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Editorial: Privacy not an option for memorial, museum

The Milwaukee Art Museum and War Memorial Inc. are behaving like two squabbling roommates who know too well each other’s flaws and ambitions.

That leaves veterans and the rest of the public, the actual owners of the memorial, cast in the roles of friends, forming opinions based on only a sliver of the full story.

The rest of the story is behind closed doors. Museum and memorial representatives are in the midst of negotiations, and David Kurtz, the memorial’s negotiator, said he does not want those discussions to play out in the news media.

But the memorial building isn’t a household, and to claim a right to privacy is just arrogant. If there is no legal reason to keep their negotiations quiet, the museum and memorial have no choice but to let the public, especially the veterans, listen in.

The War Memorial building is crumbling. Repair and maintenance estimates have come in around $10 million. There are no guarantees, but that money could come from the county.

The museum is offering another $15 million for major projects and improvements around the memorial. In exchange, the museum wants to take over operational control of the building from the memorial’s executive director, Dave Drent.

It’s a proposal that requires negotiations.

But beyond discussing the basic details, Kurtz and Ken Krei, the museum’s negotiator, are keeping their mouths shut. They either don’t realize or don’t care that from silence grows rumors. People are all too willing to substitute their own fears for an absence of facts.

Veterans worry the museum is engaged in a power play to one day kick them out of the building. The museum already operates in 70 percent of the memorial, the reasoning goes, so it’s not a stretch to assume the remaining 30 percent is too tantalizing to pass up.

A group calling itself Veterans Community Relations Team printed us-against-them fliers jabbing the museum for not paying rent or utilities while raking in millions in profits on top of county subsidies.

There’s an unnecessary fight forming.

An email attributed to Kurtz and sent to the Milwaukee County executive and board members explains in detail the status of the negotiations and, along the way, cuts off the fuel for the fight.

The email offers nothing in writing guaranteeing the vets will stay in the building. And the museum or memorial could refuse to budge on any given point.

But discussions include shifting the museum’s county subsidy to the memorial. That could take the shine off the power-play rumor.

Negotiations also include a proposal that the museum pay rent and utility bills for its portion of the memorial, possibly rendering those fliers nothing more than wasted ink.

Kurtz might be savvy enough to have known the email would end up quoted in a newspaper. Or he might be fuming because, suddenly, there are many more people at the negotiating table.

Either way, his insistence that this deal not be negotiated in the press misses the point.

It’s not the press the memorial and museum have to answer to. It’s the owners of their house.

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