Analysis, Withdrawn

From Minneapolis, Minnesota, the flash – apparently official – Michael Henson’s sanity died at 5pm Central Standard Time yesterday.

*takes off glasses in a dignified Cronkite-ian manner*

Yeah, the MOA suddenly decided to withdraw from financial and organizational analysis yesterday afternoon because, after months of discussion, the board couldn’t stomach the proposed terms. From this MPR article

Orchestra President Michael Henson says the orchestra board decided to move forward on its own when the musicians insisted the scope of the analysis extend beyond simple finances.

“And unfortunately we began to see those parameters expand to include an examination of our artistic decision-making process and the quality and effectiveness of the board,” Henson said this afternoon. The board decided to move on with an analysis on narrower terms.

However musicians say management has stepped out of line. They say management and musicians had agreed to a framework for the study. Then the players say management wanted the following language inserted in the agreement. “It is understood that this financial analysis/review is not intended nor will it encompass subjective matters such as the artistic quality of the music director or the musicians, the comparative quality of other orchestras, programming decisions, performance of management or staff, or board quality/competency.”

The musicians objected to this language, and said so.

Tim Zavadil, chair of the Musicians Negotiating committee says the examining the artistic decisions, board performance and making the comparisons with other orchestras is what makes this an analysis as opposed to an audit.

He says the musicians were under the impression they were still talking about how to do the analysis and he was flabbergasted to hear management has decided to go ahead on its own instead of together with the musicians.

“That would be the best way to go, to do it jointly,” Zavadil said this afternoon. “I am sure if we did one they would say well that’s just one that the musicians did on their own. I don’t know what our response will be if they release this information.”

Okay, so here’s what I don’t get, and why I’m making the call that Mr. Henson’s sanity is dead. If management can’t agree with the musicians on terms for analysis, then why not pull out of analysis altogether? What’s the point of a unilateral analysis? Unilateral analysis won’t placate musicians. It won’t placate lawmakers. It won’t placate the public. It won’t placate board members. If anything, I’d think it might piss the board off, because they were told for months that an analysis was unnecessary: a “frolic and detour,” in the immortal words of Doug Kelley. So how are they justifying it now? The only reason I can think of is that Mr. Henson wants another wedge to insert between the board and the musicians (“look, ladies and gentlemen of the board, we did an audit and a financial analysis, and they still won’t work with us!”). But there’s such a thing as the law of diminishing returns, and there already are dozens of wedge issues. Would one more really be worth all the money they’re sinking into the analysis? Especially since the state is conducting its own audit, too? And let’s be blunt: how much further can the relationship between the board and the musicians deteriorate? What would be the use of using this issue as a wedge? – unless there are rumbles of rebellion happening behind the scenes, and some board members are pushing for the MOA to do their own analysis? But that’s a stretch. I’m racking my brains and I honestly have no explanation for what is going on here. So help me out here, clever readers: what purpose could a unilateral analysis, as opposed to a withdrawal from analysis, serve Mr. Henson? I sincerely hope I’m suffering from an acute lack of imagination, and that there’s a sensible explanation somewhere.

I think we should visit the SOTL Archives (TM) and see what the MOA has said about financial analysis in the past. Just for fun.

In response to the Union’s call for an independent audit of the Minnesota Orchestra’s finances, the MOA Negotiating Committee declined the request, citing unnecessary delay and duplication of efforts as the Orchestral Association undertakes an annual independent audit and shares its audited results publicly each December. – MOA press release, 25 September 2012

It’s as transparent as you can be, and we have done that every year, and those numbers are public. The musicians have them. If they want to do a forward-thinking analysis, the first place they’d go would be to a certified financial statement or tax returns. Those are sort of the gold standard documents in financial analysis… We have opened our books up totally. We don’t need to take another frolic and detour into something that won’t help any. – Doug Kelley, 30 November 2012

Our volunteer Board members will continue to do everything possible to remove any barrier the musicians say is standing in the way of them making a serious counterproposal that helps to address our Orchestra’s $6 million operating deficit… The Board has been eager to move forward with a joint independent financial review since we agreed to this course in January… We aim to come to a common understanding with the musicians over the significant financial challenges facing the Minnesota Orchestra, so that we can negotiate a sustainable settlement that protects the Minnesota Orchestra for the future. We hope to do this as expediently as possible in order to prevent further concert cancellations. - Minnesota Orchestral Association email blast, 1 April 2013

Well that’s awkward.

