PLATTSBURGH — Leaders of the Strand Center for the Arts in downtown Plattsburgh have released a detailed explanation of the recent firing of Executive Director Robert Garcia and bookkeeper Marilyn Dwyer.
Garcia was let go by the Strand Board of Directors on Sept. 3 in what he said was a surprise move.
Garcia said he felt he was moving the Strand in the right direction by booking tribute bands, which brought in large crowds and generated positive feedback from the community.
The board apparently felt otherwise, but had said little regarding the situation until they released a lengthy statement late Friday afternoon.
Here is the statement in full:
"We at the Strand Center for the Arts are fully aware of the gravity of the current situation and sincerely appreciate the public’s patience in awaiting our response to recent events.
An apology is owed to the public and we, the Board of Directors of the SCA, sincerely apologize. We are working diligently with SCA staff since the termination of the executive director and bookkeeper, to move forward. It is our duty to the public to uncover as much as possible to report facts, rather than formulating a quick but rash and underinformed response.
In our continued fact-finding, we have spoken to staff members of the SCA to include them in an open and frank conversation about where we stand. The hard work and dedication of SCA staff is invaluable, we felt they deserved an explanation as quickly as possible.
Public support and outcry is also invaluable. We now take this opportunity to address the public in the same way.
This year, the SCA was functioning without an approved budget or shared vision due to inconsistent and faulty reporting. Additionally, in recent months the SCA was over-spending based on potential future income; an operational practice adopted by SCA leadership, without communication to and approval of the Board of Directors.
This model may work for organizations with a large financial base, (but) at implementation the SCA did not have this financial base. In hindsight, using this model only served to worsen our problems.
The board tried repeatedly to intervene but was met with opposition. Given the history of management turnover and the community’s positive response to this form of operation, we gave management another chance; demanding financial constraint and increased financial reporting.
Essentially, the board requested a pullback in spending and bookings, to reign in the increasing financial liabilities. In the subsequent months, upon review of further delayed financial reports, it became apparent that the numbers were not adding up.
Findings showed new financial anomalies and the board immediately requested an emergency audit. Shortly thereafter, with continued financial breakdown, the board requested additional, more concrete data, but did not see in data presented any progress in addressing the ongoing issues.
Confronted with opposition and inaction we, the board, voted unanimously to terminate the executive director and bookkeeper of the SCA.
Through our work to solve current financial issues, the SCA has unearthed additional problems that make our situation significantly more alarming.
We wish we had the foresight to begin this process sooner, but initial reporting to the board did not reflect the true financial situation of the SCA.
And, although the shows gave the appearance of a packed house, they were, in fact, losing money.
The cover-band model was not working as hoped and only exacerbated historically weak financial footing. We were as excited as everyone else to see growth and public excitement related to theater programming, which amplifies our disappointment.
And now, after digging deeper into the discovery process, we find ourselves at a dire point where meeting our current and past financial responsibilities is no longer sustainable under previous models of growth.
Here is what has been uncovered:
The prior annual operating budget for the SCA was roughly $700,000. This year our expenses are projected to be upwards of $1.2 million.
In addition, the board had not been informed by previous SCA leadership of details of debts the SCA owes to vendors, merchants, utilities, and government agencies.
We also have a slate of 20-plus future shows projected to result in continued future losses.
So how do we move forward?
Through the work of our regional arts consultants, we have been presented with limited options: The sale of the Strand Theater, a Capital Campaign we are calling – SOS – Save our Strand, and other far less palatable choices.
The board and staff have expressed how much we want the SCA to continue providing such great outreach and services to the community, so our desire is to Save our Strand.
But that’s where YOU come in. We need the public’s support now, more than ever.
We appreciate the outcry of the public and view this as our community expressing their desire to save the Strand Center for the Arts.
Just as the SCA exists to serve the greater community - it will now take a community to come together to help move the organization forward.
The SCA is a space designed to serve all of us; those who live, work and play in our region. We are asking you to help."
The statement was not signed, but board officers include President Courtney Chandler-DeLaura, Vice President Alice Schonbek, Secretary Thomas McNichols and Treasurer John Zeilinski.
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