Official: Donations drying up for Lincoln library

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CHICAGO (AP) — Top officials at the foundation behind the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum said Wednesday that fundraising is drying up because of tensions between the library's executive director and the director of the state agency that oversees it.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation's chair and CEO told a legislative panel in Chicago on Wednesday that they've heard from numerous donors who are holding off until "issues are resolved" — and that this year's fundraising totals are about $1.5 million behind the $4.7 million raised by the foundation in 2013.

"Yesterday, these prospective donors said, 'Tell us why we should give to you. There are a lot of places we give, and it seems you're in the midst of a lot of dissention,'" CEO Carla Knorowski said. "This continues almost certainly on a weekly basis."

The dip in donations was detailed at the hearing scheduled after outcry over legislation sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan that would separate the Preservation Agency and the Museum. While the House passed the bill in the spring, some lawmakers say other solutions should be considered.

The legislative panel questioned Illinois Historic Preservation Agency Director Amy Martin and Library and Museum Director Eileen Mackevich about their numerous disagreements in recent years. Those have included disputes over filling staff vacancies and over the delay of the development of a strategic plan for the museum.

The discussion prompted one state lawmaker to compare the two to "kids that can't get along."

"We're wasting taxpayer dollars just by (having) this meeting," GOP state Rep. John Cabello said.

Mackevich told The Associated Press on Wednesday that after having meetings with the Preservation Agency, she went to Madigan about persisting problems.

Mackevich describes herself, as well as longtime friend Stanley Balzekas Jr. — the landlord of the Madigan's district office — as friends with the speaker.

But Madigan has denied that the friendships were the motivation behind his sponsoring of the bill. Instead, the Chicago Democrat has said the library is held back because it needs permission for operations from the agency.

Martin said Wednesday that the split would cost the library an estimated $2 million a year and that planning for important upcoming events — commemorating the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's death and the state's bicentennial — would be "derailed" by a split.

"Having a separate agency will be costly and no less bureaucratic," Martin said.

Panel chair, Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks, has tasked agency and museum officials with putting more thought into a proposed solution before another hearing is held around the legislature's fall veto session.

He called Madigan's legislation "unartfully drafted" and said hopes to develop a different sort of restructuring plan that could be voted next spring. Ideas floated having a state university or national archives oversee the museum.

Steve Brown, Madigan's spokesman, said the speaker would "see what the testimony brings out" as he weighs whether to amend the current legislation.

"The current arrangement isn't working. I think that was pretty well demonstrated today," Brown said.


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