While still taking stock of the damage allegedly done by the former president of the Independence Seaport Museum, the museum's new leaders say the institution is being transformed for the better.
Since veteran president John S. Carter was fired early last year, the museum's fund-raising has tripled, a big gap in the operating budget has almost been closed, and an ambitious schedule of new exhibits has been set in motion.
"The Independence Seaport Museum has come through a very difficult period, but we are on the mend," said Peter McCausland, the museum board chairman.
On Monday, the museum filed a scorching lawsuit against Carter, its president for 17 years, accusing him of defrauding the museum of $2.4 million.
The lawsuit contends that Carter "engaged in a systematic pattern of intentional financial misconduct" to subsidize a flashy lifestyle, billing the museum for personal spending on clothes, artwork, high-end furniture, trips to New Zealand and Europe, and a fleet of expensive boats.
Yesterday, Carter's lawyer, Mark Cedrone, called the allegations inflated.
"Carter is interested in doing everything right for the museum, but there's no way in the world he is responsible for $2.4 million in losses to the museum," Cedrone said. "Stated simply, there's a lot of fat in that complaint."
"John Carter didn't do everything the right way, and to the extent that he can rectify his transgression, he will," he added.
But taking the complaint at face value, Cedrone said, raises the question "how a person would be able sneak it past the museum and its financial staff, all of whom, I believe, remain in their jobs."
McCausland has declined to elaborate on the suit.
In an interview yesterday, he said the museum had begun a nationwide search for a new president and hoped to have someone on the job by June.
He also noted that the museum's endowment had shot up from $7 million last year to $12.5 million now.
After taking over as board chairman in 2005, McCausland, chief executive and board chairman of Airgas Inc., in Delaware County, has been shaking up the museum, ousting Carter and bringing four new people onto the board.
One of the new board members, Richard Hayne, president of Urban Outfitters Inc., yesterday called McCausland "levelheaded and honest" and said his leadership was a key to improving the museum.
Nancy Moses, a consultant the museum hired to study its potential, said yesterday the museum could serve as "an anchor for the Delaware Valley waterfront" as Mayor Street develops a plan to revitalize the area.
To drive up attendance, the museum recently won a grant to hire an executive to market the museum to schools and adult tour groups.
It has also taken steps to improve its exhibition space, which critics say had grown moribund.
After mounting a successful exhibit on Ben Franklin's maritime interests, the museum now offers one on women and the sea.
In the wings are shows on tattoos and whale-bone etchings, and another, called "Black Hands, Blue Seas," on the nautical role of African Americans.
Since Carter's departure, fund-raising has improved.
According to Kevin McNamara, museum vice president of development and marketing, it raised $3.5 million last year, up from $1.2 million in 2005.
The museum has also replenished its investment portfolio - in large part by repudiating key financial moves made during the years Carter was in charge.
In June, the museum sold the 85-foot motor yacht Enticer, getting $1.9 million for a boat that critics said had become a floating money pit and a symbol of the museum's misplaced priorities.
In September, the museum took in $2.1 million by unloading its "president's residence," a modernistic house in the heart of Society Hill that had been Carter's home since 1998.