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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CARNAC

I am tired of officials in the public domain hiding behind “privacy laws” regarding personnel matters when refusing to discuss why individuals in leadership or management positions of public institutions are dismissed whether it be a Symphony music director and conductor or a Police Chief.


The citizens who support these institutions whether it be through contributions and patronage or taxes have a right to know the facts.


SLO_Johnny

They aren’t hiding behind privacy laws, they’re following them. They can face lawsuits if they violate California law. If you don’t like those laws, talk to your legislator.


Kevin Rice

What? Talk to those idiots? Fat chance.


obispan

What needs to change is that they can hide behind personnel privacy laws even when the employee waives the right to privacy. If the cops want to search my house I can either make them get a warrant or I can invite them in to have a look around. Mr. Nowak is inviting you to have a look around.


Integrity

For everyone that thinks this is about money, think again. The executive director told the couple making the donation that the donation would not be tax deductible unless it went to the general fund instead of to the music camps. When an executive director “persuades” donors with deceit you can rest assured there will be fireworks. We’ve seen the lack of respect and integrity displayed by the board and executive director with how they handled the dismissal and press release. Are these the people you want running (ruining) a community asset such as the symphony. I’m personally shocked they thought they could issue a false press release hoping this would all go away. It shows how out of touch they are with the community. Everyone that let this situation fester should resign and let a new board sort it out with the best interests of the community in mind.


panflash

So, folks, the poster identified as Integrity tells us “For everyone that thinks this is about money, think again. The executive director told the couple making the donation that the donation would not be tax deductible unless it went to the general fund instead of to the music camps.”


Well, OK, Integrity- what do you think that the elderly couple were planning to donate- used tubas?


smile4thecamera

Could it be that Mr. Nowak was trying to tell the new director how to do his job and his comments weren’t welcomed? Yes, I think so. Personally I feel sorry for Mr. Feingold. I’m sure he had no idea what he was getting into when he took the job here.


Jorge Estrada

Money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money and Fiengold sez not enough and has plotted for more? This sounds more like a personal chant, not the level of integrity that should have anything to do with a symphony. I do not know these two guys but Nowak has what is needed in leadership. The Executive Director should be fired and let him find his gold somewhere else. There should be zero tolerance to this retalitory behaviour. This isn’t Hollywood, it is a Non-Profit in San Luis Obispo.


Robert1

Well, This ended on a sour note!


LameCommenter

Being utterly unaware of specific personalities and situations in this matter, it’s still an easy one to make a lame comment on.


Boards and executive directors, commissioners and so forth, often are petulant, arrogant, inflated head types who don’t realize they are there to SERVE and SUPPORT others, particularly in matters of the arts, public service, and non profits. I was guilty of arrogance when I got my first commission appointment way too young, half the age of the others. I thankfully soon grew up to understand I was a jerk, and my duty was to keep order, keep the lights on so to speak, do the paperwork and dishes so the true heroes of the thing (be it musicians, conductors, municipal employees, etc.) could do a GREAT job. Empower them and enable the true heroes, that’s what a good public or board servant does.


Having endured bull-headed idiots on boards/commissions for decades, and having briefly BEEN said inflated-moron type, I take the conductor’s side on this one. There is nothing wrong with a conductor involving himself in fund raising and schmoozing donors. Beg him back, and wash out those that would terminate his dedication.


Cindy

“Boards and executive directors, commissioners and so forth, often are petulant, arrogant, inflated head types who don’t realize they are there to SERVE and SUPPORT others, particularly in matters of the arts, public service, and non profits.”


Well said and at this point, the elderly couple could withdraw their pledge if they haven’t already issued the funds and the violinist section did make demands and threaten to resign if Nowak was reinstated. So I would say there is some leverage here and I hope they use it. Let the board eat crow.


Cindy

Correction

“the violinist section did make demands and threaten to resign if Nowak WASN’T reinstated”


3 putt

Viola–there is a difference.


Cindy

Thank You


pandayho

I thought Novak was an independent contractor? If that’s the case then how can they say it’s a confidential employee thing?


SLO_Johnny

Employment contract frequently contain limits on disclosures and privacy protections. There are also statutes in the California civil code that can apply as well as general laws concerning potential disparagement and libel/slander.


Stunned

Termination reasons which MAY fly in Hollyweird but, not in SLO: 1) Exchange in heated arguments with the boss. Ain’t gonna fly. It may not say that’s why you got canned because of fancy laws but, rest assured if you grieve the one who signs your check you’ll be out on your butt. 2) Perform duties outside the scope of your assigned work (conductor with his fingers in the money). The boss has few duties that make him/her look important. Avoid doing those duties BETTER or you’ll be fired. 3) Allow your spouse to act like she’s part of “the team” (i.e. “We ARE the president). In a general sense dividing to conquer only gets that terminate clock ticking even faster!


Ok sports fans, out of energy on this. TGIF and have fun here today!!


panflash

Ah, yes- money. Of course- it was all about money. Why doesn’t this surprise me?