The board that leads the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture is under new leadership, but the fate of its recently terminated director remained unclear after a two-hour private board session on Wednesday.
Bruce Howard, who was elected president of the board at the start of the meeting, said he will appoint by Monday a three-person task force to deal with the controversial firing of Forrest Rodgers.
“The board is committed to working toward an amicable resolution of the situation with Mr. Rodgers,” he said. He declined in an interview to say if the board is open to rehiring Rodgers.
“I don’t want to speculate on what the range of outcomes could be,” he said.
The new slate of officers, which was approved in a 17-1 vote, is split between those who opposed and supported Rodgers’ ouster. Howard and the board’s new treasurer, David Green, supported the termination. The new vice president of the board, Mary Joan Hahn, and the board’s new secretary, Patty Dicker, were opposed.
Howard, who is the director of environmental affairs for Avista Corp., replaces Chris Schnug, a retired partner at the accounting firm Moss Adams, as president, though Schnug remains on the board.
“I think the board as a whole was looking for a slate of officers that could try to work constructively together moving forward,” Howard said.
Rodgers was terminated in April by the board’s executive committee in violation of board rules because it was not decided by the entire board. The full board of trustees later upheld the firing in a 13-7 vote.
Many museum members, volunteers and donors have been angered by the decision, especially by the refusal of the board to give an explanation. The museum’s separate foundation board voted to call for the resignation of the board’s executive committee.
No executive board members have resigned, though two trustees not on the executive committee who opposed the termination resigned last month in protest. Those resignations have hurt Rodgers’ chances at reinstatement. Seven trustees’ terms expire at the end of the month – mostly those who supported termination. But the board still will have a majority of members who supported Rodgers’ ouster.
Green said the board might share details of the termination in the future.
“We would love to be able to say our side of the story, and at some point in time if we cannot resolve the issue with Mr. Rodgers, the board’s side of the story will come out,” Green said. “But at this point in time, the best advice we can receive and have received is we have to be as quiet as we possibly can because we’re interested in settling it without it blowing up any further than it already has.”
During a portion of the meeting about the MAC’s budget, some board members raised concerns about two contracts Rodgers approved without first briefing the board.
“It’s not a question of authority to spend, it’s a question of approval of the budget, and then there’s a third issue of did we follow state law in the procurement process,” Green said.
In a later part of the meeting, Jerry Dicker, a developer and museum donor, accused the board of slander for questioning the contracts without Rodgers “being able to speak.”
“I heard someone start doing things that sounded like it was staged, staged to cast doubt on Forrest,” said Dicker, who is married to trustee Patty Dicker. “This is not an open and candid and credible board. And I fear that at the end of this meeting that you’re going to go further downhill in the public’s eyes. I fear that’s what you’ve orchestrated here today.”
Rodgers said Wednesday that no one on the board ever told him they were concerned about the contracts, including when he was terminated. He said Schnug once asked him about the contracts in a one-on-one meeting.
“In my previous experience I had the authority to commit to such contracts,” Rodgers said. “I had never been told by anyone on the board or by the (chief financial officer) that that was inappropriate, much less illegal.”
Rodgers said one of the contracts was for about $30,000 to study what MAC visitors thought about their experiences. The other, for about $17,000, was to develop an interpretive site plan for the museum grounds and exhibit hall.
He said he doesn’t believe the contracts needed to be bid publicly because they were paid for with private donations, not public museum funds.
Wednesday night Rodgers said he wasn’t certain what to think about Howard’s call to resolve the issue.
“I haven’t had the courtesy of a call, so I don’t know what to think about it,” he said. “I have always said that I want litigation to be the last resort to resolve this controversy.”
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