Museum meetings will be open door
A plan to shutter a board meeting about hiring an art museum director gets ditched.
By KEVIN GRAHAM
Published July 13, 2005
TAMPA - One day after a Tampa Museum of Art board member announced plans to keep the public away from the discussion about hiring an interim director, the city attorney fired back in a letter of disapproval.
Within hours, board member Richard Lehfeldt said he'd back down.
"The last thing any of us wants to do is get into a sideshow of sorts on a legal issue," Lehfeldt said Tuesday. "In the interest of moving forward, I think I will withdraw my motion."
On Monday, Lehfeldt sent an e-mail to museum board members describing a plan to conduct the discussions about hiring interim director candidate Ken Rollins in private. He said he intended to adjourn the July 20 museum board meeting, which is open to the public, and instead convene the museum's foundation board. The foundation board contains all the museum board members, with the exception of Mayor Pam Iorio's representative. Reporters and the public aren't allowed to sit in on those meetings.
"The result of covening the foundation board meeting is to take that meeting outside the Sunshine Act, allowing us to have our discussion without the press and staff present," Lehfeldt wrote.
He wrote that his reason for having a private discussion was "out of fairness to the applicant." Any major company hiring their top executive would do the same, he said. A public discussion, he said, is "an undignified thing to do to a person."
But City Attorney David Smith said in his letter to museum board members that "substantial" tax dollars are expended each year to subsidize the museum. The museum's operating and capital expenditures, Smith said, "must be transparent and open to public scrutiny."
The employment contract for Rollins tentatively calls for the city to pay $100,000 of his $159,000 salary, Smith said. The museum would pay the remainder.
Museum board member Sara Richter said she agreed with Lehfeldt's intended motion. She said having a discussion about Rollins' qualifications and fit as the interim director should not be a public process. She said she doesn't understand why the city has sent a "scathing response" to change things.
"Up until this point, it has been done behind closed doors," Richter said. "For the city to all of a sudden be crying about it being open and in the Sunshine is a little about-face for me."
Emily Kass resigned in April as museum director. The city and museum leaders suggested last month that Rollins, director of a Largo art museum, replace Kass on an interim basis. Santiago Corrada, the city's administrator for neighborhood services, has been overseeing museum operations.
Times staff writer Janet Zink contributed to this story.
[Last modified July 13, 2005, 00:15:06]
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