Minnesota Patron Stakeholder Group Gets Aggressive

On 11/20/2013, the Minneapolis based patron stakeholder group, Save Our Symphony Minnesota (SOSMN) gave a public presentation titled The MOA [Minnesota Orchestra Association] Debacle: Unlocking The Truth where they levied a host of allegations against the MOA board and executive leadership including, but not limited to: cooking the books, deliberately misusing endowment funds, and intentionally releasing false information.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-117The event garnered sizeable coverage in traditional media outlets (Minnpost.com and StarTribune.com) as well as a host of social media platforms. It reportedly attracted an attendance of nearly 100, including Larry Adams, a partner at Clifton Allen Larson, the firm which performs the MOA’s audits.

According to an 11/21/2013 Star-Tribune report by Kristin Tillotson, Adams said the SOSMN’s claims were “uninformed at best” and that he stands by his firm’s work.

Similarly, the 11/21/2013 MinnPost article by Doug Grow reports the MOA responded to accusations, which included “financial statement manipulation,” with casual indifference, asserting that SOSMN was beating a dead horse.

Presentation content and institutional responses notwithstanding, the SOSMN is trailblazing new ground with regard to organized audience advocacy by demanding increased oversight, challenging information, and coordinating broad based action to bring about a firm resolution of ending the lockout.

You can download the presentation slides at the SOSMN website which include the following recommended calls to action:

The MOA should…
  • end the lockout immediately.
  • terminate CEO Michael Henson.
  • reassess its auditor.
  • suspend its “divisive public relations campaign.”
The MN Orchestra Musicians should…
  • clearly state their goals and objectives.
  • identify any remaining financial documentation they have yet to receive from the MOA.
Government officials should…
  • use influence to get both parties to complete the full list of SOSMN action items.
  • initiate a financial investigation of the MOA’s auditor and their ability to repay outstanding Minneapolis bonds related to the recent hall renovation.
  • investigate the MOA’s financial stewardship.
  • investigate the current MOA board nomination and internal election practices.
Patrons should…
  • contact the MOA board and insist on terminating CEO Michael Henson and removing the current board officers.

Is It Time For An Ombudsman?

In the end, groups such as SOSMN are becoming increasingly common in the wake of public labor disputes yet an organization’s board is under no obligation to recognize or act on any recommendations or suggestions. Such deep-rooted intransigence is enough for the field as a whole to begin considering whether or not large budget institutions like the MOA should be obliged to oversight by an ombudsman to investigate charges of failing to act as stewards of public trust and/or maladministration.

What do you think?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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16 thoughts on “Minnesota Patron Stakeholder Group Gets Aggressive

  1. It would have been interesting had Larry Adams, the partner of the firm which performs the MOA’s audits, had stood up during question and answer period and said “you’re uninformed at best,” and given the rest of us the opportunity to ask “what is SOSMN uninformed about? Whatdya got?” To make his statement to the StarTribune just reinforces the perception that the MOA and its auditors are indifferent to public perception, and continue to shun openness and transparency.

      • I was there. And I can attest, no one–and that would include Mr. Adams–stood up and said you’re misinformed. But he is on record as having said “uninformed at best” to a reporter for the Minneapolis StarTribune. The “Strib,” as we refer to it here, has been very lame in its reporting of the MOA and the lockout. Many here suspect that this is because its publisher and CEO, Michael Klingensmith, sits on the board of the MOA. It seems more likely that if any further comments by Mr. Adams were edited out, it was done for this reason, rather than for space considerations.

        I merely wished to point out that Mr. Adams offered nothing during the presentation, but instead opted to say “uninformed at best” afterwards to a trusted reporter. And if SOSMN was misinformed, why doesn’t he ante up? This is typical of how the MOA has handled public information about its finances. No comment, no information, and no one outside of the MOA knows what they’re talking about. The MOA should be called out on this.

