Robert Archibald, president of the Missouri History Museum, resigned on Thursday, after months of upheaval surrounding his hefty compensation, the lack of public input on how the museum uses its tax dollars, and the controversial purchase of a contaminated piece of land at well above market value in 2006. But now, as the details emerge, it is clear that Archibald's retirement is not much of a victory for his critics. Archibald will have the last laugh.
His retirement was sudden, but only surprising in the sense that he had seemed impervious to the many attacks against him. The timing of the announcement was cunning, the holiday rush sure to draw attention away from the headlines.
But here's the real problem: Even after the supposed power-sharing solution brokered by John Danforth weeks ago, it's clear that the museum's private board of trustees, and not the public commission that distributes the museum's tax dollars, holds all the cards. And if that doesn't change, the museum will continue to do whatever it wants with your money, no transparency required.
Just look at the terms of Archibald's retirement. As soon as the announcement was made, and before his last day had even been determined, the board of trustees paid him $567,000 for 393 unused vacation days. How could anyone accrue so many days? Perhaps because his contract gave him four weeks vacation per year, in addition to six weeks of "research and writing" leave. Add it up, and he didn't need to show up for a whopping 10 weeks each year.
On top of that massive payout, the board announced that Archibald will receive a six-month consulting contract to help the museum transition to its new leader. That contract will pay him $270,000. You read that right: $270,000 for six months. Before retiring, he made $375,000 a year, so he's essentially getting a raise for quitting. Best of all, he won't have an office, so now, he can make his money without showing up at all.
So between the vacation days and the consulting gig, Archibald will make $837,000. Who needs a 401(k) when you've got those retirement benefits?
Then again, you can see why the board wanted to keep him around. Just think of the lessons he could teach the lucky person who takes his place: "Boondoggles 101" or "How to Enrage Taxpayers in Three Easy Steps."
Yes, Robert Archibald is gone (well, not really), but until the level of public oversight at the Missouri History Museum increases, nothing will ever really change.
Commentary by William Powell