Another question: why not allow for a review that analyzes board competency or artistry of musicians or staff performance? Why are such things off-limits? It’s almost as if Mr. Henson is terrified that if anyone came in from outside the MOA bubble, he or his methods might be judged……….?

And here’s another weird thing: the musicians have been saying since November that they wanted a review that encompassed these “subjective” things. Unless he is very slow, there’s absolutely no way that Mr. Henson should have been surprised at “parameters” expanding to include “subjective” matters. These are the musicians’ words from November:

The audits that the MOA refers to are based exclusively upon the historical financial statements provided by the Association to the auditor. These reports cover statements of changes in net assets, operating activities and cash flows. In other words, an audit focuses solely on limited areas of past performance.

Audits do not cover an institution’s viability, stability, business plan, strategic plan, the quality of its management, comparative performance, or present and future prospects. A joint, independent financial analysis would review all of these things, and would assess current and future trends, opportunities and risks.

I’m not sure how much clearer you could get than this. If after reading that, Mr. Henson didn’t know that was what the musicians wanted, well… I don’t really know what to say about that. The incompetency speaks for itself.

I also think it’s worth mentioning one more thing… Six days before this announcement was made, Michael Henson was interviewed for MinnPost, where he said, “We hope very much that we can announce successfully the financial analysis this week.” As I wrote on Facebook, either he had a good idea the withdrawal was coming and chose to mislead MinnPost – or he withdrew from four months of discussion on a flighty whim – or he’s unquestioningly doing (or being forced to do) the bidding of someone else. Not sure which one of those ideas I loath the most.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Analysis, Withdrawn

  1. I totally agree with you Emily. Mr. Henson makes absolutely no sense. But that is nothing new. In fact, his sanity has been in doubt to me for a very long time.
    However, re: why he would be doing this. I feel that pretty much everything he says serves two purposes: 1) it is an attempt to bolster himself up in whatever situation he is in— so in this case, he can say that HE followed through and the musicians did not… and 2) he is still attempting to sway public opinion (you know that their own financial analysis will totally absolve the MOA of any indiscretions), because to someone is taken in by the posh English accent and who isn’t paying attention, Henson certainly can sound convincing. As an example, see how misinformed that gentleman on the MOA FB page was yesterday, and after several of us gave him more information, he changed his mind. But let’s face it, lots of really smart people on the MOA Board have been bamboozled by Michael Henson (in concert with Richard Davis and Jon Campbell).

  2. Mark C.

    I’m not sure that much of anything Henson and the orchestra board (or at least its executive level members) has done can make much sense. Look no further than certain aspects of national politics. Consistency isn’t a major feature, either in terms of content or in terms of strategy. What is currently expedient is what’s on the agenda for the day and can shift rapidly. The stated goal is hardly ever the real goal, and might even have limited connection to it. The real goal, however, cannot be flatly stated for the public, because that would make their machinations both unpopular and insupportable because the goal isn’t something for the greater good or for good governance. That real goal may be clear to anyone watching carefully, but it’s purposely hidden behind a cloak of plausible deniability so that when directly called on it they can say “Oh, no, we would never…” when that’s exactly what their actions all tend toward. Orchestra management is acting like that. It’s reprehensible. An analysis that would cover board and staff performance might very well threaten to expose all this and tear the mask off.

  3. Henson and company remind me of a kid caught with a lie.The bigger the lie,the more fantastic the explanations get.When you call them on it,they are
    shocked,shocked!that you saw through it.It can be entertaining with kids-but appalling with these “leaders”.

