"I wanted an honest budget, and I felt that this was not it," Rankin wrote. "And I also felt that the ED [executive director Rawls] had been deceitful with me and the committee so that he could increase spending in a manner that I felt the CMLS [the Confederate Memorial Literary Society, which oversees the museum] could ill afford. In my estimation his budget could amount to a $700,000 deficit."
In the letter, sent to the legislative subcommittee a few weeks before its meeting on Nov. 21, Rankin says Rawls also anticipated "$250,000 in unsubstantiated income over the actual figures for the fiscal year 2003-2004 in the Annual Fund and Membership categories on the revenue side of the budget. It appeared to be fabricated out of thin air."
As the debate cools over the museum's plans to move the White House, Rankin's letter raises new questions about museum's fiscal management. Publicly, Rawls has cited the museum's dire finances as a call to arms: If the museum stays at its current location, Rawls told the subcommittee in September, it would ultimately operate at a deficit of $750,000 a year. It's currently operating at a deficit of about $600,000, Rawls added.
"Many have said that we should simply cut some expenses, but you can see that the magnitude of the problem is far beyond that option," Rawls told the subcommittee in prepared remarks Sept. 26.
Rawls didn't return messages from Style seeking comment on Rankin's letter. Carton P. Moffatt Jr., chairman of the museum's board of trustees, also didn't return a call by press time. Reached by phone Monday, J.E.B. Stuart IV, chairman emeritus of the museum's board who served as chairman during Rankin's tenure, declined to comment.
State Sen. Benjamin L. Lambert III, vice chair of the subcommittee studying the cost and feasibility of relocating the museum and the White House, said he was unaware of Rankin's letter. After being read portions of the letter's contents by a reporter, he said he would support an independent audit of the museum's finances.
At its Nov. 21 meeting, the subcommittee passed a resolution asking the 2006 General Assembly to subsidize the museum for another year while the museum considers its options. Preservationists, history buffs and even Virginia's Sons of Confederate Veterans have publicly opposed moving the White House, which has been swallowed in recent years by VCU's expanding medical campus.
Rankin, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., says he felt it was his duty to inform the legislative subcommittee of his findings. Some 55 members of the Rankin family served in the Civil War, he explains.
"I felt like I owed it to my heritage to stand up," Rankin says. "I am concerned about the financial integrity of the
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