From Minneapolis, Minnesota, the flash – apparently official – Michael Henson’s sanity died at 5pm Central Standard Time yesterday.
*takes off glasses in a dignified Cronkite-ian manner*
Yeah, the MOA suddenly decided to withdraw from financial and organizational analysis yesterday afternoon because, after months of discussion, the board couldn’t stomach the proposed terms. From this MPR article…
Orchestra President Michael Henson says the orchestra board decided to move forward on its own when the musicians insisted the scope of the analysis extend beyond simple finances.
“And unfortunately we began to see those parameters expand to include an examination of our artistic decision-making process and the quality and effectiveness of the board,” Henson said this afternoon. The board decided to move on with an analysis on narrower terms.
However musicians say management has stepped out of line. They say management and musicians had agreed to a framework for the study. Then the players say management wanted the following language inserted in the agreement. “It is understood that this financial analysis/review is not intended nor will it encompass subjective matters such as the artistic quality of the music director or the musicians, the comparative quality of other orchestras, programming decisions, performance of management or staff, or board quality/competency.”
The musicians objected to this language, and said so.
Tim Zavadil, chair of the Musicians Negotiating committee says the examining the artistic decisions, board performance and making the comparisons with other orchestras is what makes this an analysis as opposed to an audit.
He says the musicians were under the impression they were still talking about how to do the analysis and he was flabbergasted to hear management has decided to go ahead on its own instead of together with the musicians.
“That would be the best way to go, to do it jointly,” Zavadil said this afternoon. “I am sure if we did one they would say well that’s just one that the musicians did on their own. I don’t know what our response will be if they release this information.”
Okay, so here’s what I don’t get, and why I’m making the call that Mr. Henson’s sanity is dead. If management can’t agree with the musicians on terms for analysis, then why not pull out of analysis altogether? What’s the point of a unilateral analysis? Unilateral analysis won’t placate musicians. It won’t placate lawmakers. It won’t placate the public. It won’t placate board members. If anything, I’d think it might piss the board off, because they were told for months that an analysis was unnecessary: a “frolic and detour,” in the immortal words of Doug Kelley. So how are they justifying it now? The only reason I can think of is that Mr. Henson wants another wedge to insert between the board and the musicians (“look, ladies and gentlemen of the board, we did an audit and a financial analysis, and they still won’t work with us!”). But there’s such a thing as the law of diminishing returns, and there already are dozens of wedge issues. Would one more really be worth all the money they’re sinking into the analysis? Especially since the state is conducting its own audit, too? And let’s be blunt: how much further can the relationship between the board and the musicians deteriorate? What would be the use of using this issue as a wedge? – unless there are rumbles of rebellion happening behind the scenes, and some board members are pushing for the MOA to do their own analysis? But that’s a stretch. I’m racking my brains and I honestly have no explanation for what is going on here. So help me out here, clever readers: what purpose could a unilateral analysis, as opposed to a withdrawal from analysis, serve Mr. Henson? I sincerely hope I’m suffering from an acute lack of imagination, and that there’s a sensible explanation somewhere.
I think we should visit the SOTL Archives (TM) and see what the MOA has said about financial analysis in the past. Just for fun.
In response to the Union’s call for an independent audit of the Minnesota Orchestra’s finances, the MOA Negotiating Committee declined the request, citing unnecessary delay and duplication of efforts as the Orchestral Association undertakes an annual independent audit and shares its audited results publicly each December. – MOA press release, 25 September 2012
It’s as transparent as you can be, and we have done that every year, and those numbers are public. The musicians have them. If they want to do a forward-thinking analysis, the first place they’d go would be to a certified financial statement or tax returns. Those are sort of the gold standard documents in financial analysis… We have opened our books up totally. We don’t need to take another frolic and detour into something that won’t help any. – Doug Kelley, 30 November 2012
Our volunteer Board members will continue to do everything possible to remove any barrier the musicians say is standing in the way of them making a serious counterproposal that helps to address our Orchestra’s $6 million operating deficit… The Board has been eager to move forward with a joint independent financial review since we agreed to this course in January… We aim to come to a common understanding with the musicians over the significant financial challenges facing the Minnesota Orchestra, so that we can negotiate a sustainable settlement that protects the Minnesota Orchestra for the future. We hope to do this as expediently as possible in order to prevent further concert cancellations. – Minnesota Orchestral Association email blast, 1 April 2013
Well that’s awkward.
Another question: why not allow for a review that analyzes board competency or artistry of musicians or staff performance? Why are such things off-limits? It’s almost as if Mr. Henson is terrified that if anyone came in from outside the MOA bubble, he or his methods might be judged……….?
And here’s another weird thing: the musicians have been saying since November that they wanted a review that encompassed these “subjective” things. Unless he is very slow, there’s absolutely no way that Mr. Henson should have been surprised at “parameters” expanding to include “subjective” matters. These are the musicians’ words from November:
The audits that the MOA refers to are based exclusively upon the historical financial statements provided by the Association to the auditor. These reports cover statements of changes in net assets, operating activities and cash flows. In other words, an audit focuses solely on limited areas of past performance.
Audits do not cover an institution’s viability, stability, business plan, strategic plan, the quality of its management, comparative performance, or present and future prospects. A joint, independent financial analysis would review all of these things, and would assess current and future trends, opportunities and risks.
I’m not sure how much clearer you could get than this. If after reading that, Mr. Henson didn’t know that was what the musicians wanted, well… I don’t really know what to say about that. The incompetency speaks for itself.
I also think it’s worth mentioning one more thing… Six days before this announcement was made, Michael Henson was interviewed for MinnPost, where he said, “We hope very much that we can announce successfully the financial analysis this week.” As I wrote on Facebook, either he had a good idea the withdrawal was coming and chose to mislead MinnPost – or he withdrew from four months of discussion on a flighty whim – or he’s unquestioningly doing (or being forced to do) the bidding of someone else. Not sure which one of those ideas I loath the most.