The board that oversees the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture on Wednesday upheld the firing of the museum’s executive director, a decision that revealed significant division between the board and many museum supporters.
After a closed-door meeting that lasted nearly three hours, the MAC Board of Trustees voted 13-7 to terminate Forrest B. Rodgers, who has led the museum since Aug. 1. Board members refused to explain the decision.
“This is a confidential employee matter,” board president Chris Schnug said after the meeting.
Last week, the seven-member executive committee of the board violated board rules by firing Rodgers without a vote of the museum’s full board. The termination took some trustees by surprise and angered many members of the museum’s foundation board, a separate body that controls the MAC’s endowment.
Schnug and other museum trustees declined after the meeting to comment about the process used to fire Rodgers.
Rodgers, who waited outside the meeting, said he will meet with his attorney today to consider the termination agreement the executive committee presented to him last week.
“The MAC is more important to this community than I think the community realizes and perhaps more than even the MAC has demonstrated,” Rodgers said. “It really does deserve the support of the community moving forward.”
After the board met for about 2 ½ hours, the board invited Rodgers into the board room for about 15 minutes. Rodgers said the board told him that it had voted in the closed session to allow him into the meeting.
Rodgers said he was only asked two questions before the meeting was opened to the public and each trustee was given a chance to make a statement. There were only a couple hints in the public session about why Rodgers was fired.
“I just find that the decision of the executive committee to determine that the executive director is unable to raise funds in a period of six weeks – and he didn’t perform in six weeks – I just find that unacceptable to use that as a rationale to make a decision to terminate,” said board member Jim Sullivan, who voted against Rodgers’ termination. “I frankly find as much at fault with the executive committee and the board as I do with the potential problems that we discussed with the director.”
Board member Imelda Williams responded to Sullivan: “It was not six weeks, it was an accumulation of nine months that we evaluated.”
Rodgers said he knew some board members disagreed with his thoughts about stabilizing the museum’s budget but was shocked last week by his firing. He had been working on plans to lower the museum’s dependence on state funding.“There are some members of the board who are absolutely convinced that the state will continue to fund the museum at its current level or higher and that funding will be permanent,” Rodgers said after the board’s vote. “I don’t think it’s reasonable to run a business that requires a three- to five-year planning horizon when state funding is never secure.”
Some trustees who supported the termination said they were confident that the museum would get past the turmoil caused by Rodgers’ firing.
“What I’ve seen here is a lot of passion and deep commitment to this organization by everyone,” said board member David Brukhardt. “I know that however this all turns out we are looking forward to our next 100 years because of that dedication and where we’re going.”
But a few trustees questioned the secrecy of the executive committee.
Frem Nielson, a MAC trustee and U.S. District Court judge, said “there has been some damage done” by the way the termination was carried out. Even so, Nielson supported Rodgers’ firing.
“The MAC is bigger than any of us, including the director,” Nielson said. “Decisions of this nature cannot be personal. I’m satisfied that they’re not.”
Rodgers, 60, was hired last summer after years of financial turmoil at the museum. He is the former president and CEO of the High Desert Museum in Bend, Ore., and former executive director of the Central Washington University Foundation.
Supporters of Rodgers say he brought the museum fresh, innovative and professional leadership after years of instability and interim directors.
Francis Cullooyah, chairman of the museum’s American Indian Cultural Council, said the board hasn’t revealed to the cultural council why Rodgers was fired. He said the council has been impressed with Rodgers’ leadership, and those who work with the museum and other supporters deserve answers for why he was removed.
“It just seemed like they disrespected us,” Cullooyah said.
Rodgers had requested that board discussions about his employment remain open to the public, but the board voted at the start of the meeting to close the meeting.
Sue Bradley, a member of the museum’s foundation board, said she hoped the board would keep the meeting open.
“If the decision is well-based, there should be no hesitation in letting the stakeholders know what it was based on,” she said.