Discovery Center of Northwest Indiana are facing allegations of mismanagement as they prepare to ask for millions in private donations for a long-stalled children's museum. Almost five years after the planned museum project received $500,000 from the state Build Indiana Fund, the State Board of Accounts is auditing the group's books.

The report, which will not be released for another month, is expected to show that the board violated state regulations when it used Build Indiana money to hire dinosaur expert Don Wolberg as its executive director. State auditors also had no record of the museum providing the private audit report required for not-for-profits that receive more than $100,000 in state money. "We don't have a record of them ever being audited," state Auditor Charles Johnson said. No evidence has surfaced suggesting organizers lined their pockets with state money. The audit and other documents do raise questions about whether the all-volunteer board has its fiscal house in order, even as backers say they are on the verge of a campaign to raise the estimated $30 million to build the lakefront museum. "They are addressing some of those issues right now. The state should have numbers from their audit," said Rep. Earl Harris, D-East Chicago. Harris said the project is not in trouble. Funding for a children's museum first appeared in 1999, when Harris secured a $1 million donation in the state budget for a North Lake County Children's Museum.

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Director's pay stops
Wolberg was hired from an advertisement The Discovery Center board placed in museum trade publications. The paleontologist founded the pop-culture hit Dinofest, which was last at Navy Pier in Chicago in 2001.
Contacted at his home in New Mexico, Wolberg said he had been flown to Northwest Indiana for an interview in February 2004. He was told he was the board's second choice, but he was later given a contract that would earn him $6,500 a month as executive director and consultant for the new museum. That's $78,000 a year. Still an avid supporter of The Discovery Center of Northwest Indiana, Wolberg thinks that, with the right plan, the project could draw tourists to Lake County while giving the area a much-needed cultural shot in the arm. "I would have to describe the board as well-meaning amateurs, but I think they have the best interest of the area at heart," he said. Problems arose early in Wolberg's contract. Paychecks did not come regularly. He found out he was a private contractor and not an employee. He had to pay his own Social Security taxes and had no health insurance from the money he received. He was in the midst of buying a house in Northwest Indiana when his wife told him to wait until his new bosses answered more questions. Then, the monthly checks stopped coming all together. Wolberg said he could not remember whether he received his last check in August or September.

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(Please contact me if you would like the full article, as there is no url to point to.)

Mary Kirkaldy