Invitations and Hearings and WCCO Reports, Oh My

Well, well, well. I was assuming that my next blog entry would be about Sunday afternoon’s Ode to Joy show, but apparently the universe deigned otherwise. Yes, the day we’ve all been waiting for has finally come:

Lawmakers Call For Hearing Into Minn. Orchestra Finances

(Sorry for the huge font, but it’s an awfully fulfilling headline to have on the blog, and so I think it warrants BIG LETTERS.) Watch the video, if you haven’t already. Post it on Facebook, email it to friends. Make it go viral.

The letter mentioned in the WCCO report is here in a Strib blog (that, interestingly, is not filed under “arts”, but rather “politics”!). Hopefully it’s all right for me to transcribe it here:

December 6, 2012

Mr. Jon Campbell

Chair

Minnesota Orchestra Association

Mr. Michael Henson

President

Minnesota Orchestra Association

Gentlemen,

The Minnesota Orchestra plays a key and unique role in the life of our state. It is a vital part of our vibrant arts and culture community. It is an internationally respected orchestra, and an asset to our economic competitiveness as a state. It also plays a unique role in Minneapolis, drawing patrons to our downtown core for musical events throughout the year. From there, patrons fan out across the city to eat, drink and shop, pumping additional monies into our downtown businesses.

The State has recognized the importance of the Minnesota Orchestra in a number of significant ways. The current construction and remodeling of Orchestra Hall is funded with $14 million in public dollars. Additionally over the past two years the Orchestra has received over $1 million in general operating funds from Legacy grants.

In addition to direct state dollars any number of school districts enhance their arts education efforts through field trips to Orchestra Hall. These field trips, while often involving significant private dollars also have public funds intertwined in them.

The current lockout of musicians blunts the value of all of these public investments.

The Star Tribune reported Monday that the Board and management made a “strategic” decision to show balanced budgets while pursuing over $20 million in state bonding funds and show a deficit while preparing to negotiate with the Musicians for a new contract.

It is more importantly in direct conflict with Mr. Henson’s testimony to the Legislature in favor of bonding funding to that the Orchestra had “presented three balanced budgets in a row.”

As stewards of the public trust and money, this is of great concern to us and warrants a public hearing and explanation to the legislature and the taxpayers of Minnesota.

The receipt and use of Legacy dollars by the Orchestra for general operating purposes puts the public in the possible position of funding the lock out of the musicians and denial of musical opportunities to Minnesotans. Funding lockouts of anyone is not in the interests of the people or State of Minnesota.

We write in request that the Orchestra Association:

(a) provide the musicians the current financial year financial documents that they have repeatedly requested; (b) return to the bargaining table in good faith with the musicians and resolve the contract negotiations expeditiously in a way that preserves the public interest and investments in the orchestra; and (c) provides the necessary financial documentation that assure the public that they have not been funding the lockout of the musicians and that no public funds were used to pay costs associated with the management’s decision to shutter this premier cultural attraction in our state; (d) A full accounting of what funds have been used for marketing the Building for the Future Fund, public relations related to the Fund or the lockout, (e) A transparent representation of how endowment funds have been accounted for in loans and distributions to give the public perception of a balanced budget as Orchestra.

In Minnesota, the public trust is essential to our health civic vitality and the state’s continued investment via bonding and Legacy funds in our cultural and community institutions; we must ensure that we maintain this trust on behalf of the Minnesota Orchestra due to our significant current public investments.

We await your response.

Jim Davnie, State Representative, District 62A

Jean Wagenius, State Representative, District 62B

Frank Hornstein, State Representative, District 60B

Alice Hausman, State Representative, District 66B

Karen Clark, State Representative, District 61A

Diane Loeffler, State Representative, District 59A

Tina Liebling, State Representative, District 30A

Mary Murphy, State Represntative, District 6B

Tom Huntley, State Representative, District 7A

Sheldon Johnson, State Represntative, District 67B

John Ward, State Representative, District 12A

Carly Melin, State Representative, District 5B

Raymond Dehn, State Representative-elect, District 58B

Tim Mahoney, State Representative, District 67A

I provided links to contact each of the representatives. If you have time, please send them a thank-you note or email. (Or heck, why not both?) Encourage them to continue their calls for transparency. Because, as you’ll notice, this letter was sent on December 6, and to the best of our knowledge, the MOA has not yet responded.

If you’ve been following the blog, the date December 6 will ring a bell with you: it was the day of the MOA’s annual meeting. Ex-actly. I bet I know now why their press release afterward was so subdued, and why, despite there being cameras at the Minneapolis Club, there was no filmed statement made by Mr. Henson or Mr. Campbell. Oh, to have been a fly on that luxurious paneled Club wall.

Here are some of my brief observations on the WCCO video…

JIM DAVNIE: Which is it? Are you facing the economic downturn with stability, or are you running deficits? Did you put three consecutive years of balanced budgets on the table successfully, or did you not?

