Thursday, November 29, 2012

WAC Fraud: Hercules Couldn't Clean Up This Mess

WAC and ASO Management decided that the burden of putting the symphony's 'financial house in order' belonged on the players ... so they locked the musicians out until they signed a contract which set salaries back 30 years, cut benefits, playing weeks, and reduced the size of what is a major American orchestra. Virginia Hepner is quoted in the AJC, saying that the day the orchestra gave in to WAC demands was "a good day."

During the lockout, retired Emory Social Ethics professor Jon Gunnemann wrote a letter to ASO Management, the ASO Board, and WAC, arguing how their actions were creating a 'crisis of trust'.  There is, as yet, no word whether WAC's union-busting, strong-arm tactic actually worked to close the orchestra's deficit. All I know is that the principal by-product of management's efforts to 'put their house in order' was more distrust.

Out of the blue, Dr. Romanstein announced he wants to build a new house ... a new symphony hall ... rather than concentrating on repairing the continent-sized rift that has grown between management and the musicians ... nor does he seem interested in formulating a plan to restore the nationally-acclaimed orchestra he helped tear down.  (The chorus received a letter from him, assuring us that the musicians were 'not involved' in this recent fraud investigation. Okay.  I'm at a loss trying to figure out why he would suggest something so peculiar.  Oh, and if the media contacts us, we're supposed to refer them to a WAC representative.)

The nature of the power that WAC and ASO Management wields over the orchestra is explored here ... it's an authority so entrenched and politicized, it cannot be challenged or disentangled easily ... although it was pretty easy for someone to defraud it over a period of five years, without detection, for $1.43 million.

If I were a donor ... or an ASO or WAC Board member ... I'd stipulate a more thorough house-cleaning at the top before I gave another nickel.  I wouldn't wait for The Next Big Disaster to add to my growing knowledge of how disconnected the current administration is from its mandate ... how self-servingly its top administrators behaved during the contract negotiations and continue to behave ... how neglectful those in power have shown themselves to be, unable to preserve and stabilize the artistic and financial integrity of this city's largest arts institution. 

Atlanta deserves better than it is getting.  These aren't public relations disasters or embarrassments.  The desultory ways WAC and ASO Management have gone about fulfilling their job descriptions threaten Atlanta's cultural life and community.

Not surprisingly, Bo Emerson's article in the 11/28 AJC includes a quote from Ferdinand Levy, former dean of GA Tech's College of Management.  

“There is no excuse for an organization the size of WAC not to have first-class internal controls to prevent fraud,” Levy said. “This negligence showing a lack of oversight will certainly affect fundraising, especially with national foundations.”

All this time, the musicians have been doing their jobs brilliantly.  But now it's time for equally brilliant management -- other somebodies, more skilled in management than in self-perpetuation -- to rescue our broken institution, get it cleaned, repaired and moving forward.


  1. What do you think about a fundraising campaign that demands top management to step down before pledges are fulfilled?

  2. If this was a university scandal, the top people would be O.U.T. I'd like someone to explore the relationship between WAC's and ASO's respective Boards and the people they have hired to run the institutions they are supposed to protect and oversee. At a time when concerned, influential people in Atlanta should be speaking up and asking questions, very few are doing so ... most will wait for damage control.