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Friday, May 23, 2014 05:04 pm

A house divided?

ALPLM may split from IHPA

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum would be split off from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency under legislation supported by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and other state leaders.

“This museum is the crown jewel of history in Illinois,” said Steven Beckett, chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Advisory Board. “It needs to be treated as a crown jewel.”

Beckett confirmed that he has drafted legislation that would strip IHPA oversight of the institution and give it to the board he heads, which now serves as an advisory body to the museum and the IHPA. He said that Madigan has approved the idea, as well as Senate president John Cullerton and Illinois comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.

“We are aware of it,” said David Blanchette, spokesman for Gov. Pat Quinn. "We have not taken a position on it.”

Amy Martin, IHPA director, could not be reached for comment.

The advisory board headed by Beckett that would assume oversight responsibility had been dormant until Quinn took office and appointed members to the body that had existed on paper only.

Beckett said that he’s concerned about the institution’s best interests.

“This is no personal power trip for me at all – it is not,” Beckett said. “From the time I have been chair of the agency (advisory board), I have felt the working relationship with the IHPA is ineffective and not in the best interest of the state. I have long advocated that the library and museum be a separate state agency. … I drafted legislation, submitted it to the speaker and the speaker agreed.”

Steve Brown, Madigan spokesman, could not be reached for comment.

The IHPA has oversight of historic sites throughout the state, and Beckett said that he’s concerned the presidential library and museum might have to compete with other sites for fiscal attention. He said he’s concerned that the library lacks staff.

Beckett also expressed frustration at the IHPA’s process for acquiring historic papers from the Stevenson family that span from the Lincoln era through the 20th century. The family, which includes late former Gov. Adlai Stevenson, has offered to give the papers to the museum as a gift, but the deal hasn’t been consummated two years after it was proposed, Beckett said. The advisory board has blessed the acquisition, he said, but agency officials have questioned costs, even though the artifacts would be given as a gift.

“They’re the ones who really count; we’re advisory, we don’t count,” Beckett said. “It hasn’t been approved yet.”

Sunny Fischer, president of the IHPA board of trustees, said she had only just heard of the proposal to strip her agency of museum oversight and give it to Beckett’s board.

“This is so new I have no idea what to tell you right now,” Fischer said.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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