Eleven opera board members demand information

Held meeting Wednesday; letter goes out today

Eleven irate members of the San Diego Opera board held a private meeting Wednesday. They will be sending out a letter to the other 47 board members this afternoon.

"We have to have the information we need to make a reasoned decision" about the sudden shutting down of the opera, says one board member. There are 58 members who can vote, but only 34 did so, and on skimpy information, this member says. The vote was not on the agenda, as previously revealed. "One of the things that came out of that meeting was a list of documents, reports, to be provided to the board. We have an absolute right to those under the San Diego Opera code and under state corporation codes," says this board member. The attendees at Wednesday's meeting "were unanimous in being unhappy, and some had voted for" the dissolution.

One of the critical pieces of information this group wants is the retirement/employment information on Ian Campbell, general director, and his ex-wife, Ann Campbell, who was second in charge. The possibility of some kind of litigation has been discussed, says this board member. Apparently, there is information from the National Labor Relations Board that may be relevant. It has been rumored that there has been one — and possibly two — employee complaints of a hostile work environment. (I tried to get this information from the state but was unsuccessful. It might have been a federal complaint, and I ran into bureaucratic resistance there.)

"I have asked to see liability sheets, and not been provided them," says this board member. "Other board members have sent in written requests and demands, and there has been no response."

Comments

Is there a way to negate the previous vote, as the vote to disband was not an agenda item?

It is great to hear that there is a cadre of board members who aren't just sitting down for this.

eastlaker: I agree. It is great that some board members are demanding information -- and are mad. It might be possible to negate the vote because it was not an agenda item. I just don't know. Best, Don Bauder

I'd think that something of such gravity that was not on the agenda would be easily challenged. A judge should grant some board member an injunction against taking any more steps toward dissolution pending a properly announced vote on the matter. That doesn't sound all that hard to do, and I'm rather surprised that it hasn't happened already, given the circumstances.

Visduh: If I can get the document -- and I am doing my best -- there may be some clarification. But I agree: a vote to disband is critical. It should be on the agenda. And somebody should have to explain -- under oath, if that's the only way -- why it was left off the agenda. Best, Don Bauder

Happy to report the Save San Diego Opera Petition is now at approx. 16,862.

I have to think that means something--as quite a few people have commented about performances they have seen, or participated in, or were hoping to see. Many people say things like "Keep the arts alive!" and "Music and the arts show us what it means to be human!"

On a previous blog, I said that I think we have a lesson in semantics going when we discuss the issue of Ian Campbell and Ann Campbell's remuneration.

Karen Cohn said they were not getting retirement benefits.

Others have said that Ian would be paid through 2017. Others have also said that Ian is getting the proceeds of the sell-off of all the opera's effects. So, while all this may not have been termed 'retirement benefits' or a golden parachute, it is payment for someone who is no longer working for San Diego Opera.

The $15 million that is still in the bank (according to what I have heard) has been said to be enough to guarantee that Ian and Ann Campbell get their salaries, even if the SD Opera is defunct. It would be interesting to actually read the terms of the Campbell's contracts.

Also--the lawsuit about the hostile work environment. Could that be the proximal cause of all of this?

eastlaker: The hostile work environment filing is a rumor -- not confirmed. Yes, we have Cohn's word against a lot of rumors on just what Ian and Ann Campbell will get once the opera closes down -- IF it closes down, I am happy to add. Cohn stated that Ian and Ann get nothing once the opera is closed down; if she is correct, then this is not a matter of terminology. Best, Don Bauder

The San Diego Opera was involved in a NLRB case in 1989. Must have been settled because the case was closed in less than 10 days.

One thing I am curious about is what qualifications Ann Campbell had to hold her position at the Opera? The Campbell's divorce case was filed on 9/12/2012, so this is a recent divorce. I'm a cynic and skeptic, and this employment arrangement looks like a "de facto" alimony arrangement. Why not give the ex a high paying position on the payroll of the opera in lieu of paying out Ian's pocket. Also, a divorce usually is highly emotional and personal, why would a couple want to continue to work together after such a life changing event? Did the opera go broke or did the divorce and financial interest of a self-absorbed and entrenched insider doom it?

Ponzi: Ian and Ann Campbell not only continued to work together, they continued to live in one condo -- one on the top floor and one on the bottom floor. I remember getting the announcement of their separation. It was some time before the divorce took place. I was puzzled with their living arrangement -- same condo.

She was named second in command at the opera after the divorce. But she was extremely well paid before that. Your theory that, in essence, the opera was paying what Ian would owe as alimony is an intriguing one, but I question it. Their children were already in their mid-20s, so there would have been no child support. She had been paid plenty through the years so she really doesn't need continuing support. But there is no doubt they were both overpaid -- by a lot. Best, Don Bauder

Ian Campbell seems energetic enough to get another position elsewhere, he might not need the golden parachute. I would keep an eye on the costumes and sets. I have to wonder how they are treated on the books. The money spent on production might not have been completely written off, since the costumes and sets are an asset that can be sold or leased. This might be used to conceal bleeding, and if it were repeated for 30 years, the company might have millions in assets in theory, but no way to make payroll.

That's speculation of course, but the sets aren't speculation, they're designed to fit the theater, and could be used for new shows in a matter of weeks. They should stay in San Diego.

There was a costume sale last weekend, Saturday and Sunday. It was advertised on the SD Opera website. Prices started at $1 and went up to $750.

