Pottery War Prompts Request for State Audit
BY JOHN CHAPPELL: STAFF WRITER
The pottery war may be heating up.
Linda A. Carlisle, secretary of the state Department of Cultural Resources (DCR), is asking the state auditor to check out complaints about the N.C. Pottery Center in Seagrove and has abandoned a state plan to take over its operation.
"Recent allegations about the department and its staff have been made by Mr. Phil Morgan and Mr. Don Hudson," Carlisle said in a June 26 letter. "Some of their e-mails have been widely circulated to you, to the community, press and elected officials. I take this situation very seriously, including the damage done to the reputation of staff and of the department."
Hudson, whose shop is in Sanford, has been heavily involved in the annual Sanford Pottery Festival, while Morgan has supported the long-running Seagrove Pottery Festival. It has been supporting another pottery center called The N.C. Museum of Traditional Pottery.
Hudson calls this competition "an exercise of raw political power" and an attempt to take the annual festival.
"Proof is available from DCR's own files that the department was complicit in the attempt to steal the Seagrove Pottery Festival and give it to the (N.C. Pottery) Center," Hudson said in an e-mail to The Pilot. "When this was exposed, DCR went nasty on Phil and me. Lies were told, to media, to legislators and to investigators."
At the present time, the N.C. Pottery Center (NCPC) is operated by volunteers on its Board of Directors, according to the board president, Dr. Linda Carnes-McNaughton.
"The center has been criticized by Seagrove potter Phil Morgan and Sanford potter Don Hudson," the board said in a prepared statement furnished by Carnes-McNaughton. "Their complaints have resulted in a request by Linda Carlisle, secretary of cultural resources, for the state auditor to review and address the allegations of Morgan and Hudson. The center is confident that the allegations will be shown to be baseless, and will cooperate with the review of the state auditor if requested to do so."
Last year, following an anonymous request from a legislator, an audit by the state auditor's office gave the center "a resounding clean bill of health," the statement said, adding " this fact was not mentioned in the allegations."
Hudson has been searching public records for evidence he maintains is proof of his accusation of "an abusive attempt to use political power to steal the Seagrove Pottery Festival and give it to the center because the center wanted the proceeds for itself, and the state and the county wanted the center to have it "
He and Morgan say they have thousands of pages they received from the DCR that support their contention, but insist they don't oppose a state-run center in principle.
"Phil and I went to Raleigh to talk with DCR in March 2008," Hudson said. "We said we would support a state takeover of the center if it were, in fact, a real state takeover and not some sort of partnership between the state and those who had already driven the Pottery Center into a ditch that would allow them to remain in control while the state picked up all the expenses."
At present, Carlisle is backing away from a takeover of the N.C. Pottery Center by DCR.
"As you may know, the department had contemplated bringing the N.C. Pottery Center under its administration, to expand the state's folklife resources," Carlisle said in a letter to the center's board, which was also sent to members of the Seagrove community, arts programs and potters. "For a variety of reasons, including budget constraints and dissension by some potters in the Seagrove area, we elected to withdraw this initiative."
The NCPC has been audited on an annual basis, because it has to have spotless books and records to receive funding from grants and other sources, according to Carnes-McNaughton.
"We have to produce those documents to apply for grants," she said. "Our books are clear as water. Our purpose is to promote pottery throughout the state. The NCPC was audited last year by the state auditor Les Merritt and the results, made public, were that we have a clean bill of health."
As the center is a functioning nonprofit museum, it is normal practice for its board to apply for grants to augment its programs, events, exhibition and some operating costs, she said.
"We do this on a regular basis and have done so for 10 years of our operations," Carnes-McNaughton said in an e-mail to The Pilot on Thursday. "We have applied for and received grants from appropriate national, state, and county governmental agencies, as well as private foundations and corporations.
"Therefore, we are required to maintain accurate, up-to-date, financial records at all times. These records are also part of future grant applications as proof of normal operations and successful enterprises."
Hudson said he is happy about the audit.
"Phil Morgan and I tried repeatedly for most of this year to get Secretary Carlisle to order an investigation and gave her plenty of reasons to do so," he said.
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