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The museum's supporters got a boost when Ralph Appelbaum Associates agreed to design the museum. Appelbaum designed the permanant exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Bill Clinton presidential library.
Still, private donors were reluctant to give. DiCapo and the professional fundraisers hired by the Liberty Memorial Association found that the Battle of Verdun was a tougher sell than the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the charities that provide services to the needy. So museum proponents went back to the city in 2004 and asked for a $20 million bond issue to be placed on the ballot.
A few months before the vote, DiCapo appeared before the parks board. He stood at the lectern and pledged that the Liberty Memorial Association would quit being a burden to taxpayers if the bond passed. "We're not going to ask for anymore," he said. "This is it."
Voters held up their end of the bargain. DiCapo and the association did not.
In 2006, with the ribbon-cutting a few weeks away, the Liberty Memorial Association asked the city to nearly double the $625,000 annual operating subsidy, which had been agreed upon two years earlier, when the city transferred the management of the facility to the nonprofit. (The city continues to own the memorial itself.)
Former City Manager Wayne Cauthen agreed to provide an additional $207,000 in 2006. The following year, the city provided $1,245,000, nearly double the annual subsidy.
Meanwhile, questions arose about the museum's governance.
The Pitch reported in 2007 that DiCapo had taken a paid position at the museum at the same time that he chaired the Liberty Memorial Association. The arrangement flouted convention. It's rare in the nonprofit world for trustees to receive compensation.
DiCapo insisted that he was a bargain. He suggested that donors found him irresistible. "No one turns me down because they know I'm not going to lie to them," he told The Pitch at the time.
DiCapo's dual role of board member and paid consultant was not the only questionable arrangement, The Pitch found. The Liberty Memorial Association hired Steve Berkheiser, a Vietnam veteran who retired with the rank of brigadier general, as its executive director in 2002. In 2005, his wife, Margriet, who worked at the museum as a volunteer, became a $20-an-hour employee.
The Pitch story embarrassed some members of the museum's board of trustees, who were surprised to find out that the general's wife was on the payroll. Berkheiser resigned the following month.
DiCapo, meanwhile, held on to his paid position. And the museum continued to turn to the city for help.
In 2008, with Alexander now in the role of chief executive, museum officials asked the City Council to once again nearly double the $625,000 regular operating subsidy. Facing a stark budget year, the council and the new mayor, Mark Funkhouser, denied the request. An hour later, the Liberty Memorial Association announced that the "flame" would be turned off, citing the $45,000 in annual energy costs.
It was easy for residents to imagine the Liberty Memorial Association as a child taking its ball and going home. DiCapo told a Star reporter that the decision to power down the boiler that generated the steam "sends a message." (Later, the museum announced a private "Save the Flame" campaign.)
With their access to the city's general fund restricted, museum officials began to look for new sources of public money. The thinking got creative.
In 1995, a city agency, the Tax-Increment Financing Commission, agreed to help Health Midwest redevelop three of its hospitals, including Trinity Lutheran, the hospital near 31st Street and Main. Later, a for-profit health-care company acquired Health Midwest, and Trinity Lutheran closed.