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Art museum dodges ‘naming rights’ questions

 peterson RS-Pat

Pack Place board member Carol Peterson

Board of dying Pack Place also sidesteps staff compensation

The meeting lasted just over 22 minutes. No business was conducted because no quorum was present. Still, some issues of consequence were mentioned, indicating they were on certain members’ minds. Two matters in particular actually made it to discussion: the status of the Pack Place corporation “going forward” and the financial and employment fate of staff members still working in the building.

And as a bonus, there was an exchange between a board member and the executive director of the Asheville Art Museum over the city’s recent vote to allow the art museum to sell “naming rights” to the forecourt of the Pack Place building to State Employees’ Credit Union for $1.5 million, as well as unexpected input on the subject from a former Asheville mayor on the same subject.

Chairman Edward Hay began by announcing that the board’s executive committee – consisting of himself, Vice Chairperson Tina McGuire, Treasurer Michael Andry and trustee-at-large Charles Worley – had met recently and concurred that the board and remaining Pack Place personnel should be prepared to terminate activities at the building by December 1. “We’ve got to draw the line (for ceasing active operation) somewhere,” Hay said, adding that, “this doesn’t require board action.” Usually parliamentary procedure requires that a committee not take action by itself, but report its findings and recommendations to the full board for further action.

The city’s hostile takeover of Pack Place, a process that began in January and ended in August, eviscerated the customary duties of the Pack Place board, which ever since has been discussing adopting new by-laws that would reduce the number of board members while still allowing the corporation to complete phasing itself out. The full board has scheduled one more meeting, December 10. “We want to give [staff] three or four weeks’ notice of termination, but we don’t want to go into the new year,” Hay said.

The board, however it is structured, still has the responsibility of attending to final closing-down details, notably the distribution of monies it holds in trust.

Peterson speaks out; Myers demurs

“I just want to say that I don’t have a comfort level with any of this,” trustee-at-large Carol Peterson said. “As someone who comes to a meeting once a month, I’m hearing the same things today that I heard last month and the month before that and the month before that. I don’t know what kind of things are going on there [in committee meetings and private conversations] and I don’t have a comfort level with that.

“My comfort level,” she continued, is that I am a member of the Pack Place board and I feel a real obligation to see that Pack Place goes forward with whatever we’re responsible for doing.”

“And while I’m on the subject of comfort levels,” Peterson added, “I also want a layman’s explanation of the selling of the naming rights [of part of the property] to the State Employees Credit Union Foundation … I’ve read everything everybody’s written about it, I know [city] council didn’t have a comfort level with it but they went through with it anyway … people know I’m on this board and several people have been asking me about it, and I would like to have a layman’s explanation of how that could happen.”

Peterson was referring to city council’s recent agreement to allow the charitable giving arm of State Employees Credit Union (SECU) to contribute $1.5 million to the Asheville Art Museum’s capital funding campaign in exchange for naming the area outside the former front entrance to Pack Place – now the front entrance to the art museum – “SECU Plaza.” Several council members vigorously objected, saying the art museum acted improperly by negotiating the deal privately with SECU without mentioning its intentions to council, thereby painting council into a corner, but the measure eventually passed anyway.

“You understand that Pack Place had no role in that,” Hay told Peterson.

“I know that,” Peterson countered, “But I’m a member of this board and people ask me, Carol, how could the naming rights to something that’s owned by the city be sold and the money given to an individual group within Pack Place … I definitely don’t have a comfort level with the money business.”

“The naming rights issue was never an aspect of Pack Place,” Andry said. “That’s an issue between the art museum and the city.”

“Does that answer your question?” Hay asked.

“Not really,” said Peterson.

“I can assure you the first time the board heard anything about it was in the newspaper,” Hay said.

“Pam,” said Peterson, turning to Myers, “I’d appreciate it if you could share anything you have with us.”

“I’m sure we’d be happy to discuss this with you, but I’m not sure this is the appropriate venue,” Myers parried. “The city was aware that [the art museum’s new direct lease with the city] contains concessions regarding naming rights … there will also be other opportunities for naming rights within the programmable areas of the museum. I don’t think that discussion should take place here,” she said “but we are very interested in developing more naming partnerships.”

There was a pause.

“Well, good,” said Hay.

“We need to let the staff know what’s going on,” Hay said. “We have insurance issues that need to be addressed presently, but we have some other things we can figure out as we go along,” but having a definite date is very useful.” The remaining members of the Pack Place staff have been in limbo as to effective date of their termination, ability to collect unemployment insurance and related matters.

At this point, former mayor Ken Michalove, who was attending as a spectator, got to his feet and spoke.

“Edward,” he said, “I can’t let this go, that Pam says that the city knew about [the SECU renaming] when … every council member said they knew nothing about it and were appalled at having to take their action when they were backed into a corner.”

“Pack Place is not connected with this in any way,” said Hay, “and it’s not fair to Pam and I’m going to draw a line under it right now. If you want to do an Interview after the fact, feel free to use the room.”

Though she is the art museum’s chief executive, Myers is not a member of the Pack Place board. That position is held by Lin Andrews, who was not present. Also absent was board member and city councilman Marc Hunt, who engineered the Pack Place takeover along with City Manager Gary Jackson.

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