Send message to symphony board that continues to ignore its patrons

February 5, 2011 

What happened to the patrons' petition to the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra board calling for the extension of Mary Woodmansee Green's appointment as music director and conductor?

What was the board's response? What are you going to do about it?

We hear these questions from many of the 600 people who signed the petition, from other donors, subscribers and supporters of the orchestra and from interested members of the Hilton Head Island community. This is our answer to these questions:

We presented the results of the petition drive and our statement of the reasons supporting the petition to the members of the board in our open letter of Nov. 12. It was later printed, with the board's response, in The Island Packet on Dec. 6. We have met frequently with members of the board both before and since the publication of our open letter.

The board's response has consistently been that the decision not to continue Green's appointment is final, and that the board has no intention of changing its position. The board has refused to explain why Green's appointment was terminated, or to disclose the source and extent of its present financial problems. Based on our inquiries, we have concluded that:

  • Green was not terminated for professional or financial reasons. The board has never revealed the exact reasons for their actions other than "change."

  • The board's decisions in 2006-07 to expand its non-musical paid staff and to move its offices to a new, larger and more expensive office space have contributed substantially to the recent annual losses. The board has not developed additional revenue to cover these additional costs. This is clearly the responsibility -- and the failure -- of the board, not the music director.

  • The board has consistently kept its decisions, plans and financial information secret from its donors, subscribers and other interested parties. Indeed, the board went so far as to amend its own bylaws in April to impose a stringent secrecy requirement on all its members. One purpose of this was to prevent Green from discussing her own employment situation with her friends not on the board and with supporters, an effort which succeeded for the crucial six-month period following the amendment. This practice of secrecy is wholly inappropriate and unacceptable in a nonprofit organization supported by the public.

    As the Dec. 11 Packet editorial stated, "The board should lay out in detail the current finances of the orchestra, not just hint at them, and they should spell out what specific programming changes they have in mind and how this would help improve the orchestra's bottom line."

    The board clearly intends to continue its present course despite the strongly held views to the contrary of a great many people in its donor, subscriber and supporter base. Because of this, many of those who signed our petition, including members of this committee, have announced their intentions to withhold donations, subscriptions and volunteer services for the orchestra during this year, and some are considering removing the orchestra from their legacies.

    This committee will not encourage or discourage people from donating, subscribing or volunteering for the orchestra. That is each individual's choice.

    Those of us who will withhold donations and subscriptions to the orchestra this year do not for a moment believe that by doing so we will bring about the demise of the orchestra. If the revenue shortfall from such withholding is substantial, either the board will change its position, or its members will end their tenure and be replaced by some of the many highly capable people on Hilton Head who are devoted to the orchestra. If the revenue shortfall is insubstantial, the board will be confirmed in its policy of ignoring a major part of its donor, subscriber and supporter base. Some may disagree with our committee's position. But to donors, subscribers and supporters of the orchestra, we say: It is now your choice.

    The Save Our Orchestra Coordinating Committee: Jerry Voight, Thomas Tucker, Ellen Taylor, Mieke Smit, David Nelson, George Gorski-Popiel, Kenneth Anderson and Patrick Amer.

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