This quote needs to be screamed from the rooftops.

Later in the segment, Doug Kelley is forced to do a job that CEO of the Orchestra, MICHAEL HENSON, should be doing.

SERIOUSLY, MAN. WHERE ARE YOU? YOUR ORCHESTRA IS IN CRISIS! YOUR BIGGEST DONORS ARE APPEARING AT YOUR MUSICIANS’ LOCKOUT CONCERTS! YOUR CAREER IS CRUMBLING BEFORE THE MUSIC WORLD’S EYES! WHERE ARE YOU? Do you even exist? Or are you a mere existential fabrication of failure that our collective subjective consciousness has created and defined?

DOUG KELLEY: I am confident when we testify before them that the legislature will be satisfied that nobody from the Minnesota Orchestra misled them about the budget or our future stability.

Cool! Since you’re so confident, would you mind if the public listens in…? Awesome. I’ll just be over here in the corner listening quietly, with my popcorn. *waves*

I’m relieved to hear that Mr. Kelley says “when” and not “if.” It sounds as if he believes that a hearing is inevitable. Hopefully the only reason a date hasn’t been set yet is because we’re in between sessions. In the meantime, letters and emails to Minnesota representatives can’t hurt…

REPORTER: The Orchestra also received a million dollars in State Legacy funds for operating expenses, and legislators want to know if any of that money is being used for lawyers, security, or any other expense to fund the lockout…

Security? *eyebrow raise*

REPORTER: Mr. Kelley from the Orchestra said that no money of any kind in any way is being used to fund that lockout…

Wow, that seems……………………………hilariously implausible. I guess the money being spent on mailings is either A) coming from a magical fairy place, or B) Doug Kelley doesn’t consider mailings about the lockout to be a part of the lockout…

REPORTER: But even if this lockout ends, lawmakers at the Capital, Amelia, say that they’re going to hold that hearing anyway to find out  how this happened, and where all this money is going and how it is being used.

So that of course leads us to the question:

CAN WE GO TO THE HEARING?

No idea. Hold your horses. I don’t know when the hearing (hearings?) will be held; I don’t know who will be testifying; I don’t know if the hearing(s) will be open to the public; I don’t know if the press will be invited; I don’t know if bloggers are considered to be members of the press. I don’t know anything about it. All I know about it is that I’m going. If I can get into the hearing, I’ll get into the hearing. If I’m not allowed into the hearing, I will be outside at some kind of orch-dorky rally. If Orchestrate Excellence doesn’t spearhead one, I will. What do we want? Accountability! When do we want it? Now! Maybe if we’re lucky, we could swing both a rally and a hearing observation. Stay tuned.

Among all the hubbub, it’s easy to miss that concerts have been canceled until February 10

The Minnesota Orchestral Association announced that it has cancelled or rescheduled its concert performances through Sunday, February 10, 2013, noting that negotiations over a new labor agreement with musicians remain at a standstill.  As a means to initiate further talks, the Board Negotiating Committee has issued an invitation to the Musicians’ Union to return to the negotiating table on Saturday, January 5 or Wednesday, January 9, 2013, without any preconditions.

All ticketholders of affected concerts are being contacted and offered a variety of options including the opportunity to exchange tickets for a future concert or receive a refund.

“We are sorry for the disappointment these cancellations will bring to Orchestra audiences, but without progress toward a new contract and in consideration of the needs of our audiences, guest artists and partnering venues, we believe we have no choice but to cancel these performances,” said Minnesota Orchestra Board Chair Jon Campbell.  “We all want to resume the concert season as soon as possible, and the only way to do that is to sit down together and negotiate a settlement that will help resolve the Orchestra’s serious financial challenges.  We hope our invitation to come back to the negotiating table—which comes without preconditions—can begin that process.”

On December 6, the Orchestral Association posted an operating deficit of $6 million for Fiscal 2012, the largest operating loss in its history, and released the independently audited financial statements for its 2011-12 fiscal year.  The audit was conducted and certified by accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen.

Contract talks between the Orchestral Association and its musicians, who are members of the Twin Cities Musicians’ Union (Local 30-73), began on April 12 and are currently overseen by a federal mediator.  The Orchestral Association’s proposal offers a total package averaging $119,000 per musician, including an average salary of $89,000 with $30,000 in benefits per musician.  The proposal also includes 10 weeks of paid vacation and up to 26 weeks of paid sick leave.

The MOA’s public tone has changed drastically. No mention of perplexion – or cliffs – or counterproposals. Indeed, there’s not much disrespect shown to the musicians at all. (I mean, they’re still not respecting them like they should, but at least they’re not dragging them through the mud, and that’s progress.) If you want to stroll down Memory Lane, take a looksie at how combative the October and November cancellations were. This one is incredibly mild in comparison. Read the tea leaves as you will.

