Letters to the Editor

Letters for January 4, 2001

This bonehead wouldn't sign his name:
Upon reading Bob Whitby's December 7 article, "Bones of Contention,"I realized why New Times is not considered a reputable news source. I also realized why Bob Whitby writes for New Times and not The New York Times. It appears that neither the paper nor the author was concerned with reporting the unbiased facts of the Graves Museum story or checking the backgrounds and histories of their sources. It should have been clearly stated that these were the personal views of Mr. Whitby and this was not a news article.

First of all it should be noted that Dr. Ed Petuch is not a member of the Graves Museum staff. He is a professor at Florida Atlantic University who is paid $17,000 a year by the university to assist the museum. Thus the author should have assessed what Dr. Petuch has actually done for the museum for the past three years that has warranted this salary. Why did the reporter not question Dr. Petuch about why he has not written research grants for the museum if he is truly interested in furthering the museum's science department? Why does Dr. Petuch feel it is his job to get the museum staff "off their ass" when he cannot even motivate himself? The staff of the Graves Museum is made up of many hard-working individuals who were wrongly portrayed by a man who spends only a few days a year actually working with the museum. Did the reporter ask to see documentation about how much Dr. Petuch does for the museum? It is always easier to accuse someone else of being lazy instead of taking the initiative. It is also easier for the author to accuse hard-working people of earning "large" salaries (which are lower than the national average, by the way) than to ask someone what it is he does to earn $17,000 a year. Did the author bother to report Dr. Petuch's salary? No, of course not. He also failed to mention that, while Gypsy Graves lived in an expensive home, she barely paid her staff minimum wage.

Dr. Petuch should bring in grants and students if his main priority is the welfare of the museum's science program. Why has he not been effective in these areas? Obviously he would rather spend the museum's money instead of helping to raise it. It seems that Dr. Petuch needs to see the bigger picture of educating the public. I hate to tell you this, Dr. Petuch, but the world does not revolve around fossilized shells.

Dr. Petuch also accuses the museum of putting entertainment before science. Has he visited? The only thing to do there is learn. Parents continuously call to see if there are movies, rides, or play areas for their children. The museum can only tell them that it offers world-class artifacts and fossils. It is also trying to include more interactive exhibits to enhance the ability of children to learn (including monthly family days).

The author's opinion of Gypsy Graves is also heavily biased. On page 19 he mentions that Mrs. Graves began the museum with no experience, yet on page 23 he harps on the fact that current museum staff has none. Then he proceeds to tell us that Charles Zidar, the new interim director, has worked for the museum for the past six years as second in command to both Gypsy Graves and Robert Kelley. What exactly does he consider "museum experience"? Why is it acceptable that Mrs. Graves had none but unacceptable that Mr. Zidar has six years? Apparently Mrs. Graves believed Mr. Zidar to be a very capable person, or she would not have left the museum in his care as she traveled around the world doing her so-called "archaeology."

Speaking of archaeology, did the author bother to ask Mrs. Graves about her own ability to run a museum? Did he ask about international laws concerning the removal of artifacts from countries (the UNESCO laws)? Did he ask whether she had proper documentation for the artifacts she removed from the sites she worked on? Thanks to the hard work of staff members and volunteers after Mrs. Graves' departure, the museum is now trying to properly preserve materials in its care. The museum is also currently working with the Museum Assessment Program (MAP) so that it can become a fully accredited museum. Did Mr. Whitby question Mr. Zidar or any other staff member on his knowledge of the laws and regulations governing museums? Why did Gypsy Graves not seek accreditation during her years as director? How can he report that she is more capable of running a museum without researching the facts?

Mr. Whitby also appears clearly biased when he writes about the grand plans Gypsy Graves and her friends had for the museum. She would never have achieved these goals without proper accreditation.

The author then attacks the current director and board for their goals of creating better, interactive exhibits and strengthening the museum's science program by building new facilities. Also, his personal attacks and opinions on the museum staff and board members should never have made it past the editor. Mr. Whitby is obviously using and abusing his position as an author. And the fact the paper's editor let him do this is an indication that New Times is no more of a reputable news source than The Star or The National Enquirer. The only difference is that your paper is free, which only goes to show you that sometimes you really do get what you pay for.

A concerned museum member
Fort Lauderdale

A second Gypsy-hater speaks:
Regarding "Bones of Contention," I have to voice my annoyance with your reporter's insistence that the Graves Museum is a "kiddie museum."Since I moved to the area from the Washington, D.C., area earlier this year, I have visited the museum twice and have found something new and interesting on each trip. My tour was conducted professionally, thoroughly, and with enthusiasm. No matter what the reporter, Mrs. Graves, or Dr. Petuch thinks, I believe that children's education programs are extremely important. Based on the author's analysis, both the Field Museum in Chicago and the Smithsonian in D.C. should be classified as kiddie museums, as on each of my visits, they were swarming with children.

In fact, I'd probably have no appreciation for the arts and sciences if my parents and teachers didn't cart us kids to the Smithsonian on occasion or put in the extra effort to make learning fun. Thank goodness the influential people of my formative years had the same synergistic philosophy on arts, culture, and education as the current Graves Museum management. Sow the seeds early and reap the benefits for a lifetime.

