Friday, January 15, 2010

Grandin Board Must Take Charge in Dispute

Executive Director Kathy Chittum (right)>

I have been talking to people almost all day about the firing of Jason Garnett, former GM of the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke, and if I have come to any conclusion, it is that this is not an employee issue. It is about who's running the Grandin Theatre and who will run it in the future.

The board of directors of the Grandin Theatre Foundation, of which I was an early member, appears to have abdicated its responsibility and given pretty much free reign to Executive Director Kathy Chittum. The firing of Jason by Kathy is the equivalent of a CEO firing a CFO and that simply isn't done without the consent of the board of directors of whatever company is involved. At the very least, it would require executive committee approval.

Kathy apparently called this a "personnel matter" before the board and frustrated some of the newer members by refusing to discuss it further. That's where the board abdicated. It is either in charge--as it should be--or it is not and if it isn't, it has no purpose. At the point of Kathy's ludicrous statement, this ceased to be a personnel matter and became a matter of proper control.

It is a fairly common practice for executive directors--especially of non-profits--to gather influence over years as board members come and go and as institutional memory depleats. My guess is that's what has happened here. I have a list of members of the board and there's only one who served when I did--and he's coming back on the board after being off for a while.

Kathy is a strong personality who believes in her ability to run the theater. Jason is a thoroughly competent, knowledgeable and equally strong personality and it is not surprising that the two of them might have had clashes. It is not surprising that--in the tight financial atmosphere that surrounds them--there might be some harsh words.

Still, this should be a board issue. It is a difference that needs to be worked out to the benefit of the theater. The idea is to run a good theater and to keep it open and productive. I see the current clash as a serious threat to the Grandin's future. The margins are so slim there that if there is a loss of even a small percentage of supporters, the theater could be threatened with closing.

To that end, a solution must be found and it must be found by the board. I believe consultation with former board members, a thorough review of rules and by-laws and listening to the community are essential here. A sober, thoughtful review of this situation and the board's role in the future of the theater is absolutely essential if this is to be resolved in the theater's favor. And my thought is that the theater is far more important than the two players or the board. It is a community asset and the community must be involved.


  1. Right on, Dan. Thank you for posting this. I hope the board takes action as you suggest.

  2. People were so upset that when I came home, there were people organizing to go protest @ the Grandin. I'd say the issue needs more attention.