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OCPAC has lost four managers

A former fundraiser says the new president alienated the staff, which Dwyer denies.

February 07, 2007|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

Four high-ranking managers at the Orange County Performing Arts Center have left or retired since the opening of the center's new concert hall in September, and turnover has been especially high on the fundraising staff at a pivotal time for the expansion's success under a new president, Terrence Dwyer.

Faced with feeding an increased appetite for donations, Dwyer is coming under criticism from Michael L. Halpern, who was second in command for fundraising from 1999 until Sept. 30. Halpern described Dwyer as an uncommunicative leader who "came in and broke something that wasn't broke."

Operations Vice President Kerry Madden, Development Vice President J. Terry Jones and Robert Foreman, technical director and head carpenter, have left since late October. Jones said he is consulting part time through March.

Halpern said that morale sagged after Dwyer's arrival last April. He characterized him as an inaccessible leader who discontinued customary weekly meetings with department heads. As a result, "the senior staff wasn't getting any information at all. No one knew anything about where the organization was going, and where they individually were going."

Dwyer denied that he is aloof or engaged in housecleaning to replace longtime employees. "Open and transparent communication ... is the existing and future work culture at the center," he said, and "we've had the same amount and in many cases more staff meetings ... than ever before."

Dwyer and Roger Kirwan, co-chairman of the campaign to complete funding for the $237.5-million Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, downplayed the departures as natural in an organization going through changes.

"It's unfortunate. We're not happy about it, but there's nothing that causes us to think it's a problem," Kirwan said. "It's no reflection" on Dwyer.

Halpern's public criticism, in response to The Times contacting him, is rare in the typically diplomatic and discreet world of fundraising and nonprofit arts management. Halpern, who earned $180,000 in 2005, according to center tax filings, said he left voluntarily for a "wonderful" new job as president and chief executive of Heritage Pointe, an assisted living community in Mission Viejo. But he said he began looking partly because Dwyer made it clear he would not receive a promotion he'd been promised by the previous president, Jerry E. Mandel.

Halpern insisted his criticism of Dwyer is "not sour grapes. I'm a guy who really cares about the center, and I just don't know what the future is."

In addition to more than $10 million a year for operations, the Costa Mesa center needs to raise $75 million to finance construction debt on the concert hall. Officials say they need to fund the debt within two years to avoid deficits or programming cuts., Among those who have left are the fundraisers in charge of special events and donations received through trusts and wills.

Dwyer would not say whether anyone was fired or pressured to leave. He said the development department is now "almost completely staffed," with Halpern's and the special events director's jobs filled from within. He said a recent outside hire, Susan Hoover, a longtime Orange County fundraiser, is "driving the capital campaign forward" while the center seeks a new vice president of development.

Kirwan said a change in management styles from the gregarious Mandel to the reserved Dwyer, who was managing director at the La Jolla Playhouse and Houston's Alley Theatre, could be a factor in the departures. "Some people react well to one style and not to the other. It's human nature, and goes on in every business on a regular basis."

Madden, the operations chief who also oversaw concert hall construction, left in October after 17 years to become vice president of concert halls and operations at New York's Lincoln Center -- a job he said was "the opportunity of a lifetime." His replacement is Ellery Brown, who worked under Dwyer in La Jolla.

Foreman, the technical director who had been at the center since its 1986 opening, could not be reached, and the reason for his departure within the last few weeks was unclear. He was one of its highest-paid employees, at $200,000 in 2005.

Jones, leader of the fundraising staff since 1997, earned $226,500 in 2005. He said his mid-January retirement was long-planned, adding that other departures appear to be "more a coincidence of timing" than a case of Dwyer alienating or overhauling the staff.

Mandel, the center president from 1997 to 2005, said the departed staffers are "wonderful folks who gave me their life. There were no eight-to-fivers there." Mandel, who is still a board member, said high turnover doesn't necessarily signal management problems, "but are they going to replace them with people of that caliber? That's what donors, the board, what we all should be asking."

mike.boehm@latimes.com

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