Given the option it seems that Mrs. Graves, Mr. Petuch, and Mr. Whitby would prefer "her" museum to remain in a 1940s, Indiana Jones­movie time warp. Well, welcome to the new millennium! Maybe it's time to consider that the way to get and maintain patronage, corporate sponsorship, and research grants is to keep up with the times, allowing technology to support and trends in program development to drive the museum's goal of long-term subsistence.

Mr. Whitby seems more interested in Mr. Zidar's fashion sense than the more serious issue of maintaining a museum with limited funding. I personally would prefer to patronize a museum that is ethically and professionally managed than one operated by a woman who in her own and Mr. Whitby's words, is nothing more than a relic thief, stuffing fossils and artifacts she had no business taking into garbage bags and sneaking them out of the countries she "explored." Neither her name-dropping nor her methods of artifact acquisition impress me.

Based on the research in your article, Mrs. Graves and the Broward County Archaeological Society:

• passed overwhelmingly bylaws they admitted contained disturbing loopholes simply because the BCAS board members didn't have time to reconvene on the issue;

• had a year and a half to correct the errors they made by signing the loophole-laden proposal, yet failed to correct their mistakes;

• are blaming a lawyer they hired to develop the bylaws, apparently because they didn't engage in the decision-making process; and

• agreed to settle one claim against the museum out of court, awarding Mrs. Graves money and the return of some of "her" artifacts. Why didn't she include these "new" claims, over a seat on the museum board, with her original complaint?

Maybe it is time for Mrs. Graves and the BCAS to concede defeat on the issue of reinstatement to the museum board and instead get on with their lives and archaeological pursuits. The issues rehashed by Mr. Whitby and Mrs. Graves are old news. Of course, if she is so unhappy with being ousted, Mrs. Graves could petition to have her name removed from the museum.

Instead of bashing past and present museum personnel, maybe your newspaper should be encouraging support and patronage of a local museum. Of course controversy increases readership, and readership increases ad revenue, which to some may be more important than objective reporting. I encourage your readers to visit the museum and judge for themselves.

Michele Titi
Hallandale Beach

A former executive director opines:
I read Bob Whitby's Graves Museum article with interest, but I regret that I was unable to give him my input. I did have a procedure -- exactly like Dick Cheney's. But any input would have been simply to affirm all that has been accomplished at the museum from its inception and the dedicated and talented staff that we presently have. I also strongly support the members of the Board of Governors, who worked with me over the past four years to create a world-class museum, especially their attorney Karl Adler.

I have found Karl Adler to be one of the most fair, honest, straightforward attorneys with whom I have ever worked. He was and would still be the friend of all those who feel the need to attack him. It was not until they began to violate the integrity of the process and system that Karl advised the board to take action that undermined their plotting and strategies. In the settlement with Ms. Graves, he was eminently fair and just. But in their losing position, I can imagine that they have felt abused, when in reality they created their own situation. To read the distortion of reality they shared with you reminds me that perception is often more important than reality.

I was amused at the strong involvement of Dr. Petuch in the story. I take nothing away from this man, who is a brilliant scientist, accomplished musician, and amazing linguist. But I howled with laughter at his opening line about not being able to get people "off their asses to make it a real museum." Any progress made in the museum was accomplished in spite of, not because of, Ed. I have a file full of memos and correspondence between me, him, and university personnel trying to get him off his posterior. The university pays him a generous stipend to work summers and give time during the rest of the year. To see him appear once in five to six months was to have to introduce him to staff.

One summer he worked hard in Wyoming -- and vowed never to do it again. The failure of the museum to make any real move to try and purchase the (6500-, not 9000-acre) Wyoming site was due to our inability to count on him to follow through on anything -- even a shell-cataloging activity he was to have completed five years ago! Early on I was concerned about Ed's denigration of everyone and everything -- even the people and products he now champions. As noted in the story, he would snort a lot. He would snort his contempt (to any audience) of our uselessness and of his being locked into a "small, backwater college" rather than being on the staff of the Smithsonian or Field. When he told of his connections, was he asked why he was not in a significant position in one of those institutions? All who know him know why. He has been described as having the unique ability to burn his bridges while standing on them. And he hated me for calling him Eddie.

Again, I read the story with interest, and I confess some amusement at the perceptions and projections. It is a sad story, in fact. Ms. Graves is a fine lady who accomplished a lot but needed help. Certain personality and political factors caused an unnecessary rupture. That is too bad but not the end of the world or of a museum that will continue to grow and progress under the leadership of its board and with Charles Zidar directing. I have every confidence in Charles. And a museum director doesn't have to be rumpled and look like a movie star. Neither does he have to be a self-announced world expert like Dr. Petuch. He just has to care about people and the past and try to employ good business practices.

Robert P. Kelley
Fort Lauderdale

Owing to a reporting error, Jeff Stratton's December 21 Bandwidthcolumn incorrectly stated that Steve Rullman saw police using billy clubs to subdue a man at the City Link Music Fest. While another person interviewed by New Times did witness police using truncheons, Rullman saw the officers strike only the man with their fists. New Times regrets the error.

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