The city inspector general has advised Joliet to conduct an audit of Joliet Area Historical Museum finances before providing the organization with more taxpayer dollars.
The report delivered before the City Council last week decided to delay a vote on the city’s annual funding for the museum also recommends that the museum hold back on its potential acquisition of the Launching Pad restaurant property in Wilmington and that a consultant be hired to evaluate museum management and personnel practices.
The report by Inspector General Sean Connolly looks into a series of firings and dismissals of employees and volunteers that took place at the museum earlier this year as well as the organization’s interest in acquiring the Launching Pad restaurant and iconic Gemini Giant statue that has become an attraction to Route 66 visitors.
The Herald-News has obtained a copy of the report, which has not been released by the city.
Three of those who lost their positions appeared at the City Council meeting last week to urge the council to hold back back funding for the museum.
“I think it would be great if we did have new management over there,” Mary Beth Gannon, who made presentations on local history at the museum before she was let go, told the council on Tuesday.
Gannon also urged the council to review the inspector general report, and council members ultimately decided they should take a closer look at the report before voting on $250,000 in city funding for the museum in 2024.
A vote on the funding was tabled until February.
Museum board President Quinn Adamowski at the same meeting stood up for the museum, pointing to its track record of opening the Old Joliet Prison to tours and getting state recognition through a Governor’s Hometown Award.
“We’re an organization that’s leading the way in culture and the arts,” Adamowski said.
The Governor’s Hometown Award was given in recognition of the volunteer effort that led to a cleanup of the old Joliet Correctional Center as the city and museum prepared the closed and deteriorating prison property for visitors. The positive story of the prison cleanup added a sad chapter this year, however, when a number of volunteers were let go amid circumstances that appeared to center around disparaging comments made on a social media page.
The inspector general report said those messages included a threat directed at the wife of museum Executive Director Greg Peerbolte, which triggered the firings despite denials from volunteers associated with the comments.
Those volunteers included Dan Philip, who was among the three people who spoke to the council on Tuesday.
Peerbolte, according to the inspector general report, said there had been a “pattern of misconduct” among a small number of volunteers that included unauthorized parties with alcohol on the prison grounds.
According to the inspector general report, the museum provided nearly 3,000 pages of documentation in response to a subpoena over personnel matters.
But termination letters focused on the alleged webpage postings, according to the inspector general report.
“Despite his various claims of bad behavior by employees, the letter provided to fired employees only listed ‘association with a webpage and social media group as the reason for termination; the parties, alcohol, behavior and subordination claims were not included in Peerbolte’s termination letters,” the report states.
The inspector general report delves into assorted disputes between employees, volunteers and management at the museum.
The Herald-News earlier this year interviewed several of the dismissed employees and volunteers, who said they had nothing to do with the social media postings that appeared to be the center of the controversy.
Peerbolte and other officials have declined to comment on the dismissals, noting they were personnel matters that they could not discuss publicly.