Update: Museum director fired after arrest

Adriana Colindres

Less than a week after the disclosure of his arrests on shoplifting charges, Rick Beard was fired Tuesday as head of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich decided to dismiss Beard and sent him a letter of termination on Tuesday, said David Blanchette, spokesman for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. IHPA Director Jan Grimes called Beard to tell him the news.

Beard is currently out of state and had not returned to work since last Thursday, Blanchette said.

That’s when The State Journal-Register first reported about Beard’s arrests for misdemeanor shoplifting.

Blanchette said officials don’t know yet when they will start the search for a new, permanent director of the nationally recognized library and museum.

“Obviously, we want to get the best possible candidate we can get,” he said. “If that means taking a lot of time to get it right, then that’s what we’ll do.”

In addition to being director of the Presidential Library and Museum, Beard was executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, a private, not-for-profit group that supports library and museum exhibits and programs.

For now, Blanchette said, IHPA Director Jan Grimes will continue as interim director of the library and museum. Former IHPA Director Robert Coomer, who retired at the end of 2007, temporarily will take over Beard’s day-to-day duties with the foundation.

Beard’s attorney, Dan Fultz, said his client’s firing was premature.

“The guy’s not even been found guilty yet,” he said, declining to reveal where Beard is. “He may not be.”

Fultz also said IHPA officials had told Beard he would remain on administrative leave pending the outcome of his court case. Tuesday’s firing “cut the rug out from under him.”

From the state’s perspective, the “unfortunate situation” is embarrassing, Fultz acknowledged.

“Maybe the thinking was to put it behind them as quickly as possible without regard to any due-process rights,” he said.

Blanchette said that before Beard became director of the library and museum in November 2006, he underwent an extensive background check.

“He passed the vetting procedure with flying colors, and there’s every indication that the current situation did not develop until after he was hired at the Presidential Library and Museum,” he said. “We hope that this is just a temporary blip in the history of a great institution.”

Blanchette praised Beard’s work as director of the library and museum.

“It’s unfortunate that this incident, which occurred in his personal life, on his own personal time, may have thrown a dark cloud onto some of his accomplishments,” he said.

Beard, 61, is to go on trial next month on allegations that he shoplifted a DVD box set in August from the Springfield Target store.

Court records also showed he was arrested for allegedly shoplifting neckties in February 2007 from the Macy’s store at White Oaks Mall. Further documents surfaced Friday, indicating he also was arrested in November 2007 for allegedly taking a box set of “Seinfeld” DVDs from Target.

John Milhiser, Sangamon County first assistant state’s attorney, said Tuesday that prosecutors haven’t yet decided whether they can file felony charges against Beard. The state’s attorney’s office is waiting for Springfield police to finish investigating, he said.

Beard was paid $150,000 as director of the Presidential Library and Museum. He received additional compensation for his duties with the foundation, an amount that Blanchette pegged at $50,000.

Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or