It happened so close to the New Year holiday you may have missed it but the decision by Judge David T. Stosberg denying the Louisville Orchestra’s (LO) filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as means for temporary relief from its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is, to put it mildly, a big deal. At the same time, it hardly serves as the final punctuation in the narrative that is the LO’s financial condition…
There are two excellent articles from Elizabeth Kramer in the 12/29/2010 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal (here and here) that cover the reasoning behind Judge Stosberg’s decision but in short, he felt the organization failed to demonstrate that abiding by the CBA would inflict irreparable harm. In fact, he felt that failing to honor the CBA would produce a “loss of good will” among the community.
That’s a particularly interesting notion and is perhaps rooted in the core definition of nonprofit board service, which is to serve as stewards of public trust (sometimes referred to as “guardians of public trust”). Of course, defining what it means to be a good steward of public trust is arguable but in this case, Judge Stosberg may be looking at the relationship between stakeholders (board, administration, patrons, and musicians) as something that is not mutually exclusive from the business plan.
From this point forward, the orchestra’s board may opt for altering their filing to liquidation (Chapter 7), buckle down and fundraise like mad to meet financial obligations and/or use endowment funds, or even disregard the ruling and wait to see what happens. Regardless, the organization is approaching the end of its current CBA, which continues through May 31, 2011, and that means musicians and the association will have to engage in regular bargaining sessions and those talks are all but certain to focus on the sticking points from the ruling.
In the meantime, I’m interested in hearing about what you think of the notion behind board members serving as stewards of public trust. One would have to be fairly dense not to see the parallels with what is going on in Detroit where the Detroit Symphony Orchestra board has remained steadfast on insisting that the fixed cost structure of the orchestra they’ve implemented is needed to for it to survive, regardless of positions otherwise from stakeholders or public officials.
Do you think there is a point where strategic decisions motivated predominantly by fiduciary responsibilities outweigh all other considerations?