NO WALK IN THE PARK

Funding approval of Laumeier Sculpture Park's business manager is put on hold as St. Louis County Councilwoman Edith Cunnane calls for an audit of the park's finances

St. Louis County Councilwoman Edith Cunnane announced Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 2, that "a county audit of Laumeier (Sculpture Park) should be presented to the council within 60 days." Her written statement was sent to The Riverfront Times in response to queries about a County Council vote last Thursday in which the funding approval of a business-manager position at Laumeier was put on hold.

Last month, Judy Metzger was hired as business manager for the not-for-profit Laumeier Sculpture Park, and not by St. Louis County, which shares governance of the park with Laumeier's board. Then St. Louis County Executive George "Buzz" Westfall, at the recommendation of the Laumeier board, requested that Metzger's position be funded by the county. (The position was formerly held by Bryan Knicely, who is suing Laumeier and its director, Beej Nierengarten-Smith, for personal injury.) Requests from Westfall usually receive rubber-stamp treatment from the council, which has a Democratic majority, but not last Thursday.

In a rare 4-3 vote, with Democratic Councilman Charlie Dooley siding with the three Republicans, the question on Metzger's position was held.

According to Cunnane's memo, however, she has serious concerns about the funding of the position -- and about Laumeier. "There are many questions I believe the council should have clarified before we make this decision," her memo states. "We are embarking on a very unusual business arrangement if the county employs an individual who, in turn, operates a private, not-for-profit foundation. That precedent could have some potentially unintended consequences.

"I have also been approached by constituents with concerns about the finances of Laumeier. It is our fiduciary duty to investigate those issues."

For now, Metzger remains employed by Laumeier, at least until the question comes up again with the County Council this week.

Cunnane's concerns may have arisen from allegations of improprieties surrounding Laumeier and director Nierengarten-Smith. As reported last month in the RFT, Nierengarten-Smith's personal Brazilian folk-art collection was appraised and shipped to the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, N.M. at a cost of more than $11,000, paid with Laumeier funds. No one from Laumeier's board has yet commented on this expense.

 
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