Long-simmering tensions between George Guastello, the president and CEO of Union Station, and Christopher Leitch, the director of the Kansas City Museum, came to a head yesterday afternoon, and Leitch was fired, shortly before a scheduled meeting of the Kansas City Museum Advisory Board.
A member of the advisory board told The Pitch that a formal announcement of Leitch's dismissal is being formulated by Jan Marcason, museum advisory board member and city councilwoman. "It will be released later this afternoon," the board member said. Another advisory board member, present at yesterday's meeting, said it was announced at the meeting that Leitch was fired by Guastello for "insubordination."
Leitch was hired as director of the Kansas City Museum - the former Robert A. Long mansion, Corinthian Hall - in 2006. The mansion has been undergoing extensive renovations for the last few years; Leitch, a former assistant dean at the Kansas City Art Institute, was charged with overseeing the museum's collection of historic objects and directing the ongoing preservation activities at Corinthian Hall.
"You could have knocked me over with a feather," said Mike Bushnell, publisher of the Northeast News, which has covered both the internal and neighborhood battles surrounding the museum, for years. "I think Christopher's firing was a bogus call by Guastello.
"Why would you terminate someone who has rebuilt the relationship between the museum and the community surrounding the building?" Bushnell added. "Christopher was the Kansas City Museum. He lived and breathed for that place. It's a sad day for the historic Northeast."
The Kansas City Museum's advisory board had been attempting, in recent months, to finally negotiate a separation between Corinthian Hall and Union Station, a severing of complicated financial ties that the historic Northeast community has wanted for many years.
"That's been the goal for the last 10 or 12 years," Bushnell said. "That's the reason that the museum advisory board was even created, to shepherd that process. This has been going on since the Kay Barnes administration."
The museum's collections manager, Denise Morrison, will assume the role of interim director. Leitch did not return The Pitch's phone calls.