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ALPLM foundation CEO resigns

Carla Knorowski, chief executive officer of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, has resigned.

In a press release, the foundation says that Knorowski has accepted a position as president and chief development officer for the U.S. Naval War College Foundation in Rhode Island, effective Jan. 1, 2020. Knorowski was an unpaid trustee of the Rhode Island charity’s board in 2017, according to the nonprofit’s most recent filing with the Internal Revenue Service. It was not immediately clear whether Knorowski is still a trustee, nor is it clear whether Knorowski’s resignation is effective immediately. Rene Brethorst, the foundation’s chief operating officer, will serve as interim director pending a foundation search for Knorowski’s replacement.

In the press release, Knorowski called her position as the library foundation’s CEO a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“While leaving is bittersweet, I am confident in the work that Rene and the board of directors are doing and the vision they have for the future of the organization,” Knorowski said in the release.

Knorowski’s resignation comes less than a month after ALPLM director Alan Lowe left the institution, reportedly after being terminated by the governor’s office. Lowe and the foundation had clashed over a stovepipe hat with questionable provenance, with Lowe saying the foundation hadn’t kept the institution properly informed of efforts to prove whether the hat that the foundation bought in 2007 actually belonged to Lincoln. The hat was assigned a value of $6.5 million when it was included in the bulk purchase, for which the foundation borrowed more than $20 million. At last report, more than $9 million still was owed. The foundation last year threatened to auction items to pay off the bank loan, but no auction has been scheduled.

Within the past month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has named a board for the presidential library that includes former U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, a Republican who also served as secretary of transportation under Barack Obama, as its chairman. It is the museum’s first board since it became a standalone state agency in 2017. The appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

“I like the feel, because it’s bipartisan,” said Steven Beckett, a Pritzker appointee to the board who also is a Champaign-Urbana lawyer and director emeritus of the trial advocacy center at the University of Illinois College of Law. “I’m looking forward to it. It feels like an opportunity to be on a real board to address real policies and real issues.”

This isn’t Beckett’s first attempt to oversee the ALPLM. Five years ago, he chaired a museum advisory board that ultimately disintegrated amid a power struggle over control of the institution that pitted the museum’s executive director against the head of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which was eliminated in 2017 when the ALPLM became a standalone institution. The IHPA board terminated the agency’s director, and the museum’s director submitted her resignation at former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s behest.

Beckett says that Lowe’s departure raises concerns. “It sounds like it was involuntary,” he said. “That can’t be good. It sounds like there’s work within the organization to be done. I’m genuinely concerned that things are in turmoil and that the board will be able to help resolve it.”

Beckett acknowledged that he and Knorowski did not always see things the same way while she was head of the foundation and he sat on the ALPLM’s advisory board. He said he had difficulty getting information about the museum’s and the foundation’s finances. “I felt like I was pulling teeth,” he said. “I felt like the finances were closely guarded.”

Knorowski could not be immediately reached for comment.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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