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The museum increased in size and reach without going into debt, posting a loss of only $22,000 in 2010. "That's a pretty good trick," Alexander says, "but we did it."
Still, Alexander is not ready to announce that the museum is in a position to swear off government funding. Prior to his arrival, museum officials talked about being self-sufficient by the time the operating agreement with the city expires in 2014 (the centennial of the war's outbreak). But Alexander suggests that the need for city support will continue. "As it is now, it works for us," he says.
The Liberty Memorial Association has repaid only $800,000 of the $3.8 million it borrowed from the city to come up with its share of the museum's construction costs. The city, in turn, is charging what amounts to interest on the money. In 2009, city budget officers began counting proceeds from the maintenance endowment toward the city's $625,000 annual contribution to the facility. (The city will spend an additional $1.2 million this year to pay the debt on the 2004 museum bond issue.)
The museum, Alexander says, could keep its doors open "if city funding falls off the table." Admissions, rentals and private support make up a larger portion of the budget than they did before he arrived. Alexander says he's not trying to be critical of the way the museum was run in the past. "I don't want to defame anybody from before," he says. But it's apparent from talking with him and other senior staff that the Liberty Memorial Association bumbled along for years without a coherent idea of what it takes to sustain a successful museum.
For instance, very little effort was made to raise money from individuals and foundations outside the metropolitan area, even though the facility was designated by Congress as the National World War I Museum in 2004. "We cannot just raise money in this town, and we know that," says Denise Rendina, the museum's senior vice president of public affairs and marketing.
Giving prominent roles to DiCapo, whose name recognition exceeds his clout, was also a suspect decision.
DiCapo worked at Italian Gardens, his family's restaurant that was located in downtown Kansas City, for 46 years. He greeted the restaurant's guests, developing habits that do not comport with what is considered proper workplace behavior.
One day last spring, in the café at the World War I Museum, DiCapo put his arm around the waist of a museum staff member and kissed her on the cheek. The staff member told DiCapo that his actions were inappropriate and mentioned the incident to management.
A few months later, DiCapo kissed a different woman in the presence of the woman he had offended. Di Capo made a comment to the woman who complained about the earlier incident, noting that his latest grab-and-kiss hadn't elicited an immediate objection.
The woman filed a second complaint, and DiCapo was placed on administrative leave for the final two weeks of her employment. (She had found another job.) Also, the staff was educated on sexual harassment.
Reached last week, DiCapo denied this account. "Carl DiCapo — you know this — I've never been charged with sexual harassment," he said. "I've kissed about 2,000 girls in Kansas City — and women and men — in my lifetime, and I've never been charged for sexual harassment." (James Bernard Jr., the current chairman of the Liberty Memorial Association board, declined to comment, saying the association would not respond to questions from the press about employee matters.)
DiCapo refuses even to acknowledge that he was put on administrative leave — it doesn't square with his vision of his indispensability at the Liberty Memorial Association. "I put everybody on the board there," he says. "I hired everyone there."