Controversial Marine Science Museum Director announces retirement

C. Mac Rawls announced Thursday he is 'retiring' effective January 4, 2002 as director of the Virginia Marine Science Museum.

Rawls said the 'retirement' coincides with his 62nd birthday.

Thomas Frantz, chairman of the VMSM board,  said Rawls' decision wasn't because of the recent controversy surrounding a proposed $52M fish tank to house captive dolphins.  

"I think it is just time." Frantz said, "He's been with the museum since it was a seed of an idea in 1979. I think the city, region, and state owes him a debt of gratitude.

"There is no doubt that he took some heat," Frantz added, referring to the controversy.

Among other things, Rawls never denied that he conspired with City Manager James K. Spore to have police send undercover agents to meetings of opponents of the expansion project to "politically spy."

In addition, after the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed suit in frustration over being unable to obtain public documents relating to the proposed construction project, a myriad of other 'public sins' were discovered. 

Rawls and other staffers were accused of destroying documents the court had ordered turned over to PETA; withheld other documents on the grounds they 'belonged to the private fund-raising arm - the Virginia Marine Science Museum Foundation'  despite the fact they were generated, maintained, and stored in city equipment on city property by city employees, and weren't subject to court order; rigged the speaking order to favor 'friendly' speakers during public hearings; and his actions, along with other bureaucrats, will cost the taxpayers in excess of an estimated $150,000 in fighting PETA's suit and never winning a single legal skirmish. 

The project was cancelled earlier this year following strong public opposition and the disclosures during the court case.

"Some people in this city were getting tired funding problems he has caused,"  one official explained.  "He is a luxury we just can't afford anymore and it is time for him to leave." 

Rawls, however, wouldn't concede defeat even in his retirement letter:  "We are currently stalled on Phase III ...and I am sure in the end we will prevail."  Phase III included the dolphin tank.

"As we do the re-tooling and the re-thinking that will necessarily precede the accomplishment of Phase III, let us never give up nor compromise the principles of this place being first and foremost an educational center....  That is the real stuff, not just tourism, of which important museums are made."

Rawls a former public school teacher was given the museum idea during a meeting of candidates for city council and the General Assembly in the mid-'70s.  Rawls was defeated, but continued to toy with the idea of establishing such a museum. It was launched in 1981 and Rawls has headed it ever since.

Like most career bureaucrats, Rawls used the fledgling museum to continually expand his power base through movie theater, adding a stranding center, and then Phase III, his Waterloo.

In the city's most recent court action with PETA, Circuit Court Judge Frederick Lowe ordered the city to pay PETA's legal fees.  The city never won a single issue between March and today.  Kevin Martingayle, one of PETA's two lawyers in the case, said the city indicated it plans to appeal this ruling.  Such action, it's estimated will cost another $30,000 - $36,000.  "They'd be much better off paying the $12,500 the court ordered," Martingayle said.