The sale you refer to was at the San Francisco Opera (even though it may have been mentioned on our opera's website). The San Diego Opera has not had a costume sale in quite a while. Most operas are done with rentals of full shows, with alterations, repairs and sometimes the leads redone. The SD Opera owns some shows that they rent to other places and rents out others. A costume would have to be pretty shabby to get sold under those conditions: even a trashed one would serve as a model for a remake, and that might be the best that could be done to follow a design. The Opera has mounted shows done by designers that have been dead for decades. Costumes that can't be altered due to a huge size difference have to be made in the shop based on the one that was sent: perhaps some of the accessories fit. Normal theatres will restock garments by garment type and period, that's not the way opera usually works. SD Opera has even got some shows by having them be abandoned by the owner-opera. I heard of one set of costumes they got to keep because it was the third best version that the renting opera had and they didn't want it back (probably the Met). I wonder what the SF Opera was selling: they have been around for much longer, so it might be really ancient stuff, or operas that the staff agreed would never be done by anyone in the foreseeable future, or it was clothing items that were donated by patrons or their estates.

You may be right--I can't seem to get the SD Opera Calendar to show anything in the past! It is only today forward.

It certainly sounds like you know how things work. I really hope people can pull together and create a new San Diego Opera, or put the pieces of the old one back together in some workable fashion.

Thanks for all your info!

eastlaker: Yes, Hardcover seems knowledgeable. I hope he or she joins the fight for more information. Best, Don Bauder

Hardcover: San Diego Opera built a very unusual set for Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Do you know if other companies rented it many times -- if San Diego Opera got its money's worth? Best, Don Bauder

eastlaker: I don't know about that costume sale, but some other poster mentioned it. Best, Don Bauder

Psycholizard: San Diego Opera sets were created in a San Diego shop owned by the opera. After being used in San Diego, they were rented out to other companies. I don't know if San Diego Opera was making money on this project. This should be answered if the directors get responses to their questions. Best, Don Bauder

Psycholizard: I don't know the answers on the costumes and sets. I hope the directors who sent the letter yesterday (Friday) get those answers.

Colorado Opera (Denver) rented San Diego Opera's sets for Donizetti's Don Pasquale. So I saw those sets -- which places the opera in the Old West -- in both San Diego and Denver. Best, Don Bauder

I can promise you, with his reputation as a result of this bullshit move... he will have a very difficult time getting a position in this country.

mazerthehazer: Ian Campbell is in his mid-60s and perhaps is not looking for another job. But I don't know that. Ann Campbell is considerably younger and, I understand, has been job-hunting in Houston, for at least one example. Best, Don Bauder

Heather Carpenter: I agree with you -- 58 board members is too many. When I was on the board in the 1974-1982 period (I don't remember the exact dates) I doubt if we had more than 20 or 25 on the board. Best, Don Bauder

Windrose Nonprofit Group: Yes, sometimes I have suspected that huge boards for nonprofits was a deliberate attempt to smother information. Best, Don Bauder

Adam De Sorgo: I have go go along with Heather and Windrose. A board that is too large can't absorb all the information necessary to run the company. Have you ever seen a private sector corporation with a board that large? Best, Don Bauder

A huge board would make it easier, not harder, to have a body that rubber stamped every proposal from the management, meaning Campbell. It may also have been a way to get more donors involved, and to loosen their purse strings. In some such organizations, a board seat is an "honor", and not something regarded as a burden and a big responsibility. So, after making donations at some threshold level for, say, ten years, there was an expectation of being named to the board and then being able to hob-nob with other big-bucks types. (That would be a powerful incentive, if you were not well known, and not all that wealthy, but able to afford the donation stream.) The picture comes into focus for me.

Visduh: I agree. That 58-person board may have been set up to make it easier to rubber-stamp actions. When I was there (roughly 1974-2003) there was both a board and advisory board. The advisory board was large, and I always thought of it as a way to give a title to a donor. Perhaps the advisory board has been wrapped into the full board. Best, Don Bauder

Michael Mayes: The evidence we now have doesn't suggest in any way that there was outright theft. Ian and Ann Campbell did a wonderful job putting on high-quality opera in San Diego for decades. Yes, they were overpaid, but they did a great job. Now a group of board members wants some answers. If those answers are unsatisfactory, then you may have a point. Best, Don Bauder

Steve Lemon: There seems to be general agreement -- with one "no" vote -- that 58 board members are too many. We do not know if putting this many people on a board was a way to control it. Best, Don Bauder

A post from a UT opinion piece by William Purvis stated that 8 new board members were added a couple of months ago, they did not have to donate the $25,000 ordinarily required to be on the board, and they were "instrumental" in making the quorum of voters that decided to shut down SD Opera. (I shared this, and more info in comments section of your article on the letter that was sent to Ian Campbell and Karen Cohn).

KPBS has published a very comprehensive and well-researched piece today, that includes copies of the actual contracts of the Opera's two top staffers. http://www.kpbs.org/news/2014/mar/31/opera-drama-enters-second-act-san-diego/?utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=social-media&utm_campaign=kpbsnews-twitter

I wonder if the rising community outrage and fury will have any impact on the SDO Board at their meeting today? And I wonder how long it will take to leak the meeting's results to the press? I'm sure that the leaks so far have been very distressing to those who wanted this situation whitewashed.

Good for the education director Nic Reveles for speaking out and on the record. He has been a key contributor to the opera's success for a long time, and is clearly pained to see what has happened.

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