Finley outlines goals as interim Waukesha County Museum CEO
Returns for two months from southern California
Dan Finley was enjoying retirement.
Cabana shirts and flip flops were all he needed while living on the beach with his wife and dog some 2,000 miles away from Wisconsin in Dana Point, Calif.
Not much could take him away from that life.
Except coming home.
"This was one of those times when God tapped me on the shoulder and said we got a job for you to do," said Finley, who recently took over as interim chief executive officer and president of the Waukesha County Museum. "It was an easy choice."
Finley said he had not heard that Kirsten Lee Villegas had resigned from the Waukesha County Museum until Tom Constable, chair of the Waukesha County Museum board of directors, called him at his Orange County home.
"He called me out of the clear blue sky and I didn't have to think hard about it," Finley said.
The former county executive says he has no intention of taking the position permanently. He's here on a two-month, voluntary basis until Constable and the museum board find its next leader.
"That's not the point of it," Finley said when asked if he would like the job full time. "I'm free and it seemed like a really good fit."
Involved in agreement
After serving as a Waukesha County board supervisor from 1984 to 1991, Finley was the Waukesha County Executive for the next 14 years.
Toward the end of his run as county executive — at the request of the Waukesha County Historical Society and Museum — Finley and the Waukesha County Board sold the old county courthouse building at 101 W. Main St. to the museum for $1.
As part of a 10-year agreement, the county continued funding for the museum, which included money for capital improvements and a decreasing operational grant.
"I'm convinced when I wrote the agreement 12 years ago it was a good agreement," Finley said. "Now I have to live with it. It's coming around (back to me) in an interesting way. It was good for county taxpayers, but at the same time the historical society wanted independence in getting control."
But over the years, funding has declined and it appears the county's financial support will drop off in 2014, according to County Executive Dan Vrakas' proposed executive budget slated for adoption in November.
While it's likely the board will approve $150,000 (it gave $300,000 last year), Finley was Constable's selection to help make up that difference.
Presenting his ideas
Villegas, however, said the blueprint is there for her eventual replacement to be successful.
"It's incredibly exciting that Dan Finely agreed to step in as an interim CEO," Villegas said. "It gives the organization a strong vote of confidence seeing that Dan is the one who crafted the 10-year agreement. They're going to come out of this just fine."
Finley said he presented "some firm ideas"on fundraising Tuesday at a Waukesha County Museum Board meeting.
Some of these ideas include tearing down the old jail in the back of the building, which he said is "extremely old and in poor shape."
He suggested putting a small parking lot in its place that could house school buses.
"It would save the museum bundles of money by not having to maintain that old building from maintenance and utilities," he said.
Finley says don't relocate
Finley also referenced a market feasibility study that has yet to be released on the museum's potential future location. The three options, he said, were staying in its current location, moving to a different location in Waukesha or building a brand new facility off I-94.
Finley said, "I would not recommend moving out to I-94. At this point, it's early but the best decision would be to stay where we are."
The cost is the biggest reason, he said.
"It's a multimillion dollar project to move to a new facility and I don't know where they would come up with that," he said. "Staying put certainly has its shortcomings, but if we make good physical improvements, get parking, improve the infrastructure of the building, maybe change how we use the building. Right now it's exclusively museum exhibits, but I happen to be a fan of a cultural center where other things happen."
Another reason it should stay at its downtown location, he said, is because of the building it's in.
"If the museum moved out of the building, it's just not viable," Finley said. "We had developers look at the building and there are just too many hurdles, too many problems with that building."
When asked if these ideas will raise the money needed for 2014, Finley said "we hope so," before adding "we'll almost have to because the county cut funding by 50 percent. It's huge. How do you survive? It's not just us wishing to make it up. We got to make it up and we have a lot of committed volunteers willing to give it their best effort."
Finley highlighted his time as the president of the Milwaukee Public Museum as an example of providing stability. Finley, who left his job as Waukesha County executive in 2005 for that post, said he was hired in Milwaukee when it went "through a terrible financial meltdown."
"It was pushed to the brink of bankruptcy," Finley said. "But I got it back to where it's doing very well and part of the reason I was hired was (fixing) the crisis."
He left the museum in 2010 to lead the Autry National Center, a museum about the American West, in Los Angeles. After just two years as the chief executive officer there, he resigned.
"I've become a museum workout guy," Finley said. "I go to museums, especially those with difficult challenges and get them back on their feet. That's what I believe my calling was."
With many questions remaining on the Waukesha County Museum's future, Finley said he sees similarities in the situation he encountered in Milwaukee with what Waukesha faces.
"It's ironic," Finley said. "The reserve funds aren't where they need to be, but there's grand ideas, but really no money to fund them. But on the plus side, both are beloved by their respective communities."
Need county support
When asked what would happen if the county doesn't provide some type of support in the future, Finley was blunt: "The county should give more. It's rare that a museum doesn't get local government support. There's no question this place can't make it without public funding.
"(If not) then it goes away. Then they're losing the historical soul of the community. It's tragic. We preserve our common history and we learn from that history. If the government doesn't wish to preserve those things, that's their choice. It would be a huge loss."
While only temporarily, Finley is here to make sure that doesn't happen.
"I brought my insulated flip flops," Finley joked. "I feel like Rip Van Winkle who has been asleep for eight years, has woken up and is in Waukesha again. There's lots of changes, but still plenty of the same old friends."
And despite the county giving less to the museum and being away from it for a number of years, Finley praises it.
"It's a well-oiled machine," Finley said. "Waukesha County is the best operating in the state of Wisconsin. In five years with the Milwaukee Public Museum, I worked with the Milwaukee County Board and that was much more challenging. Waukesha County is in great shape."
Finley returns to the area after the foreclosure of his Okauchee home at N53 W34296 Highway Q in Okauchee.
Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Donald Hassin ordered a default judgment on the property as Finley and his wife failed to answer a foreclosure suit filed against them by Associated Bank in May 2011.
According to court records, the couple stopped making monthly payments of $5,432 on a $1.2 million mortgage in December 2010.
The Finleys did not respond to the foreclosure suit and in Hassin's ruling, the judge said along with the $1.2 million principal owed, the Finleys also owed $23,914 in interest, plus $1,810 in late fees, $1,850 in attorney fees and other assorted charges.
The home was eventually sold by The Weber Group, which was asking $999,900. The Finleys bought the 3,500-square-foot house in 2003. According to The Weber Group, the house sold for $759,500 in March 2012.
"That issue is (settled)," Finley said. "The house was eventually sold. I might be wrong but foreclosure is not an event. It's a process. When a bank forecloses on a property, it takes months (for it to be settled). We were happy to sell the house."
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