Schmidt: Purchase of Welk Homestead a slippery slope
As a member of the State Historical Board, I am often tasked with reconciling the emotional side of our responsibilities with the financial components of a decision. The purchase of the Lawrence Welk Homestead was another example of that reconciling process.
History is emotional. My Grandpa Jack’s purple heart and My Grandpa Clement’s railroad watch are proudly displayed in my home. They are important to me. However, what may be of value and importance to me may not be to another. An artifact worth retaining by one generation may be thrown away by the next. It’s that emotion which makes the decision process so difficult.
As you may know, the State Historical Board recently voted 6-5 to purchase the Lawrence Welk Homestead. I did not support the purchase.
This purchase was unprecedented. I can find no one who recalls a time when our state — “the people” purchased a historical site. Have we embarked on a road we will someday regret? What starts with Lawrence Welk could become Angie Dickinson, Phil Jackson or many other worthy North Dakotan.
“We are preserving the story of the German-Russian immigrants who were the largest ethnic group to settle North Dakota.” That case could be made, but is it the responsibility of the people of North Dakota? Perhaps a purchase could be made by a non-profit group. Is the private sector willing to take on this permanent task and responsibility? If not, why is the state?
The North Dakota Legislature appropriated $100,000 to the State Historical Society budget to purchase the Welk property; no funds were included for maintenance or operation. The motion called for a local group of volunteers to maintain and operate the site until a funding request can be made in the 2015 legislative session. What happens then? We don’t know. Will this project be funded? Will funds be pulled from other historical sites to accommodate this new site? How long will this aging group of volunteers be available?
“Our state has so much money; surely we can afford to purchase such a worthy project.” Yes, we are experiencing great wealth. However, the State Historical Society has access only to the funds which have been appropriated to their current budget. The unexpected costs of flooding, vandalism and maintenance need to be addressed every budget cycle.
Reconciling historic emotion with fiscal facts can be challenging. I take pride in being a person who casts my vote with principle and policy in mind, rather than the emotion of people and politics. I never forget, it’s not my money ... it’s yours.
Schmidt is the state treasurer and member of the State Historical Board. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at nd.gov/ndtreas.