Fundraising fight preceded firing of SLO symphony conductor

May 22, 2015

Michael Nowak 2Prior to his firing by the San Luis Obispo Symphony board, longtime music director and conductor, Michael Nowak, engaged in a heated argument over fundraising with the nonprofit’s executive director. [Tribune]

Last week, the board fired Nowak, and Executive Director Ed Feingold announced the decision in a press release that startled some members of the orchestra. Following the announcement of Nowak’s firing, the entire viola section threatened to leave the orchestra if the board did not reinstate Nowak.

Two members of the orchestra who asked to remain anonymous told the Tribune that Nowak and Feingold engaged in a heated argument on May 2, just before the symphony’s final concert of the season. The argument pertained to a dispute between the symphony conductor and executive director over an elderly couple’s pledge to donate money.

Nowak worked to get the elderly couple commit to donating $35,000 to the symphony’s summer string workshop, the orchestra member said. But, Feingold persuaded the couple to donate the money to the symphony itself, and at a rehearsal before the May 2 concert, Feingold said that he was seeking matching funds for $50,000 in donations.

Feingold’s announcement implied that he had raised all the money himself, the orchestra member said. Later, Nowak angrily confronted Feingold over the phone, after which the conductor told orchestra members that he feared his contract was in jeopardy.

The second orchestra source said an explosion occurred between Nowak and Feingold.

Board President India D’Avignon would not comment on the speculation over Nowak’s firing, citing privacy restrictions for personnel matters. D’Avignon did say the board is not considering reinstating Nowak, but it is anticipating legal action from the conductor.

Nowak said he and his wife are consulting an attorney. He says he has not been given a reason for his firing.

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The musicians have voted. They have said, * the current Board of Directors has broken our trust. Therefore, we can no longer work with them, and we proclaim our vote of NO CONFIDENCE.” Soloists for the upcoming winter season have contacted the symphony to cancel their performances. It is time for the board of directors to either reinstate Michael Nowak or to resign. The sooner the better.

I support the musicians and respect their decision 100%.

I’ve never met Mr. Nowak nor have I met any member of the board of directors. I don’t know any members of the orchestra and I’ve never seen them perform. So I really don’t have a dog in this fight other than this.

The board simply told Mr. Nowak that his services were no longer needed and that was that. Conversely, when SLO told its police chief that his services were no longer needed they gave him a whole bunch of money. When AG told its city manager that his services were no longer needed they gave him a whole bunch of money…twice. When Paso told its police chief that her services were no longer needed they gave her even more money.

What all this tells me is, I’d like whomever writes the employment contracts for the symphony to take over that job for our cities.

I honestly don’t know if it was time for Mr. Nowak to move on. What I do know is this:

Had the SLO Symphony’s board handled this termination in a thoroughly professional and upright manner there would have been a great deal less backlash from community members. The board didn’t and every time it publicly communicates on this matter, it compounds its original sophomoric, ham-fisted action.

Further, the tenor of the BODs public communiques also suggests that problems reside within that body. Problems serious enough to warrant attention from SLO Symphony supporters and benefactors.

I applaud CCN for sharing this story and I certainly hope Mr. Nowak the best-I love the idea of a new orchestra. Interesting stand in the tribune when they were so very critical of the way the SLO Symphony Board handled the situation – which I agree was fairly inept and secretive. The parallel that I want to draw is the reaction the Tribune took when this very, very similar incident occurred in Morro Bay with their city attorney and city manager. Remember the stance the Tribune took at that point – full defense of irons, smuckler and christine johsnon for their actions, even though there was little if any transparency and significant support for those city staff from the -as I recall 200+ supporters at a meeting called within 24 hours. Hmm, as an editor, does the tribune really feel there should be transparency or do they pick and choose when transparency should be applied, I believe the later.

Sounds like a typical nonprofit fight where one diligent member raises funds (Nowak) for a specific cause and then another (jealous) board member/members (Feingold) literally attacks the orignal fund raiser trying to steal even a little bit of credit for raising it and, in this case, the entire amount of money. Feingold’s actions are typically done under the guise of “being for the sake of the entire organization” when in fact it is really “to make me look better and justify my job.” It’s also an admission that he can’t ever allow someone else’s success since he feels that it would be admitting his own failure since he is so starved for recognition. And then his ultimate move-fire the poor guy who raised the funds to begin with because “he is not a team player.”

Sounds like since Feingold can’t park his ego at the door when he takes a job like this and puts himself as more important that the organization, the public should beware that this guy lacks ethics and to not contribute to the organization as long as he is in charge. Or simply can him.

There is an additional agenda here on the part of Feingold in my opinion. Nowak arranged for the funds to be donated to the summer string workshop. Feingold then lied to arrange having the funds donated to the “General Fund”, thus allowing Feingold to utilize and direct the funds as he desired rather than be limited to earmarking them only for the intended use.

Set up a match in the octogan between these 2 while the symphony plays the William tell overture. I’d pay to see it, and maybe they could raise enough money so they could stop bilking old ladies out of their savings.