  2. Here’s what I think. Maybe you could check with SOSMN next time to see if you got everything straight. The Minnesota Orchestra finances are a mess. They have been for a decade. Instead of trying to deal with the problem head on, the MOA decided to throw the musicians under the bus 4 years ago and hatched this unbelievably destructive plan. Instead of being truthful, Michael Henson lied through his teeth to the state legislature, the city leaders, the patrons, and the donors about the health of the organization. The MOA raised $100 million dollars, during the “downturn” gave Michael Henson not one but two bonuses for a total of $200,000 in one year, but now they are crying poverty and want the musicians to take cuts never seen by an American orchestra, play for bar mitzvahs, and work under deplorable working conditions. The major newspaper in town is in the pocket of the MOA, given that the CEO sits on the MOA board, Their coverage of this tragedy has been deplorable. SOSMN put together 10 years of financial information and openly admitted to not having all of the facts or answers. Keep in mind that the MOA has withheld financial information that the musicians have been asking for since negotiations began almost 2 years ago. The SOSMN brought to the public’s attention the questions that need to be answered by the MOA, who was invited to the presentation. It was a well researched presentation and I hope some of the board members who were also duped read the information carefully.

    • I’m curious to know what you believe isn’t accurate. Please feel free to expand on that point.

      I’m also curious to know your rationale for stating that the major newspaper in town (which I assume you mean the Star-Tribune but correct me if that’s inaccurate) in the MOA’s pocket. Is there a conflict of interest or other connection to support the accusation?

      • At the risk of sounding simple-minded, what seems to me to be the basis for Ms. Erickson’s rationale is the fact that Michael Klingensmith, the publisher and CEO of the Star-Tribune, also sits on the Minnesota Orchestra Board of Directors:

        (a) Star-Tribune, Board of Directors page: http://www.startribunecompany.com/107

        “Michael J. Klingensmith
        Publisher and CEO”

        (b) Minnesota Orchestra, Board of Directors page: http://www.minnesotaorchestra.org/about/board-management-and-administration/board-of-directors

        “Michael Klingensmith
        Publisher and CEO, Star Tribune Media
        Minneapolis, MN “

      • I don’t know that Elizabeth Erickson said anything was “inaccurate,” but she did suggest that you don’t have “everything straight.” And she has a point.

        The presentation by SOSMN last Wednesday was a sober and measured assessment of the MOA’s finances based on the best and only information available–public statements of MOA officials, form 990s, annual reports, auditor’s reports and so on. Beyond that, it was a presentation of measured judgements, delivered in a non-hyperbolic manner. This is not reflected in your piece.

        Near the top of your script, you write of levying “a host of allegations . . . including, but not limited to: cooking the books, deliberately misusing endowment funds, intentionally releasing false information.” “Cooking,” “deliberately,” “intentionally.” These must be your words, because they are not in the slides, and nothing spoken during the presentation came close to that kind of hyperbole. You go on to quote a news source quoting an MOA official making a remark about the “uninformed at best” content of the presentation, and another report, that it was “beating a dead horse.” All of this disrespects the nature of the presentation–thus, Ms. Erickson’s remarks about getting “everything straight.”

        The story is simply this: grass roots, audience based groups, without legal or official status are becoming involved in orchestral/management disputes, and in Minnesota, they are raising serious questions deserving of answers.

        • Hi Tom, thanks for the reply. First, let me be very clear by stating that excerpting segments of news items reported elsewhere is not necessarily reflective of any professional deduction on my part.

          Having said that, after reading the presentation slides, recommendations vis-a-vis calls to action, and quotes from SOSMN representatives, one would be hard pressed to misinterpret the organization’s message.

          The Minnpost.com article from 11/21/13 states “those same [SOSMN] speakers accused MOA management and leaders of the board of directors of either incompetence and deceit, or both.” I read the presentation slides before the Minnpost article and came to the conclusion that descriptions such as cooking, deliberately, and intentionally were entirely apt.

          If nothing else, that combined with the Minnpost description confirms that SOSMN delivered a very strong message.

          The presentation slides (in particular, pages 66 & 67) contain a tough message that did not mince words; consequently, I’m not sure why the descriptions above could be constructed as hyperbole or disrespect.

          Nonetheless, I wholeheartedly agree that a fundamental part of the story is about the increasing role of organized audience stakeholder groups. At the same time, the messages they deliver (questions and allegations) are an equally important cornerstone in that foundation and worthy of attention.

  3. For starters, I think it would be beneficial to all if the Internal Revenue Service would demand more detailed information on Form 990 for non-profit organizations. At this point, a lot of information can be hidden from the public on Form 990, thus a lack of transparency.

  4. The recent interview with Deborah Borda, LA Phil CEO, is most instructive regarding how superior orchestral, facility and board management works. It is a lot more than just getting a new hall.


