Three months after firing its director, the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture board wants him back.
The MAC board voted 11-3 Wednesday to ask Forrest B. Rodgers to return to the helm of the financially struggling museum. The vote followed months of outcry from museum members, volunteers and donors who argued that Rodgers was making positive changes when he was booted without warning in April.
Rodgers said after the vote that he likely will accept the offer, pending details to be worked out between his attorney and the MAC.
“I am eager to return to the MAC and do the job for which I was hired,” Rodgers said in a phone interview while visiting family in Bend, Ore. “There are real challenges, but I’m confident that the board, staff and our key stakeholders will support me in moving forward.”
After they terminated Rodgers in April, MAC board members appeared shocked by the strong and vocal opposition to their decision. The board refused to give any explanation for Rodgers’ termination – though Rodgers had asked that the board deliberate publicly about his termination – until two months after he was let go. The museum’s separate foundation board and American Indian Cultural Council opposed Rodgers’ firing.
“We won,” said Nima Motahari, a museum member who has led a campaign to persuade the board to rehire Rodgers. “I hope that this means that we have turned a new page, and I hope that the donors will continue to contribute.”
The board’s offer is contingent on Rodgers dropping his wrongful termination lawsuit. It has agreed to pay Rodgers for the time he was unemployed.
Chris Schnug, who was president of the board when Rodgers was fired, joined community volunteers Ginny Butler and Barbara Stanton in opposing the offer. Schnug declined to comment on the decision.
Bruce Howard, who became the MAC board president last month, said he would have voted for the offer. The president only votes in the case of a tie.
“I certainly would have liked to have avoided where we ended up,” said Howard, who voted in favor of termination in May. “We’ve certainly lost time and lost ground.”
Rodgers, 60, who was hired by the MAC last summer, is the former president and CEO of the High Desert Museum in Bend, Ore., and former executive director of the Central Washington University Foundation.
He said that after his termination he was offered a museum position outside of Spokane but that he’s hoped all along he would be able to stay at the MAC.
“I have a very strong passion for the MAC’s mission and a great belief in what the MAC can become,” Rodgers said. “As a regional museum, it plays a very important role in helping people understand the history and the cultures of the community, and that’s what drove me to the MAC.”
The MAC board’s executive committee fired Rodgers in April in a decision that violated board rules requiring that the museum director be terminated only by the governor or by a vote of the full board. The full board voted 13-7 in May to uphold the firing.
Rodgers filed a lawsuit last month alleging that the executive board of the MAC “egregiously orchestrated and implemented the unlawful” firing while violating both state termination and open records laws. The lawsuit followed a June 21 deadline Rodgers’ attorney, Bob Dunn, set to rehire his client or pay Rodgers $750,000. The MAC board had indicated the termination was related to Rodgers’ “poor performance” and offered two months of pay and a letter of recommendation if he didn’t sue. Dunn called the offer “ludicrous” and “insulting.”
If Rodgers accepts the offer, he’ll face significant challenges. He said he will work to restore credibility lost during the controversy and will start work on the museum’s strategy for getting state support after 2013.
The museum receives about $1.4 million a year in state funding, which legislators warn is likely to decrease.
Rodgers said he also will work to increase interest in the museum.
“I consider our attendance unacceptably low,” he said. “That suggests to me that we have not been as attentive to the interests of our audience as we need to be.”