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Mosaic Templars head is back

Governor intervened in museum firing.

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A museum director who was fired in March was back on the job Monday after supporters of the museum and members of the Black Legislative Caucus asked Gov. Mike Beebe to intervene.

H.L. McGill was fired as director of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, a division of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, in March because of "unsatisfactory job performance on many levels," including his failure to get a grant proposal in on time, his supervisor, Deputy Director of Museums Trey Berry, wrote.

The Black Legislative Caucus, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center Advisory Board and community activists, including advisory board head John Cain, went to the governor after the firing.

"The governor is generally reluctant to get involved in any agency personnel matters," Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said. "In this case, we had a number of other parties reach out to us who were affiliated with the Cultural Center." After meetings with McGill's advocates and his supervisors at the Department of Arkansas Heritage, which operates the museum, the governor felt "Mr. McGill's termination may have been hasty and an additional review and opportunity for him to carry out his duties would be the most prudent course."

The $11.4 million Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, which has history exhibits on African Americans in Arkansas, including the Ninth Street business district and the fraternal organization that was created there, and a collection of art by black Arkansans, opened in 2008. It has had two directors since its opening; Constance Sarto, who left in March 2010, and McGill, who was hired in December 2010. One-time deputy director Heather Zbinden acted as director in the interim.

There have been many reports of friction between Zbinden, who now works at the Old State House, and McGill. Zbinden is white; McGill is black, and in a speech prepared for the black caucus (but never delivered) he wrote that "shocking things" happened at the museum "and would never have happened to a white director." He said that included slammed doors and profanities hurled his way.

But Berry and DAH director Cathie Matthews said in interviews last week that race did not play a role. Matthews said she has "no concerns" about race-related issues at the museum.

In his "desk notes" in McGill's personnel file, Berry writes that he informed McGill that his No. 1 goal was to complete the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant, one that the previous director had failed to submit, demoralizing the staff. In later notes, Berry said he was concerned that McGill didn't answer e-mails and displeased with McGill's response that it wasn't his work style to check his e-mail all day. After McGill's dismissal, Berry found 252 unopened e-mails from MTCC and DAH staff on McGill's computer.

In January, after the museum missed the deadline to file the IMLS grant, Berry put McGill on a two-year "disciplinary action."

McGill, interviewed last week, said Berry's accusations were false and that it was Zbinden's failure, not his, that the grant deadline was missed. He said she refused to get in touch with grant partners the Friday before the deadline and set up the grant application at grants.gov incorrectly, so that when he tried to file the grant on deadline, he wasn't granted authority.

However, an e-mail from Zbinden to McGill the Friday before the deadline said that the partners were for an old grant, would not fit with the new grant proposal, and that she didn't have any partnership ideas for the new grant.

Berry also complained in his notes that he was told McGill missed a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce at which he was supposed to speak. But chamber representative Judy Knod said McGill was in attendance. She couldn't recall if he spoke, but said she didn't believe he was on the agenda as a speaker.

Berry, who will be McGill's supervisor until August, when he leaves to become the dean of liberal arts at Southern Arkansas University, has set goals for McGill to meet over the next few months. Among them are that the director meet with the staff this week and hear their concerns; conduct a search for an assistant director and a finance director, both of which positions are now empty, and set the museum's rental policies and fees at a price the public can afford, but that will cover wear and tear on the museum. "I'm all for second chances," Berry told a reporter last week. "I'm willing to work with him."

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