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The election was held on January 5, 2008. Skaggs won a seat on the board and was later named president. Sloan became vice president.
Some museum members, meanwhile, remained troubled by the Travolta event and its paltry return. Two members wrote letters to the board and fellow supporters, complaining about the planning committee's lack of transparency.
Sloan, the man who knew the most about the event, swatted away the inquiries. Then, in April, he stepped down from the board when it finally gave him what he wanted: a full-time job. He was named the executive director, at his requested salary of $120,000.
As Sloan settled into his new role, then-Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon started asking questions. Acting on complaints from members, Nixon's office asked museum officials for documents related to the Travolta event.
Skaggs claims that he snapped to attention when the demand letter arrived. He gathered up records, he tells The Pitch, and delivered them to Jefferson City. "It's like I told 'em: I said if I'm going to be involved in this thing, I want to know," he says.
In fact, Skaggs seemed uninterested in learning anything. In his initial response to Nixon's demand letter, the councilman dismissed concerns about the Travolta event, calling them "frivolous" and arguing that they stemmed from "hurt feelings" and "personal grudges."
Translation: nothing to see here.
The museum sent a four-page response to the Attorney General's Office. The letter was signed by Skaggs, but it was obviously Sloan's version of events. The planning committee, which he'd managed, was the hero in this telling, overcoming the obstacle of the "unusual and, at times, difficult" relationship with Geldersma and his band of grumps. The "tremendous publicity" the museum received from the event was "just partial evidence of the success of the evening," the letter boasted.
Meanwhile, Skaggs assured the members that nothing would come of the investigation. "I'll take care of it," he bragged, according to former members, leaving them with the impression that his personal relationship with Nixon would help bring a quick end to the inquiry. (The men served together in the General Assembly in the 1980s, and in 2007, Skaggs' campaign committee gave $10,000 to Nixon's.)
The investigation made a soft landing, just as Skaggs predicted, with Nixon's office dubbing the museum's response "satisfactory."
Nixon's staff did call the expenses on the Travolta event "exorbitant" and raised questions about Sloan's employment contract. But Skaggs insisted that Sloan was "qualified" — an interesting way to describe someone who never finished high school. The AG agreed again, finding no "bad faith" in Sloan's hiring.
Later that year, the board members received an anonymous letter that plainly accused Sloan of running a con. ("His plan was simple: get the money.") But at the city-supported and tax-exempt Airline History Museum, governance seemed to amount to one guy shooting a thumbs-up to another.
"I didn't think there was anything wrong," Skaggs tells The Pitch, "because Paul told me there was nothing wrong."
In May 2009, the Star raised the first public questions about Sloan's salary. He argued that his pay was on a par with the salaries of other nonprofit heads. But leaders of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the Liberty Memorial Association made less while managing larger budgets, the Star found.
Skaggs continued to defend his executive director. But suspicions about Sloan were becoming hard to ignore. A few months before the Star reporters called, a volunteer had complained to Skaggs about money missing from the vending machine. And eventually, Skaggs learned that Sloan was griping to people that a board member, Meg Conger, had sicced the Star on him. He went to the museum and confronted Sloan.