WHEN BARRY MUNITZ abruptly resigned on Thursday as head of the J. Paul Getty Trust, he said he hoped the breakup would let him and the nation's richest art institution "move forward." He got that half right. The change is critical to the Getty's progress, but Munitz himself was already moving freely and comfortably (if not forward) during his eight years as president and CEO of the Getty -- jetting to and fro in the first-class cabin, on the deck of a rented yacht or behind the wheel of his company car, a Porsche SUV. The Getty board vigorously defended Munitz last year, but his lavish pay, perks and expenses drew an investigation by the California attorney general and rebukes from the chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee.
The terms of Munitz's resignation -- the third in a series of notable departures, following embattled antiquities head Marion True and board member Barbara Fleischman -- suggest that the trustees may be getting serious about rebuilding the institute's reputation. Munitz not only won't collect at least $1.2 million in severance benefits that his contract promised, he'll pay the Getty about $250,000 to cover any lingering disputes. That's not a golden parachute, it's a kick out the door.
But ridding the Getty of Munitz is really just the start for the board. The trustees still must resolve accusations from foreign authorities about looted antiquities. They have to find a president who can restore the institution's integrity and morale while cultivating innovative leadership throughout the Getty, rather than accreting power and weeding out perceived enemies. And they must bring executive pay and perks back into line with the amounts paid by most nonprofit institutions.
The cloud of scandal hasn't dimmed the Getty's popularity. Reservations for the Getty Villa in Malibu, which reopened last month after a nine-year, $275-million renovation, are booked through July.
Instead, its effect has been on the Getty's image and, to some degree, on that of other museums and foundations across the country. Disclosures about Munitz's extravagant perks could have led the public to believe that charitable donations and subsidies are routinely used to pamper executives. That's one of the reasons the board's initial defense of Munitz last year was so troubling; in many ways, more than just the Getty's reputation was at stake. The Washington-based Council on Foundations, an association for philanthropies, placed the Getty on probation late last year in part to show that the institute's practices were atypical.
The trustees' support for Munitz ultimately evaporated in the face of a review by a law firm the board hired in October to address the attorney general's probe, the antiquities disputes and other controversies. The lawyers can help the institution get past those issues, allowing new museum director Michael Brand to focus on collecting and displaying art. It's the board's responsibility, however, to restore the public's faith that the Getty is using its vast resources for the \o7public \f7good.