WAC Board Chair Doubles Down On “Crazy” Comment

The 10/8/2014 edition of The Washington Post published an article by Geoff Edgers that examines the ongoing Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO)/Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) lockout. Of particular interest is the response from WAC Governing Board Chairman Douglas Hertz to questions about whether or not he regretted characterizing the ASO musicians and conductors as “a bunch of crazy people.”

“Why? It does make me wonder,” [Hertz] said. “I’m not calling them crazy. I’m just wondering if they’re crazy. These are the folks that we’ve endowed their chairs, and they’re calling us names. I don’t get it. The truth is, we’re on their side. I want to try to work with them.”

Adaptistration People 142Setting aside the semantics of allegations vs. suppositions, Hertz continues to demonstrate what might be best defined as advanced socio-economic bewilderment syndrome in that the act of engaging in generous charitable activity does not preclude accountability for actions related to serving as a steward of the public trust.

Another fascinating revelation was irrefutable evidence in the form of an audio tape provided by the musicians that former ASO President & CEO, Stanley Romanstein did promise the musicians in 2012 that the concessions accepted then would be a onetime occurrence.

Romanstein, the ASO president at the time, is asked by a player whether there will be more cuts.

“I don’t want to be the Baltimore Symphony,” Romanstein says on the tape. “We’re the Atlanta Symphony. My comment to the WAC board is that if we have to make a one-time adjustment in order to get things in financial balance, okay, you do that. But you only get this once.”

When the ASO musicians initially charged Romanstein with failing to keep this promise, he vehemently denied those charges claiming the only assurances made were that the WAC would engage in fundraising and additional administrative budget cuts, which is what he told Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Howard Pousner.

Romanstein adamantly denied the comment on Sunday. “I don’t know where that came from. We made them no promises. I would love to have a guarantee for what’s going to happen in two years or three years or four years. But there are not guarantees and we didn’t offer them any.

This revelation, now supported by the audio recording, raises concerns about a larger, calculated degree duplicity and whether or not it was limited to this one senior WAC executive or the entire executive committee.

Nonetheless, current WAC President Virginia Hepner is claiming ignorance about Romanstein’s promise and the Washington Post article reports that Hertz asserts there is no other choice but to force additional concessions.

And Douglas Hertz, the chairman of the Woodruff board, says that the Center has no choice. Corporations that donate to the ASO have been concerned with the annual deficits and demanding a more responsible model.

It is worth noting that the WAC has yet to provide any documentation to verify those alleged donor demands or what, precisely, qualifies as a responsible business model.

The ASO/WAC dispute is shaping up to be unique in the bumper crop of high profile labor disputes in that all parties are carving out well entrenched positions that make it increasingly difficult to emerge without losing credibility among peers and colleagues.

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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9 thoughts on “WAC Board Chair Doubles Down On “Crazy” Comment

  1. Can the ASO secede from the “parent” company? There appears to be private support (or, at least, a willingness to provide it) that is not reaching the orchestra. Clearly, the Woodruff does not have the same kind of resources as, for example, the Kennedy Center, which I believe is fiscally responsible for the National Symphony in the same way the Woodruff is for the ASO.

    • Correct, the National Symphony Orchestra/Kennedy Center relationship is the only other of its kind at this budget size which is comparable to the ASO/WAC relationship. However, whether or not a separation such as the one you suggest is possible is unknown unless a great deal of additional information is provided. Even then, issues related to endowment gifts and assets become very difficult to separate. Unless there are provisions already in place that dictate terms of an institutional separation (not unlike a prenuptial agreement) you can expect such a process to be hallmarked by animosity and expensive legal actions.

  2. Hi Amy, this is related to adopting negotiating positions that provide the ability for all parties to genuinely save face with a solution, so that somebody doesn’t have to lose in order for someone else to win. This is a topic that has been covered frequently in previous posts about the negotiation process, to that end, here are a few links to some of those posts:

    Minnesota may mediate
    Whip it good in Minnesota
    Do some orchestras exaggerate their financial position for negotiation leverage?
    Lessons in damage control

  3. Mr. Romanstein’s taped statement is not a legally enforceable promise, but he should admit making that statement and also explain why he was so adamant in his false denials. Mr. Hertz should stop talking to the media since he obviously has no clue about how properly to present himself or his organization. Let spokespeople speak, let negotiators negotiate, and let this puffed-up CEO find another way to inflate his ego.

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