In June of this year, I started my dream job: working for a community theater venue that would make good use of my training, experience, and passions. Though a third of the size of a previous venue I’d managed events for, I was thrilled to bring a local resource back after going quiet during the pandemic. Just over two months later, with no prior reprimands, write-ups, or disciplinary action, the Executive Director confronted me.
“Do you think you’ll be able to submit to my leadership? I am the boss, and I am not going anywhere.”
I said I would. I had endured sexist treatment from her in meetings, been given a vast lack of direction and support on how to do my job, and my ethics complaint to the board had been dismissed. But I wanted to make this work. I already saw the proper care this community asset needed, and I was committed.
A week later, I was fired anyway from my position as the Director of Wealthy Theatre. The Executive Director of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center (CMC) gave me the “opportunity” to falsify a resignation and sign NDA terms, in what they were calling a “confidential separation agreement” (pictured at bottom), in exchange for a single month’s pay. Valuing the truth and unsettled by the unethical behavior in both the ED’s actions towards me and the Board’s inactions towards us both, I turned down that offer.
I would soon find out I was just another in a long line of former employees, board members, and community supporters that have had similar experiences.
Many have tried in vain to get board members, supporting foundations, and municipal leaders to do something, anything, about their concerns over leadership as the CMC — previously a beloved champion of free speech and community voice — was weakened. Our stories all tell a broken record of repeated mistreatment of staff, financial indiscretion, loss of institutional talent, and an inability to both retain funding support and create programming with community benefit and community voice as its focus and purpose.
This is a call for accountability. But it’s not just a call for accountability at the CMC, of course. It is also a call for a restructuring of how we hold nonprofit leadership accountable in their trusted institutions. Because without true accountability, what is that trust built on?
I will not be silent about my concerns about the illegal, inappropriate, and abusive leadership at the CMC. I know that others have tried every procedural avenue behind closed doors to bring accountability, and they have been dismissed every time. Bringing our concerns to the public, I hope, will require action.
If not, it is the Wealthy Theatre, The Rapidian, GRTV, and WYCE that will suffer. And if these platforms that were built as accessible resources for all voices in our community suffer, it is the community that suffers. It is democracy that suffers. It is free speech that suffers.