Jack Horner, the famous Montana State paleontologist who put dinosaur fossils on the world stage, said he was stripped of responsibilities and forced out of the Museum of the Rockies.

“I retired. Let’s put it this way: Had that situation not existed, I would probably still be there. I would have spent at least a couple more years there,” Horner told the Chronicle. “It would have been nice to do some more work on dinosaur eggs. It would have been nice to continue my field work a little longer. They were trying to get rid of me and that’s what they did; they told me I couldn’t do anything.”

Horner, 70, said that at the retirement party no one asked him why he was leaving or if it was amicable, and no one asked him to stay. He said he is still unsure to this day what happened.

Horner is now working from the University of Washington’s new Burke Museum after spending 34 years building the Museum of the Rockies into a world-class center for paleontology. His dinosaur discoveries earned a MacArthur genius grant, led to him writing eight books, raised more than $7.7 million for the museum, and got him a job advising filmmaker Steven Spielberg on the “Jurassic Park” movies. Next week he will travel to the White House to advise on education reforms, and in January he’s teaching again at Chapman University.

He described museum director Shelley McKamey and her husband Pat Leiggi, director of paleontology and exhibits at the museum, as a “vindictive” couple who broke ties with him and reassigned his staff and diminished his responsibilities. McKamey began to ask him repeatedly when he was going to retire, he said.

“I had raised hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars for my projects and it’s just sitting there,” Horner said. “Who knows what they’ll spend it on?”

The problem started in 2012, Horner said, when he married then 19-year-old undergraduate student Vanessa Weaver. He “adored” Weaver, but the marriage was their way of telling the university — she wasn’t one of his students — to butt out of their relationship after Horner was instructed to officially disclose the nature of their relationship and was told they would be scrutinized.

“And then they could check on it and they could decide on it. They could come say anything they want, so we got married so we could do anything,” Horner said. “And through the whole thing she had a boyfriend. There wasn’t like something nefarious going on. I adore her. She’s adorable, obviously we really like each other.” They’re divorced now, but still friends.

McKamey and Leiggi “went apoplectic” over the marriage, Horner said. “Before that happened they were my best friends. They basically haven’t talked to me since.”

McKamey declined to comment specifically on Horner’s accusations of pushing him out, citing university personnel privacy policy and state law.

An interim curator of paleontology took Horner’s position on July 1 while the university conducts a national search for his replacement. With Horner’s exit, the married couple are the highest-ranking staff at the museum.

Horner called it nepotism.

“If you piss off one of them they’re both pissed off at you,” Horner said. “There’s nothing fair about the way the place operates.”

On that, McKamey pushed back. She reports to the university’s president and her husband reports to the provost. “I’ve never played a role in Pat’s position. That has been handled through the Provost’s Office,” she said in a written response to the Chronicle’s questions.

“It wasn’t until 2003 when I was appointed dean and director that the Provost’s Office established informal controls and communicated them to staff. When MSU formalized its (conflict of interest) policy in 2007, Pat and I were one of the first (conflict of interest) plans done. Since then we’ve welcomed reviews of our (conflict of interest) plan. We welcomed the process and the scrutiny. And we still do.”

A review of the annual disclosures filed by the couple show university administration signing off without raising significant issues.

And Montana State University President Waded Cruzado backed McKamey, saying the museum is under sound leadership and that she’s got no concerns about how the museum is being managed.

“That division of reporting lines is one safeguard,” Cruzado wrote in response to questions from the Chronicle. “Salary, annual reviews, and all other personnel action is handled by two independent offices for these two employees. Secondly, there is a conflict of interest plan in place that is to be reviewed annually. Additionally, I did a 360 review of the museum — not unusual as I request 360 reviews of units routinely — and found nothing of concern. I have not only visited with museum staff, but also MOR Inc.’s board of directors and no issue about a conflict of interest related to Shelley and Pat has been brought to my attention.

“I want to emphasize that the university has a variety of sound processes and procedures in place for employees to raise concerns about conflicts of interest or other issues that individuals might bring to our attention,” Cruzado said. “The public can rest assured that we investigate each case thoroughly and that we act on findings, per our established policies.”

Several former museum employees, some who did not want to be quoted, said McKamey was a good leader and that her marriage was a non-factor.

“There was no nepotism. There were meetings where they were in the same meeting, but I never saw anything,” said Mark Robinson, the former director of marketing and engagement now living in Atlanta. “Shelley to me, she was one of the best leaders I’ve ever worked for.”

But Horner is not alone in finding fault with McKamey’s leadership and relationship with Leiggi at the museum and the university’s handling of the situation.

Former museum finance director, Jeff Krauss, fired this spring after 15 years, said the relationship between McKamey and Leiggi is inappropriate.

“I had a better chance of seeing Santa Claus riding a T. rex than of seeing Pat Leiggi’s supervisor from the provost’s office,” said Krauss, a Bozeman city commissioner and former member of the Montana Board of Regents. “The agreement is in place, but I didn’t see it being meaningful in any way.”

For example, Krauss cited a 2012 request by Montana’s risk management division to catalog the museum’s collection so that it could be better insured. Emails obtained by the Chronicle from the museum show that McKamey assigned her husband to catalog several large collections by Nov. 15 of that year. But it never happened.

“We took a stab at trying to value our collections per (MSU risk manager) Pat Simmon’s directive and failed,” McKamey wrote on Nov. 30, 2012. “Pat (Leiggi) called Pat Simmons and explained that it is ethically improper for the museum to put a value on its collections. He told her that we would be happy to have someone from the state look at our collections areas and put their own numbers to it, but we couldn’t. I don’t know if this is the last we’ll hear of this or not, so this is an FYI.”

In early 2016, another request for an inventory by the Legislature’s auditor made headlines. Krauss defended the museum’s decision without mention of Leiggi’s decision.

“It’s an example of the husband and wife making decisions and everyone else having to deal with it,” Krauss said.

Asked about this, McKamey defended her backing of her husband’s decision.

“The fact is the conclusion Pat came to was correct,” she said in an email to the Chronicle. “The American Alliance of Museums, AAM, has a code of ethics. That code says it is unethical for curators to value a collection. We would not ignore the ethical code of the national organization that guides all professional museums.”

Several former employees, and one current, said that internally, staff call the museum’s management the “Pat and Shelley show.”

Horner was among them. “A lot of people are afraid (to speak out),” he said. “It’s not a fun place to work unfortunately. “It has so much potential.”

McKamey said she’s heard the term.

“Yes, I have heard that and it accurately reflects the leadership organizational chart of the museum: I’m the museum director and Pat, as director of paleontology and exhibits, and Angie Weikert, as director of operations and education, are the next highest level administrators. If the top administrators of an organization are not running the ‘show,’ then who is?”

Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or tcarter@dailychronicle.com. He’s on Twitter at @cartertroy.

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Troy Carter covers politics and county government for the Chronicle.

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