Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Grandin Board's Decision Not Unexpected

UPDATE: 11:30 A.M.

Members of the Grandin Theatre Foundation board of directors met late yesterday afternoon and came to some conclusions in the firing of Jason Garnett.

Here's the official statement from the board:

"The executive committee ... [has] reviewed the situation and [is] in support of the decision to terminate Jason Garnett's employment with [the] Grandin Theatre. However, in addition, we are also in the process of reviewing our human resources policies and procedures. We will be workng with Jason to ensure that he is treated fairly and that any concerns he has (equipment pay, ec) are resolved fairly both in the eyes of the board's executive committee and Jason's."

Here's what else I know:
  • Kathy Chittum will remain as executive director.
  • Jason will not be re-hired.
  • Jason's contributions and some of his initiaives will be reviewed and where appropriate, retained (there is some special concern about the community filmmaker series and the midnight movies, apparently).
  • Chris Banta, a CPA with Brown Edwards & Company in Roanoke, is the new president of the board. His e-mail address is banta.gtf@gmail.com. Please do not use the e-mail that was circulated earlier, since it is his work e-mail.
  • I got a call yesterday from a representative of the man who owns Vinegar Hill Theatre in Charlottesville (and other theaters, all independents similar to the Grandin), expressing interest in perhaps purchasing the Grandin. The representative wanted to know how to reach members of the board. I was driving at the time and did not have contact information with me, so I am waiting for a callback in order to pass that along.
Board members were deluged with intelligent, well-reasoned, well-written proposals (the best I read was by Erin Womack, a former assistant curator at the Taubman Museum of Art, who worked with both Kathy and Jason on a project and has some special insight). The problem in all this is that governing rules for boards of directors are strict and leave little room to maneuver. From what I can tell, Jason had considerable sympathy from board members (and a faction backed Kathy solidly, as well). I did not get the feeling that there was great enthusiasm for the outcome.

Banta says he will release a statement later (probably today) after the board has approved it and that the statement should provide a bit more explanation of what's next than we know. I hope, and have urged, that the board meet with representatives of the angered faction and will at the very least listen to concerns, express respect for those views and agree to continue discussions when there are issues.

I talked to Jason on the street yesterday and while I promised I would not make the details of our conversation public, I will say that he retains the Zen-like quality we have all come to know and respect from him. He will be fine. Frankly, I expect that eventually he will be even better off because he has so much creativity, energy and talent that has not been used at the Grandin. Remember what Pat Wilhelms did when she was fired by Mill Mountain Theatre and use that as guide in projecting for Jason. He ceases to be bound by a single gig now.

The Grandin remains a community treasure and a community resource, regardless of what bylaws or any other kinds of laws suggest. This is not about legality; it is about inclusiveness and continued support of an institution that many of us have supported with time, money and enthusiasm and hope to continue to support with all three. It is a matter of getting good answers to difficult questions and feeling that supporters have a say in the future.


  1. Hi Dan! Thank you so much for the update. It doesn't sound like any of the developments listed are new. Unless they decided to give Jason more than 2 weeks severance, this sounds like the minimum required, under the law. I'm hoping more details will emerge when a statement is released. The Grandin is lucky they have Jason's ideas to continue to use. However, I think they will find it difficult to implement another person's vision. Without that passion behind it, it cannot succeed. I wish the very best for The Grandin. I hope it thrives. We shall see.

  2. Actually, I suppose they wouldn't have to give him any severance. I still can't help but feel unsettled by it all.

  3. Thanks once again, Dan, for telling us what happened and why it matters.

    I wasn't surprised to read that Chirs Banta is a CPA. It's clear, at least, that he's neither in public relations or mediation. Simply releasing a respectful statement that thanked Jason for his many years of service and dedication to the Grandin and wishing him well as he and the theatre part ways, probably would have allowed Jason's supporters, who are all truly Grandin supporters, to move on with the same Zen grace that Jason has demonstrated. As it was, the statement left me feeling even more frosty toward the Grandin Theatre Foundation.

    I'm curious if the board members finally learned the reason's behind Jason's termination or if they left it up to Mrs. Chittum's discretion.

    I have made a suggestion to a member of the board that might make the Grandin Theatre Foundation seem like they are at least somewhat interested in hearing the community's concerns and thoughts for the theater that essentially belongs to them: Publish a list of the board members and their contact information on the Grandin's Web site, a measure that seems pretty standard for nonprofits.

    I also hope they keep a more watchful eye over the day to day management of the theater during this time of transition to keep gaffes in day to day management (like publishing the wrong movie times on the theater's Web site, which happened this week) from chasing away all the theater's remaining customers.

    Beth Jones