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Executive director Enders leaves historical society

Faced with the possibility of shutting its doors, the Southern Oregon Historical Society cut the position of executive director Wednesday night.

John Enders, who has headed the society since 2002, will leave March 15.

"He's gone through a lot," said Terrie Claflin Martin, first vice president of the society board. "He's been asked to do a lot of difficult things in a difficult time."

She said Enders told the board of trustees the society had already eliminated many positions from the bottom and suggested a cut from the top this time.

SOHS has seen its finances dwindle from $2 million annually to about $600,000 after the passage of a property tax limitation initiative in 1997. The organization received its last payment of $741,000 from Jackson County last fiscal year.

Claflin Martin said the board discussed whether it should shut the doors because it doesn't have sufficient funding and is down to four full-time and seven part-time employees.

After some debate, she said the board decided SOHS would stay open.

"We're not going to close," she said Thursday. "We decided not to close last night."

Stephanie Butler, SOHS education and programs coordinator, will run the day-to-day management of the organization, but the board will look for a community volunteer to step into the role of director, particularly to provide the public face in fundraising efforts.

She said it's premature to discuss who the volunteer director might be, but said the board will be looking at two or three possible candidates.

Committees will be formed to consider fundraising options.

"It's time for us to take a deep breath and find a new direction and find our way out of this," she said.

Claflin Martin said the contract governing Enders' severance package is still being debated. Because the position has been cut, she said, "It throws the contract into question." Claflin Martin said she couldn't discuss details of the severance package.

Enders had taken a 10 percent pay cut from a salary of about $60,000 annually last year. The rest of the staff took the same pay cut. To improve morale, Claflin Martin said the staff got their 10 percent back this summer. Enders, however, didn't take the increase, she said.

Claflin Martin said SOHS has received grants that pay for some expenses, but they don't pay for everything.

"Nobody wants to give us money to pay the electrical bill," she said.

Enders could not be reached for comment Thursday. In a prepared release he stated, "This has been a challenging position, and a difficult time, and I commend the Board for taking the difficult decision to cut from the top instead of to continue to cut from the bottom. I look forward to continuing my membership in SOHS, and to supporting the Rogue Valley Heritage District campaign as it moves toward the November election."

Enders and the Jackson County commissioners haven't seen eye-to-eye over the years, particularly over funding issues.

Commissioner Jack Walker said he hasn't always agreed with the way Enders has run the historical society, but said that any head of an organization is bound to be challenged on decisions.

"My own personal views on how he should have run it are in the past," he said. "I think it is unfortunate. I don't think anybody should be out there gloating or saying I told you so."

Walker said the historical society should have taken steps years ago to anticipate this financial situation.

He also blamed a lack of oversight on the part of county commissioners over the past decades for not paying more attention to the historical society.

SOHS and 15 other smaller historical societies in Jackson County are trying to form a heritage district to replace lost revenues. The district would ask voters to approve a levy not exceeding 7 cents for every $1,000 in assessed valuation, raising more than $700,000 annually.

Lynn Newbry, honorary chairman of the Our Heritage political action committee, said he was disappointed that Enders will no longer be executive director.

"John has done an outstanding job for the Southern Oregon Historical Society," he said. "And, he is the genius behind the funding for the society. I'm surprised at the route they've taken."

Newbry believes it will be difficult to find a volunteer who can take on the responsibilities of a director. Those who could handle the responsibility likely would have other duties that would prevent him from taking the job.

He said he wouldn't be able to take on that job himself.

"I'm 85 years old," he said. "I feel damn good to wake up in the morning. I could not do that. I do not have the stamina for it."

Newbry vowed to continue pushing for a heritage district, but said it will prove more difficult without Enders' help.

"We're going to have to go ahead, and we will go ahead," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

Executive director Enders leaves historical society