History Colorado Cuts 22 Percent of Its Staff in Latest Layoffs

The History Colorado Center opened in April 2012, replacing the old Colorado History Museum a block up Broadway.
The History Colorado Center opened in April 2012, replacing the old Colorado History Museum a block up Broadway.
Tryba Associates

The meeting of the board of History Colorado originally scheduled for this morning was canceled — no quorum — but that doesn't mean that boardmembers have been inactive since the Colorado Legislature approved a revised structure for the board this past spring and Governor John Hickenlooper appointed eight members to the new nine-member board.

Some were reappointments from the previous, much larger board of what had been the Colorado Historical Society, until the outfit was rebranded as History Colorado several years ago (it remains both a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and an agency of the Colorado Department of Higher Education); a ninth position has not yet been filled. The group started meeting in June, and in July offered early retirement and furlough options to all 127 employees of History Colorado across the state. In August came news that the director of the organization, Ed Nichols, was retiring after eight years that saw both that rebranding and the opening of the $105 million History Colorado Center (he'll be working as a consultant through the fall); at the end of last month, two interim co-directors were announced. That was the first shoe to drop.

The second just landed with a thud. Yesterday, this statement was released by those two interim co-directors, Robert Musgraves and Steve Turner:

Leadership of History Colorado is working to improve the organization’s financial position in the face of a variety of continuing challenges. This summer, an internal taskforce recommended $3 million in budget adjustments over two years in order to minimize further near-term negative impact to History Colorado’s financial reserves and position the organization to resume growing those reserves.

Voluntary retirements and furloughs offered to all staff in August as part of the taskforce recommendation went a significant way toward meeting this goal. However, the board determined additional expense reductions, coupled with vigorous efforts to increase revenues, are required to make that plan successful.

Senior leadership, in partnership with the board, made the difficult decision to eliminate 11 positions and reduce six full-time positions to part-time positions to address the additional expense reductions needed. These changes impact departments across the organization. Only the Community Museums and the funds available for grants through the State Historical Fund were exempted.

It is the plan of the Board and senior leadership to work through these challenges in a manner that returns the organization to sound financial footing just as soon as possible, while still allowing it to continue the many valuable programs and other offerings that are central to the agency’s mission to serve the citizens of Colorado, all with a view toward better positioning the organization for long-term success.

According to History Colorado, the voluntary and involuntary reductions, when combined, impact about 22 percent of staff, based on July levels. Once these changes are implemented, History Colorado and its units across the state will have a roster of 103 employees. In addition, more than thirty employees volunteered to take furlough time.

One of those who took early retirement was state historian Bill Convery. His position is still empty, but rumors have been floating that it will be offered to University of Colorado professor Patty Limerick. And on September 24, Convery posted this on his Facebook page: 

It's not been announced, but a replacement for Colorado State Historian has been officially (if semi-secretly) approved. The new leadership is moving fast to erase the contributions that my colleagues and I made at History Colorado and, incidentally, to shut off open discussion about the consequences. I feel like I dreamt the last seven years.

History Colorado spokesman Russ Rizzo confirmed that — sort of — with this statement late Friday:

The Board of Directors of History Colorado approved the selection of noted historian Patricia Limerick, faculty director and chair of the board at the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado, to assume the role of state historian. Because discussions are ongoing, any announcement would be premature.

Limerick was in Portland, Oregon, at a Center of the American West board retreat this past weekend, and unable to comment on all the action at History Colorado. "I will try to find a moment when I can break from the activity here and think something worth thinking!" she promised. There's already been considerable thought put into the future of History Colorado, and continuing its mission with a streamlined structure and budget; given Limerick's reputation as both a scholar and maverick (she won a MacArthur "Genius" Award in 1995) — and the fact that the CU-based Center of the American West also falls under the Colorado Department of Higher Education — expect a history-making arrangement if she does take the state-historian slot.

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