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Getty slashes operating budget after severe investment losses

March 16, 2009|Mike Boehm

The human factor in this unhappy numbers game is apparent at www.silencedogetty.blogspot.com, where nervous and sometimes angry Getty staffers have been venting anonymously since Feb. 21. "The frustration and fear was palpable" after a round of layoffs last spring, the blog's pseudonymous founder wrote then, and had intensified since December, when Wood issued his memo that further cuts were coming. Wood said Friday that the layoff of 47 workers then, plus the elimination of 77 vacant positions, wasn't done to save money but to "reallocate" resources after a yearlong examination of the trust's priorities.

Staffing now stands at 1,395 full-time and 101 part-time positions.

Wood said he empathized with the anxieties evident on the blog. "I'm anxious myself, to some degree, although we're on the right path, hard as it is." He said he was bothered by the blog's "innuendo that people don't dare ask questions or they would suffer for that. That is not the operation we run."

The blog has suggested alternatives to layoffs, including asking the 11 volunteer trustees to contribute money and cutting the pay of top executives.

Wood, at $1.11 million, and Williams, at $1.28 million, were last year's top earners, with seven others making from $397,000 to $906,000, according to documents posted on the Getty website in keeping with the trust's policy, adopted in the wake of a mid-decade scandal over improper spending, of being unusually open and detailed about its finances.

"Everything is on the table," Wood said of the blog's calls for lower executive salaries and a toll on board membership, but he added that the Getty's problem was too big to be solved by such "piecemeal" measures.

A respected art historian and museum director, Wood ran the Art Institute of Chicago from 1980 to 2004.

The Getty lured him out of retirement two years ago to bring a steadying hand to an institution that had been racked by back-to-back scandals.

In 2004 and 2005, morale sank as allegations surfaced about financial impropriety and cronyism under then-president Barry Munitz. Munitz was ousted early in 2006, and his departure was followed by extensive turnover on a board that had been widely seen as unresponsive and out of touch.

It wasn't until September 2007 that the Getty emerged from the second scandal -- its past acquisitions of looted antiquities -- by returning 40 objects to Italy.

In a prosecution that has moved forward at a sluggish pace, Marion True, the museum's former antiquities curator, remains charged by the Italian government with conspiring to acquire looted items.

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mike.boehm @latimes.com

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