Mending Fences

The fallout continues over the MAC's firing of its executive director

After complaints about the firing of Forrest Rodgers, the MAC\'s two boards and tribal representatives are holding a joint public meeting on May 23. - YOUNG KWAK
Young Kwak
After complaints about the firing of Forrest Rodgers, the MAC\'s two boards and tribal representatives are holding a joint public meeting on May 23.

Talking over the phone last week from the side of the road while on his way to Bend, Ore., to visit his daughter, Forrest Rodgers still can’t offer an answer as to why he was fired as the executive director of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, with less than nine months on the job.

“Aside from receiving calls from donors and trustees and friends of the museum and people who are disturbed by the lack of explanation, I’m not aware of what conversations are happening [at the museum],” says Rodgers.

In the time since Rodgers was fired in an off-site meeting in late April — just a day after submitting a funding plan for the museum and a self-evaluation — little of the dust surrounding the financially embattled arts organization has settled. While members of the mu seum’s board of trustees, its staff and many in the public have been asking why the director was terminated, the museum’s board has offered no explanation.

While board president Chris Schnug says she still can’t give the exact reasoning for Rodgers’ termination because it’s “an ongoing employee matter,” she did say that the museum is making efforts to open lines of communication with the museum’s board and staff. On May 23, the MAC’s board of trustees, the board of its foundation (the museum’s fundraising arm) and tribal representatives are scheduled to meet at 3:30 pm for an open public meeting to discuss the state of the MAC.

“It’s a great opportunity to hear and be heard and make sure there’s a mutual plan for making sure that the MAC prospers,” says Schnug.

There will likely be questions for all parties at this meeting, especially considering the complaints critics have already voiced over the process by which Rodgers was fired.

The board of trustees’ executive committee originally decided to terminate Rodgers without input from the rest of the 24-member board, thus effectively breaking the board’s bylaws. It wasn’t until the following week that the board at large voted to uphold the termination, which they eventually did after more than two hours spent in executive session. During this meeting, Rodgers was given, by his account, eight minutes to address the board.

In the end, of those members present, 13 members voted to uphold the termination, while seven voted to keep Rodgers in his job. And two of those who voted in favor of keeping Rodgers resigned immediately from the board. The following week, one of the museum’s staff members also resigned.

Rodgers has been consulting with legal counsel to see what his options are, but he told The Inlander that he has no current plans to bring a lawsuit against the MAC. While he no longer has a role at the museum, Rodgers did express continued support for the organization.

“I’m very concerned that confidence in the board leadership has been diminished, if not destroyed,” says Rodgers.

John Drexel, the current CFO of the MAC, has added the title of interim executive director to his duties. He says that he has not been informed of the board’s long-term plans for the position and that he also has not been told the reasoning behind Rodgers’ firing. Nevertheless, he stands behind the board.

“I think the board did what they believe is best for moving the museum forward. I don’t question that,” says Drexel, “I don’t have the information they have, so I have no idea what they acted on. I just know they’re doing what’s in the best interest of the museum.”

The day before he was let go by the MAC, Rodgers submitted, upon the board’s request, two documents. One was a selfevaluation outlining his accomplishments during his first seven months on the job. The other was an “External Funding Strategy,” a plan, and several alternatives, for maximizing the museum’s funding — an issue at the top of the MAC’s priority list.

The MAC is set to receive state funds from the Heritage Center fund through June of 2013. After that, it’s uncertain what money would be coming from the state.

In his plan, obtained by The Inlander, Rodgers stated that the museum needed to raise between $1 million and $1.2 million from private donors in the 2013 fiscal year. That plan would also include hiring two part-time development officers.

The plan also includes two options for how the museum could approach state funding going forward. The first option marks a path that diverges from the museum’s current structure by outlining how the MAC could release itself as a state agency, yet contract with the state to receive “‘permanent’ funding to preserve special collections (regional, tribal and military).”

Rodgers’ plan notes that this would require the MAC to remain dependent on the Legislature to provide at least $870,000 and would also mean that the organization’s employees would no longer receive state benefits. Rodgers did, however, point out that he felt this option would strengthen the “case for local tax-based funding and private giving.”

The next option Rodgers outlined for state funding would be to stick with the current status of remaining a state agency and remain "dependent on legislative decision-making and [the] uncertainty of biennium-to-biennium funding." He also noted that this format "weakens [the] case for local tax-based funding and private giving."

Schnug says she couldn’t comment as to whether or not Rodgers’ funding plan played any part in the decision to fire him or whether the timing of the decision was connected to either his self-assessment or funding documents. She did, however, say that the board would consider plans that might, for example, end the MAC’s standing as a state agency.

“Everything is on the table right now. Achieving a permanent funding platform is going to require innovative approaches,” she says.

After the board voted to uphold Rodgers’ termination, two of the seven board members who diverged from the majority — Charlotte Lamp and Maureen Green — immediately resigned.

“I would have to say that the executive committee lost all credibility with me in their actions and their process, or lack thereof,” says Lamp, a family business consultant who holds a Ph.D. in leadership studies.

Lamp says she knows of (but declined to name) at least two other board members who disagreed with Rodgers’ termination, but voted in support of the decision in an attempt to provide a united front.

Then, on May 12, the interpretation coordinator of the MAC’s historic Campbell House, Stephan Zacharias, submitted his resignation. In addition to citing issues with other staff members, Zacharias cited the handling of Rodgers’ firing in his resignation letter as a reason for his departure.

Schnug says the dust-up surrounding Rodgers’ termination hasn’t gone unnoticed by the board, and she’s well-aware that the public is also paying attention, which is part of the reason for next week’s public meeting.

“I think as you begin to look out for support from the community, any controversy that’s in the media certainly doesn’t help,” says Schnug.

Rodgers agrees.

“Obviously I need to take care of myself and my family, but my concern is with the MAC and the community and how this is being interpreted and how this is being perceived statewide,” says Rodgers.

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About The Author

Mike Bookey

Mike Bookey is the culture editor for The Inlander. He previously held the same position at The Source Weekly in Bend, Ore.