One wonders what exactly the “no preconditions” bit means. Scrapping of all previous offers and starting from scratch? Is this a PR stunt to get public opinion back on their side? (It’s a little too late for that, MOA, but…okay…) An effort to satisfy big donors and/or government officials? Will the MOA be open to arbitration? An independent analysis? Is Mr. Henson’s job on the line? Are there fractures appearing within the board?

I have no idea what’s going on. So stay tuned. And in the meantime, may I offer…

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25 Comments

Filed under My Writing

25 responses to “Invitations and Hearings and WCCO Reports, Oh My

  1. Kristen

    In the body of the letter:
    As stewards of the public trust and money, this is of great concern to us and warrants a public hearing and explanation to the legislature and the taxpayers of Minnesota.

    PUBLIC HEARING!

  2. All I’m going to say is that this is b-i-g BIG!

  3. Terry Carlson

    So, I think the orchestra receives some money, although not enough, from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency (as they like to say). Has any of THAT money been used to fund the lockout? No? Oh, I see, it’s kept in a little cupboard over there in the corner and they only take out $1’s and $5’s to pay for pizza delivery from time to time. Right! Well, OK then.

    • Sarah

      I think it is designated for special projects. And I’m sure that the MOA, as well as the SPCO Society, have been VERY CAREFUL with their various piles of money and which of them they keep in the sunlight and which they don’t.

  4. Doug is SO very sure of his “rightness” ——kinda like Karl Rove’s complete confidence in his ability to buy Ohio.

  5. Terry

    He represents “the smartest guys (and gals) in the room” so they must be right, right? And he’s paid tons of money to keep saying he’s right. I think he’s stalling — a lot more went on at that annual meeting than we’ve been privy to. It will all come out over the holidays, most likely, when they think (wrongly!) that nobody is paying much attention.

  6. Ken

    It sounds to me like the softening of tone is a way of trying to change stance before they have to appear before the hearings. Now that they know they are in big trouble, they are probably trying to sound like they are playing ball again to lessen any punitive actions. It’s white-collar bull-crap. I view this the same was as if someone where stealing – it’s deception and it’s unethical. There needs to be action. Heads need to roll.

    • Sarah

      Mr. Henson was kind of a lightning rod, wasn’t he (i.e. “publicity stunts”) and he didn’t deliver on a musician cave-in, so that may be why Doug is now the spokes-tron.

  7. Anon

    If you were a resident of Minnesota, there’s a chance you could get an invite from one of the state’s representative if you wrote to them stating why you would want to attend the hearing (and sent a link to this blog to back up your, er, credentials? You’re not though, so if they close it down, restricting access to ‘credentialed’ press or whatever, I don’t see how you could get in. Hopefully though, some member of press whose interested, will get access. A roving CNN reporter perhaps…if all else fails.

    It’s good to see this happen though. Everything needs to be brought to light. Defrauding the taxpaying public of the state of Minnesota is a serious offense. Defrauding any of the orchestra patrons is serious….friggin people.

  8. Sarah

    I also wonder how much of an effect those boffo concerts of last weekend may have had . . . especially if major donors attended.

  9. Jon Campbell– quoted from today’s Strib–“We believed it was time to invite everyone to come back and talk” No shit, Sherlock. However you are still wolves in sheep’s clothing and the musicians know it and will proceed with great caution.

    • I know, right?

      Still trying to see if this is a PR stunt, or if pressure from donors, board members, and government officials has made them willing to be slightly more flexible than they have been. My money’s on the former, but we’ll see.

      • Just a reminder—Nobody let up on the emails and letters. This morning I sent Rep Hausman an email thanking her for supporting the orchestra but to please not stopping pursuing this matter just because the boys said that they will now play nicely. I mentioned that musicians and dedicated patrons have spent thousands of hours trying to get to the truth and suggested that she make contact with Emily.

        I do know that you know, Emily. Half the time my comments are meant for the little spies reading your blog.

        • Thank you so much, Elizabeth. It means a lot!

          *waves to spies*

          I will be emailing all of the legislators as soon as we get into 2013 (I’m hoping that waiting a week will keep my message from getting completely buried in holiday letters). I did however email Rep. Davnie today, since he seems to be a main player in this drama. I invited him to please read my blog and get in touch with me if he has any questions. Once again, I extend a warm invitation to anyone and everyone to get in touch with me. songofthelarkblog[at]gmail.com And if my readers have found this blog useful, and feel it may be of assistance to legislators, then please feel free to pass the link along…

      • Sarah

        I did email Jim Davnie as well, thanking him for the letter, and he replied right back and wished me a great New Year as well.

  10. Julie

    If they close it down, restricting access to ‘credentialed’ press, you might talk to some folks at MinnPost and see if they can get you press credentials in exchange for an article.

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