ward photo with edit 4-9-14

Lacy Ward Jr.

GREENSBORO — The former executive director of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum is speaking out for the first time since his firing in November.

In an essay in Wednesday’s News & Record, Lacy Ward Jr. details the museum’s financial troubles, talks about the reasons for his ouster by its board of directors and suggests that its board accept the city of Greensboro’s offer to manage the museum.

“I allowed a period of time where clarity could have come forward about the situation the museum is in,” Ward said in an interview Tuesday. “But it didn’t. There’s no dialogue going on about what the actual situation with the museum is. I believe the taxpayers of Greensboro deserve clarity.”

Ousted civil rights museum director Lacy Ward breaks silence to say the Greensboro landmark should turn itself over to the city for operations.

Ward’s words paint a grim picture of the museum’s finances, but he said it’s an accurate one, and one of which the public needs to be aware.

“The museum needs to raise $2 million in 2015 as the first step toward achieving financial sustainability,” Ward writes. “Six hundred thousand dollars is needed to supplement retail operations and balance the operating budget. A little over $800,000 is needed to repay outstanding debt. The remainder is needed to build a cash reserve that will allow the museum to not have to zero out its accounts each and every month of operation.”

Ward concludes that without assistance from the city, the museum won’t be able to overcome its financial obstacles. The city, he said Tuesday, isn’t likely to continue that support if its leaders don’t feel certain the museum is being managed professionally. Letting the city take over management of the museum is a good first step to that, Ward said. but the museum board must also change.

That was a sticking point during Ward’s six-month tenure. Ward said he tried to implement changes suggested by Alexander Haas, a fundraising consultant hired by the museum in 2012. Ultimately, Ward said, he believes friction about his continued insistence on changing the board led to his firing.

At last, the reason Lacy Ward Jr.'s opponents gave for ousting him as executive director of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.

Among Haas’ suggestions:

* Expand the board.

* Institute term limits for all board members.

* Institute term limits for all board officers.

* Receive financial donations from 100 percent of board members.

That first suggestion eventually was implemented, and the board was expanded from 15 members to 25, but didn’t come without resistance from some board members, Ward said.

“To my knowledge, efforts in achieving the remaining three points ended with my departure,” Ward wrote.

Ward’s remarks follow an essay authored by Deena Hayes-Greene, chairwoman of the museum’s board, published in Sunday’s Ideas section.

Hayes-Greene, who repeatedly has declined or not responded to requests for interviews with the News & Record and other local news outlets, wrote her side of the story, saying that of the museum’s founders hasn’t been told. The museum’s finances aren’t nearly as bad as has been reported, Hayes-Greene wrote, but she did not address the debt outlined by Ward.

Hayes-Greene also asserted that white community leaders in Greensboro have been attempting to take over the museum almost since its inception and to change its message to one that is inoffensive to white people.

The museum opened in 2010 at the site of the former Woolworth’s building on Elm Street where four black N.C. A&T students famously staged a sit-in at a whites-only lunch counter in 1960, an iconic moment in the national civil rights movement.

But the effort to whitewash that moment and what followed continues today, according to museum cofounder Earl Jones. After Greensboro mayor and museum board member Nancy Vaughan offered a week after Ward’s ouster to have the city take over management of the museum, Jones said he believed it was part of a plot to whitewash the history of the civil rights movement in the city.

Vaughan and the entire city council deny any such effort exists. But Hayes reiterated this belief in her essay in the News & Record.

“The energy invested to wrest the story told at the museum from the hands of those who experienced and continue to experience it, the ongoing assumption that the board and leadership are not competent, and the paternalism of the mayor are beyond my understanding,” Hayes-Greene wrote.

Ward said he was disappointed by Hayes-Greene’s essay.

“I didn’t see in it the vision going forward,” Ward said Tuesday. “The important question to be answered is: What is the museum going to do in 2015? This is reality. There are bills that have to be paid. How are they going to do that? That’s a question that wasn’t answered.”

City Councilman Zack Matheny said he agreed.

“What Deena wrote didn’t answer any important questions,” Matheny said Tuesday. “But we’re used to that. We as a council have asked so many questions that haven’t been answered. We can’t even get simple bank statements from them. I’m proud of Lacy for stepping forward and shedding some light from somebody who has been inside and seen the financial situation and the management situation of the museum.”

The News & Record attempted to contact all 24 members of the museum’s current board for reaction to Ward’s comments. All either didn’t respond or declined to comment.

Councilman Jamal Fox said he believes it’s time for some public forums, featuring both the leadership of the museum board and city council members.

“This issue is really creating a black eye on the city and the museum when we could be focusing our energy on so many positive things,” Fox said. “There needs to be some public hearings with the community where we can just open up and be frank about where everything is. That’s the only way that we’re going to resolve it.”

Ward said that’s an argument he made throughout his tenure, during which museum board members criticized him for being too open with the public about the museum’s problems.

“The taxpayers of Greensboro deserve an open, public discussion,” Ward said Tuesday. “They paid $1.5 million toward the museum in the last year. They’ve bought the right to some openness and clarity.”

Asked if he would be interested in assuming his old post at the museum, should the city take over its management, Ward said it is a moot question for now.

“It really doesn’t matter who is the executive director of the museum right now,” Ward said. “The linchpin of the museum’s success isn’t the director. It’s how the museum is governed. If changes aren’t made to establish good, professional governance, then nothing else that anyone does will matter.”

News & Record reporter Margaret Moffett contributed to this report. 

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Contact Joe Killian at (336) 373-7023, and follow @JoeKillianNR on Twitter.

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