Friday, July 19, 2013

Twenty questions about the Civic Theatre firing of Yvonne A.K. Johnson we'll likely never be able to answer

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2013 at 10:56 AM

When Spokane Civic Theatre board members met Wednesday, many were hoping theywould return with a clear explanation of what exactly happened whenthey fired Executive Artistic Director Yvonne Johnson a week ago. No such luck.

Instead, the board produced a press release, titled “Press Release forJuly 18, 2013,” saying that “the details of Yvonne A.K. Johnson's departureare confidential and should remain so.” In fact, it goes even further, chidingJohnson for being openly sharing her concerns and opinions over her firing.

“We are saddened that Ms. Johnson has decided to air her grievances in apublic forum,” the release reads. It does not mention that at least three boardmembers have freely shared their grievances with the decision as well.

With the possibility of a legal battle looming — Johnson has retainedattorney Bob Dunn — more may come out eventually. But judging by historicalprecedent, there’s not much hope for more information. Instead, with rumor andspeculation unaddressed, plenty of questions remain:

1. Why was Yvonne A. K. Johnson fired as Executive Artistic Director?

2. Why was such short notice given for board members to vote on her firing?

3. Why were the votes firing Johnson collected over email instead of duringa board meeting?

4. Why did at least three board members say they didn’t know why they wereasked to make a decision on Johnson’s employment?

5. Who on the board voted to fire her?

6. Johnson claims she tallied 5 board members out of 10 that voted to keepher, and one who abstained. If she was wrong, who was she wrong about?

7. Board member Margot Ogden, an ardent supporter of Johnson, says she wasrecently made an “honorary board member,” which did not allow her a vote. Butshe says she asked to be reinstated, and then voted. Was her vote counted? 

8.  Board member Deena Caruso, an ardent supporter of Johnson, says she wastold Thursday couldn’t vote until she paid her dues. She says she paid her duesthe same day, and then voted. Was her vote counted?

9. Johnson and multiple board members say a decision had been made to find amediator to help Johnson and the board work through communication issues. A fewdays later, the board was asked whether she should be terminated. What happenedto the original plan?

10. Upon Johnson’s firing, Jim Ryan, a long-time critic of Johnson, wrotethat “this post was originally drafted for last Tuesday night, when we held acelebration at our home with some dear friends who have yearned for this day fora long time. (We planned it, under covert pretenses, to coincide with the boardmeeting at which she was supposed to be voted out.)” If she was supposed to havebeen fired on Tuesday, July 9, instead of Friday, July 12, what changed?

11. Did Ryan’s campaign against Johnson have any factor in her firing?

12. Did any of the other enemies Johnson made over the last 8.5 years haveanything to do with her firing?

13. Was there any financial or personal malfeasance on the part of Johnson alleged?

14. If the issues leading to her termination were serious enough to be ofcommunity concern, why hide them from the community?

15. If the issues leading to her termination were minor enough to not be ofcommunity concern, why terminate her position so suddenly?

16. Both Johnson and Ryan considered Civic Board President Larry Wooley to bea firm supporter of Johnson. Johnson says she invited Wooley over for ribeyesteaks. Ryan called him a “sycophantic board member… yipping at Yvonne A.K.Johnson's heels in exchange for being made to feel important in one way oranother… [who appeared] poised to help Yvonne A.K. Johnson consolidate her powerby continuing in the fine tradition of obsequious permissiveness.” Whatchanged?

17. Johnson recently lost a court battle against Ryan, and has been charged$10,000, plus attorney fees, for bringing a defamation suit against him. Shesays she discussed with the board whether the Civic or the Civic’s insurancecompany will pay those costs. Does that have anything to do with hertermination?

18.The Spokesman-Review writes that the board’s attorney ordered Johnsonto “immediately refrain from having any contact with any director, employee,donor or anyone else related’ to the theater.” Why limit Johnson’s freedom ofspeech in such a radical way?

19. Did some board members intentionally try to shift the makeup of the boardto make Johnson’s termination possible?

20. Why were several board members supportive of Johnson — Mike Muzatko,Margot Ogden and Deena Caruso — transparent with their opinions, while boardmembers opposed to Johnson remained quiet?

If anyone on the board would like to answer any of these questions, they canfeel free to call me or shoot me an email at [email protected].

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Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters was a staff reporter for the Inlander from 2009 to 2023. He reported on a wide swath of topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.His work investigated deep flaws in the Washington...