    I too was at the SOSMN presentation. It was clear that it was a partisan audience, and so I was not surprised that Mr. Adams did not respond in the meeting. I also doubt that he would have gone into any detail with a reporter after the meeting regarding his point of view. The MOA is his client, and a real response from him would have required another presentation and–probably, a review by the MOA ahead of time. So, instead, the quick response, essentially, “So’s your old man!”

  5. Yes, Michael Klingensmith, who is the CEO of the Star and Tribune, does sit on the board of the Minnesota Orchestra. It is a position of power to be able to control the printed page. But that alone would not justify me calling the newspaper out for being biased. Here are a few of the reasons for my comment about the Star and Tribune.

    I’ll start with a recent “article” dated November 15, 2013. Nicky Carpenter, a longtime member of the orchestra board, wrote an obvious opinion piece; her opinion from her vantage point as a board member. She is not a journalist, she clearly had an agenda, and yet, this was listed as an article. This was not some little paragraph. This was a substantial submission that most definitely belonged in the opinion section. On November 4, 2013 Karen Bachman wrote a piece entitled “What Do the Musicians Want”? In her commentary, she identifies herself as a concert goer since 1964. Just a dedicated patron, except for the fact that she has been on and off the orchestra board for years. No mention of that fact and it is standard fare in this newspaper to include this kind of information Her feigned ignorance is ridiculous. The musicians have spelled things out very clearly in writing; SOSMN and Orchestrate Excellence both have very good information on their websites; several well respected journalists and bloggers have written extensively about what the musicians want. If she doesn’t know what they want, she has willfully avoided learning this information because it is everywhere. Maybe these example don’t seem significant, but this kind of stuff has been going on from the beginning of the lock out. Moving on to “Bonusgate”‘ —

    A well respected blogger broke the story of Michael Henson’s $200,000 bonus on October 12, 2013. She was looking right at the 990’s. Very easy for the paper to verify this information. There was no “opinion” here. A group of us laughed and tried to predict how long it would take for the Star and Tribune to pick up the story, if ever. I can’t confirm this, but word on the street is that someone from SOSMN complained for days before the newspaper finally printed the story about a week later. Giving your CEO two $100,000 bonuses in one year, at the same time as you are crying poverty is news worthy. I’m leaving out so much. These examples are from this month alone

    More general observations–The Star and Tribune has done things like take the New York based law firm of the musicians to task, but has given a free pass to the MOA’s legal team based in our own backyard, who represented Crystal Sugar during the 18 month lock out that decimated the North Western Minnesota economy. I have never seen Michael Henson being taken to task for his dozens of contradictions and misleading statements that are in writing or have been spoken and are recorded. The musicians, patrons, city and state officials, have never seen a clear and concise :”business plan” with accurate updated financial information. What the MOA has provided is equivalent to a couple of 8X10 glossy photos with no meat; financial projections based on 5 year old data that they now know is completely inaccurate which uses 4th grade math to explain the draw downs in the endowment. In the information given to patrons, there was a “summary” of the “Building for the Future” Plan. A patron actually called the MOA and asked for the complete plan and was told that the summary was the plan. This is completely insane. If someone in the for profit business world wrote this kind of Swiss cheese plan of action, they would be laughed out of the room. MOA–Never taken to task by the newspaper. Spokesman for the MOA, Doug Kelly, who is not on the board or part of the legal team, routinely makes outrageous statements like accusing the musician’s union of using Minnesota as a battle ground and how important it is for the MOA to “draw the line in the sand. ” It get printed with no questions asked. He has never, ever been asked to support these assertions.

    The last time I can remember anyone from the Star and Tribune asking the hard questions was a year old when Graydon Royce reported on the MOA’s hatched plan of drawing down the endowment 4 years ago to present a balanced budget to the state and donors, and then turn around and use this same information to support the “reset model” (slashing the musicians’ salaries by 30-50 percent) come negotiation time. Since then, nothing even close to this level of reporting. Can I prove that there is a boot on Graydon’s neck? No, I can’t. But something sure has changed since last November.

  6. The goal here should be to get both sides in the conflict to stop grandstanding and do some serious bargaining in a closed room. Public attacks rarely make a party more cooperative; instead, they lead those attacked to dig in and double down. If SOSMN has real evidence of incompetence or malfeasance, the evidence should be brought to the office of the Attorney General or whoever supervises nonprofits in Minnesota. No need for an ombudsdperson.

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