  4. The thing that really jumps out at me is the fear of comparison across orchestras. Hmm, now why would that be important enough to break negotiations over? Looks like they are paying more attention to Emily than they are letting on.

    • I hear from a reliable source that they looked at every single name on the play and talk petition and tried to figure out as much as they could about those names. So I can’t help but assume they’re watching this blog, too. Hello, MOA! *waves vigorously*

    • Bill—whether or not it was Emily’s points about orchestra comparisons that caused the MOA to not want to hear about them, I don’t know. I believe there are also others who are trying to make these points, too, to the MOA. Nevertheless, Emily indeed has tremendous influence, even though the powers that be won’t talk to her.
      At one of Henson’s Q&A’s, Henson said, “Blogs are senseless pay no attention to them”. They (the MOA) are actually paying a LOT of attention to the public, as well, at the same time that they deride individuals who aren’t large enough or important “stakeholders”. We know that if a previous donor gives fundraisers on the phone any serious questions about what is going on (or says that they won’t contribute until the lockout is over satisfactorily), they remove that donor from their contact list. We know that they went through the first batch of signatures in the change.org petition to play and talk with a fine tooth comb—presumably to identify who signed and if they were “important” (however they define this). We suspect that they have board members who are who write those ridiculous musician bashing comments on articles (especially the Strib) that have been published.

      In any case, as Mark C stated above, I believe that the main reason the MOA doesn’t want any orchestra comparisons or other investigations outside of previously audited financial data, is that this dispute isn’t predominantly about finances— it’s about UNION BASHING. This agenda, along with management malfeasance, and the machinations of Richard Davis and Jon Campbell to that end (including the hiring of Michael Henson), would be uncovered by a wide-reaching investigation into MOA management. If Cleveland, for example, can get out of the hole successfully, why wouldn’t the MOA want to do this as well? If the finances don’t really add up and there is a way forward to preserve our current world-class orchestra, why wouldn’t the MOA want to go this route? I’ve been “puzzled” by their lack of interest… We know that the MOA intentionally hid the financial difficulties to the public/legislature when they raised funds for the lobby. So it should be no surprise that now NOTHING will change the path the MOA seems to be set on—not even a gazillion dollar contribution—because it is all about the UNIONS.

      In fact, in Graydon Royce’s most recent article, Jon Campbell was quoted blaming the Musicians’ Union for the breakdown in negotiations (and in particular the joint financial analysis) —though of course, this notion is completely false. But inadvertently the truth finally came out of the horse’s mouth.

  5. Bill Slobotski

    Personally, I never understood why the musicians didnt move on with their own analysis a long time ago. Now that I know what they wanted to include in the analysis, much of which could put the board and Henson underneath an uncomfortable spotlight, it is no wonder that there was no agreement with the board concerning the joint analysis terms.

  6. Matthew Probst

    I ask yet again, what does the “you lose” scenario look like? Say that Mr. Henson decides to just not let the orchestra musicians come back to work, because he wants to fill the hall with jazz and rock acts separated by occasional pops concerts by rent-an-orchestras.

    Is there any mechanism being devised to preserve our collection of fine musicians, such as a musician-owned orchestra, or are we acknowledging that Henson has already succeeded by running down the clock?

    It seems the orchestra musicians, and us the supporters, are waiting for the “authorities” (Henson and the board) to make their pronouncements. Waiting for them to pronounce gives them all the power. There is risk in independent action, but waiting for the orchestra to entirely dissolve seems overly pessimistic.

    Who made them the arbiters of whether we can have an orchestra? Doesn’t Henson claim that the former contract is done and void? If any new contract will not be accepted unless it is exactly how Henson wants it, then any form of dialogue with Henson and the orchestra board are useless wastes of time.

    Best then to figure out whether an alternative governance can be put into place. If that just isn’t possible due to the large amounts of money needed, then might it not be better to make the painful decision of admitting defeat and unilaterally dissolving the orchestra from the musicians’ side? If negotiation is hopeless, why draw it out according to Henson’s plan and let him score points with it? Shove it back in his face and make him own it.

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