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Presidential library interim CEO takes leave of absence for health concerns

The interim CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum has stepped away from the project for health reasons just as the project's foundation board has delayed its leadership search until this fall.

The interim CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum has stepped away from the project for health reasons just as the project's foundation board has delayed its leadership search until this fall.

Jim Kelly, who was offered the temporary position last December, said he'd suffered a stroke about three weeks ago while hiking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and was taking a temporary leave until early September to "get things squared away" as he completes a set of medical procedures.

"It's pretty straightforward. I'm going to be back in Dickinson starting Labor Day," he said Monday from Utah, where he lives. "I have to do a variety of things and it's all health related."

Bruce Pitts, foundation board chair, said after the board's Monday morning meeting that Kelly had been working after the stroke up until last week, at which point the conflict between his medical schedule and CEO duties proved to be too great.

Pitts commended Kelly's work and said his duties will be carried across the board until the end of Kelly's leave of absence.

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"There's a lot going on right now," Pitts said. "My board members have offered to step up and I'm going to step up with more direct involvement. We're all unpaid, all volunteers, so with that context we're going to do our best to keep things moving ahead quickly."

For additional help, he said, the foundation board is also working on a contract with Dickinson State University to begin compensating Sharon Kilzer, project manager of the university's Theodore Roosevelt Center, for her role in assisting the foundation's efforts.

While Kelly is away, the foundation has also suspended its search for the library's permanent CEO.

Pitts said the suspension is not related to Kelly's status but is rather a product of an insufficient applicant pool at this time. He said the relatively early nature of the project made it difficult to attract "top-flight candidates" who would want to examine the more specific planning elements laid out ahead of time.

"They want to see specific resources that they would need to be successful," Pitts said, listing aspects like plans for fundraising and communications. "They want to see a very concrete vision from the board of what it is we're actually going to build."

Finding that vision, Pitts said, will be the foundation's focus throughout the next three months. It will also make up the heart of its work with the Minneapolis-based Mortenson Construction, the firm the foundation has partnered with to nail down its planning details.

Pitts said Mortenson is assisting the foundation board in defining the "scope and scale" of the project and ensuring the board's wishes are in line with a financial plan. During Monday's meeting, the board voted to defer action on finalizing a contract with Mortenson, mainly citing provisions that applied to North Dakota-specific building regulations. Pitts said the board's building committee has been authorized to accept the contract when those details are finalized.

Moving ahead, Pitts said, the vision for the library will be inseparably linked to its financing potential.

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"A great vision can raise a lot of money and a mediocre vision cannot," Pitts said, "so we're bounding back and forth between our wildest dreams and what we can expect to raise."

He said those two limits should come together around mid-September.

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