In a press release posted Friday (go here, click “Press Releases” and then on the Aug. 13 release), John Morganelli, Democratic candidate for attorney general of Pennsylvania, blasted Republican incumbent Tom Corbett for his “failure [in the Barnes case]…to fulfill his responsibilities to represent the public interest when it comes to charitable trusts.”
Corbett was not yet in office when the Barnes Foundation successfully sought a court decision allowing it to move from Merion to Philadelphia, but he opposed reopening the case in recent court proceedings brought by petitioners who sought reconsideration by Judge Stanley Ott of Montgomery County Orphans’ Court. Gov. Edward Rendell, a former Philadelphia mayor and a Democrat, like Morganelli, has been a enthusiastic advocate of the Philly Barnes.
People who leave large sums of money for benevolent purposes must have confidence that their wills and trusts will be honored. The failure of AG Corbett to protect Dr. Barnes’ wishes and thereby the public interest, undermines the likelihood that generous individuals will do good things with confidence that their wishes will be respected. This hurts charities across the board.
As I’ve lamented here and elsewhere, the AG’s office did a shockingly inadequate job of protecting the interests of the general public in the Barnes Foundation case. Even Judge Ott himself scathingly observed (in his Jan. 29, 2004 opinion allowing the move) that the AG’s conduct in the case “had constituted an abdication of that office’s responsibility.” Yet despite his low opinion, Ott recently ruled that the AG was the only government representative with the legal authority to argue the Barnes case on behalf of the public. (In seeking to reopen the case, Montgomery County, where the Barnes is located, cited new developments that might have improved the Barnes’ financial viability in situ.)
Morganelli pledged that, if elected, he would try to re-open the Barnes case so that the court could “consider the options available to keep the Barnes’ collection in Montgomery County.”
At the very least, this matter deserves to be considered on the merits. Moving the Barnes’ art collection should be only a last resort after all other options are fully investigated and presented for serious consideration. It was the job of Mr. Corbett to see that this was done, and he failed. As a result, Judge Ott was left with his hands tied, and had no options than to rule as he did.
Meanwhile, in other Philly Barnes news, Inga Saffron, architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, reports the following, on her Skyline Online blog:
In preparation for the two moves [that of the city’s juvenile detention facility and the new Barnes that would replace it], the city’s public property department
spent the week packing up two groups of sculptural figures that have
humanized the forbidding juvenile prison for the last half century. The
two groups [she posts a photo], by the respected sculptor Waldemar Raemisch, are being relocated to the so-called Microsoft High School on Girard Avenue.
Do these high school students really want to gaze at art that formerly “humanized” a youth lock-up?