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Controversy Dogs Director of Science Museum : Muchmore Matches His Achievements With Conflicts

May 16, 1985|BETH ANN KRIER | Times Staff Writer

To some, Don Muchmore is a veritable superman. He's a mild-mannered museum director who typically starts the day with 1,000 push-ups and 1,000 sit-ups--among other exercises. All that occurs before the 62-year-old leaves his home in Long Beach around 6 a.m. and heads for the California Museum of Science and Industry. In his first 19 months on the job there, he personally raised much of the $43 million funding for a razzle-dazzle overhaul of the place.

Then, to the astonishment of both supporters and critics alike, Muchmore did more than leap tall buildings. He put up four new ones--almost in a single bound--in time for the '84 Olympics. As a final touch, Muchmore parked a DC-3 and a DC-8 out front, leaving those who didn't know about the museum's new Aerospace Complex wondering if an airport had suddenly landed in the neighborhood.

Reeling In the Bucks

He is a man just like his name. You name it and Don Muchmore has probably done much more, whether it's reeling in bucks or attracting controversy. While many of the museum's trustees regard him as a high-flying dynamo who's dedicated nearly every waking hour of his life to improving the museum, Muchmore has also managed to alienate a citizens advisory committee of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), not to mention more than a few members of his museum staff.

According to many employees, a serious morale problem has been festering at the museum since Muchmore took over the executive director's job in October, 1982.

The staff members claim that under Muchmore's administration, a number of workers have had their jobs threatened, have suffered verbal abuse or have been harassed with false accusations--all of which the director willingly discusses.

Morale 'Zero Minus Zero'

As Sondra Scott, a 10-year secretary in the museum's public relations department, described the overall situation, "The morale here is zero minus zero. . . . I'm tired of seeing the degradation of the employees. I can stand up for myself but my heart bleeds to see how these people are treated . . . They're afraid. A lot of them are so tired of the mental harassment that they're like beaten jellyfish. . . . He (Muchmore) is a smooth, slick, personable museum director. That's what the public sees. The employees see a different person."

In the eyes of the CRA's Project Area Committee for the Hoover Volunteer Redevelopment Project, the museum has also been insensitive to its surrounding community. The committee claims the museum went ahead without filing required environmental impact reports and installed the "asphalt garden" on which airplanes rest outside the museum. The group has threatened to file a lawsuit against the museum for paving this chunk of Exposition Park green space.

Muchmore, however, insists that the proper reports were indeed filed. In addition, he said, both the county and the state have filed suits challenging the right of the CRA to intervene in the area.

That Muchmore has matched his achievements with nearly as much conflict was noted by one of his admirers on the museum foundation's advisory board.

"Muchmore's the kind of person who excites and creates different opinions. He's very good or very bad," Donald P. Loker, a private investor and long-term museum board member, said. "He's extremely ambitious and extremely forward looking. He wants to build an enormously important museum. There's nothing blameworthy in that . . . I'm sort of adjusted to Don Muchmore. He's a smart spark plug."

Perhaps the problem that most clearly galvanized a block of employees against the museum's man of steel came in 1983 when Muchmore decided to replace his entire staff of security officers with state police personnel.

In Muchmore's thinking, it was the only logical thing to do. "These people (the security officers) were not trained people," he said, sitting in his office at the museum. "People wouldn't loan us things because our security was so bad. I felt security was an essential problem that needed to be improved. People didn't feel safe." Eventually, recalled Muchmore, an agreement was reached "with Maxine (state assemblywoman Maxine Waters) and the (state's) General Services Administration that we would spend a year training them (the officers) and getting them qualified to become state police officers."

As Muchmore told it, it sounded like a simple process. But why was it necessary for a state legislator to be involved?

Speeding-Bullet Pace

Replied Muchmore, speaking at his characteristic, speeding-bullet pace, "They (the security officers) brought Maxine into it because Maxine wanted to get into it and it made good press coverage."

According to Waters, who chairs the Assembly subcommittee that holds budget hearings on the museum's state funding, there is another version to the story.

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