Failures of leadership in Jacksonville

The Jacksonville Business Journal reported that talks resumed Friday between the Jacksonville Symphony's management and musicians. The report notes city government officials have finally gotten involved, as least symbolically, since the lock-out began last month.

The Jacksonville City Council on Tuesday passed a resolution urging the orchestra's management and musicians to come to some kind of resolution and get back to work. Unfortunately, there's no teeth in the resolution. And so far there's no news of back office discussions led by anyone in local government.

The city's mayor, John Peyton, is a member ex officio of the orchestra's board. He's not personally involved, but nevertheless he plans to stay out of it. This is the wrong thing to do. Peyton should be leading resolutions of the kind voted nearly unanimously by City Council, not waiting (or hoping) for them to happen on their own.

Failure among Jacksonville's leaders to provide leadership seems contagious. Peyton isn't alone in passing the buck. The orchestra's board and management -- specifically board president Jim Van Vleck and executive director Alan Hopper -- don't get it. It's their responsibility to raise money, balance books, and so on, not the musicians' job to take a big ole pay cut to save the orchestra.

It's clear that Hopper and Van Vleck are trying to pass the buck, as evidenced by Van Vleck's letter to the mayor explaining the board's position. They say there is a $3 million deficit and that the musicians need to take the pay cut in order the balance the budget.

However, I've looked at the Federal tax forms (it's called Form 990 and it's used by 501(c)(3) nonprofits) and do not see the deficit they continue to cite. Furthermore, when I called Leonard Leibowitz, the attorney representing the musicians in a formal complaint with the National Labor Relations Board that the lock-out is illegal, he said that he didn't see the deficit in question either.

"They are trying to establish that the orchestra is poor, so when it was time to negotiate with the musicians, they'd be justified in asking the union for money," Leibowitz told me on Dec. 3.

Hopper and Van Vleck apparently feel their word on the matter is good enough. So does Peyton, evidently. After Van Vleck sent his letter, it was reported that Peyton would step aside.

Does the mayor really think that it looks OK to step aside, as if he has nothing to do with the labor dispute? He's probably hoping it does, but the reality is, he's in this. This is what mayors are for -- to provide leadership. All the time. Not when it's politically convenient.

People outside the city, however, are taking note of the all-around shoddy leadership. Bruce Ridge, chair of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, released a statement after visiting Jacksonville. It read, in part:

In my brief time in Jacksonville I found an orchestra ready for growth in a city of seemingly endless opportunity. For the city, my view has been confirmed. In these 20 years, the downtown has grown to become one of the most beautiful cities of the South, with its riverwalk, shopping districts, and, yes, the beautiful home of the Jacksonville Symphony, the Times-Union Performing Arts Center. I have read reports that speak of a 36% growth in the economy there in just the past five years.

And yet, seemingly in defiance of the growth around them, the Jacksonville Symphony has not found leadership that could harvest the opportunities surrounding the streets of their concert hall.

No, instead, those charged to lead the orchestra have embraced the negative rhetoric that has been promulgated throughout the field, and now at this time of crisis they have uttered the absurd assertions that so many of us have heard across the table. It is impossible to believe that so many boards and so many managers stumble across the exact same words by accident.

Those who fail to lead their orchestras always recite the same lines of structural deficit and greedy musicians, as if they fall back on negativity as a last refuge. They must justify their failures in light of all the positive news that is being reported across the country. They must justify their inability to raise funds for an orchestra even though the nonprofit culture industry in America accounts for $166 billion in economic activity every year. [my emphasis]

Across America, cities are recognizing the positive financial impact the arts and their orchestras can have in their communities. Inspirational leaders are finding new donors and innovative ways for orchestras to serve their communities. [Thanks to Adaptistration for the citation]

On the plus side, City Council's resolution does make it clear that the citizens of Jacksonville have a stake in what happens to the orchestra. The orchestra's management has threatened to cut off healthcare by year's end if the musicians don't buckle. With this resolution, the management and board of directors now know they are being watched and they are being watched carefully.

The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra is not a private club. Everyone has a stake. Hopper and Van Vleck need to act responsibly, keeping in mind they will be held accountable at least in the court of public opinion. Anything less is arrogance, impudence, and condescension.

Cross-posted to Charleston City Paper's Unscripted.

December 16, 2007 11:04 AM | | Comments (0)


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This page contains a single entry by FlyOver published on December 16, 2007 11:04 AM.

The Irony of Choice was the previous entry in this blog.

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