Editorial: Glazer Children’s Museum quickly regained its step

Published: October 18, 2018

Updated: October 19, 2018 at 11:46 AM


The Glazer Children’s Museum is a popular attraction in Tampa and a crown jewel in the downtown waterfront arts district. That reflects the pride and ownership the public has taken in making this signature destination a success. It’s also why it was good to see the museum’s governing board take a step Thursday to prevent a momentary hiccup from becoming something bigger.

As the Tampa Bay Times’ Paul Guzzo reported this week, Jennifer Stancil was terminated from her $169,280 a year job last month as museum president and chief executive, a post she held for three years. Exactly why remained a mystery to those outside the museum, at least initially, as the 21-member board underwent a code of silence. When the Times pressed for details this week, those contacted on the board refused to talk. Board chairman Kenneth Curtin emailed his colleagues Tuesday, warning that reporters might call and urging them to “just either not respond” or “just say no comment.”

Stonewalling rarely works and is always bad public relations. Circling the wagons might be typical in business. But the museum exists thanks to public support and confidence in its civic contribution. In the three-year period ending in 2016, the museum’s latest tax records show, government grants to the museum totaled more than $1.8 million, about 21 percent of total revenue over that time period. Local governments have committed hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money to the museum this year. It’s a worthy investment. But obligations cut both ways.

On Thursday, after rethinking the matter, Curtin spoke to the Times — and his account actually reflected well on the museum. Board members had no major beef with Stancil, apart from some housekeeping matters, but rather wanted new leadership for a growing museum in a dynamic urban environment. Curtin took pains to speak respectfully of Stancil, and said his apprehension for board members to speak publicly was rooted in his concern that Stancil’s contributions and skills not be diminished. Curtin’s retelling of her departure is in line with public records the Times had reviewed as of Thursday.

This would have been a good story to tell from the outset. Private citizens who donate their time as board members for community institutions deserve credit for their commitment. But this is a lesson in how the public and private worlds can intertwine. Curtin sounds genuine when he says he gets it. And credit Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, a museum board member, for nudging her colleagues to be more transparent.

There was never any whiff that this change in leadership had anything in common with previous problems at other local attractions, such as the Museum of Science & Industry and ZooTampa at Lowry Park. But the community expects these boards to be out front. The children’s museum served the community and its brand by addressing the matter and by promising to keep the lines of communication open and stronger.