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Ex-Md. Theatre chief criticizes board

December 27, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- In a sarcastic, insult-laced e-mail this month, The Maryland Theatre's previous executive director blasted the board of directors' stewardship.

Brian Sullivan, who was executive director for two years, accused board members of neglecting their fundraising duties and failing to understand how to make the theater succeed, as well as other specific and broad accusations.

Sullivan widely distributed the e-mail to board members and others in the community starting Dec. 7, when The Herald-Mail published a story about the theater's search for a permanent executive director. In a subsequent interview, Sullivan said he wants people to know the truth about the theater's inner workings and finance.

Board members declined to attack back.

"I have no comment," said board member Ron Bowers, the outgoing president and a main target of Sullivan's attacks. "I don't think the e-mail dignifies a response."

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"It was in poor taste," said Scott Draper, the board's secretary and treasurer for the coming year.

Sullivan's e-mail provides an unflattering characterization of Bowers, revealing a different rapport from when Sullivan became executive director in 2006.

In a 2007 Herald-Mail story, Bowers said of Sullivan, "One of the reasons we're excited about the theater is the executive director. He has a wealth of knowledge of the arts. He understands the lingo; he understands the stage."

Sullivan's sudden departure from his job in March was left unexplained by the board. At the time, Bowers would only say he was "not surprised."

However, in his recent e-mail and during an interview, Sullivan said he unexpectedly was ordered by the board to resign. He said he was given an order to stay away from the property for at least six months and police officers were there as he left.

Amid the sarcasm and profanity in his e-mail, Sullivan challenged the board on more substantive grounds, too.

He alleged that the board put $100,000 in the budget in early 2007 as fundraising revenue, then didn't try to raise the money.

He accused the board of wastefulness in paying for 100 percent of employees' medical coverage and retirement contributions.

He stood up for his programming, saying he put on shows that were of good quality, but not necessarily good draws.

In an interview, Sam Young, the incoming board president, said he didn't want to talk about Sullivan's e-mail, but agreed to address a few of its points.

About the allegation that $100,000 was put in the budget as revenue, but not realized in fundraising, Young, speaking in general terms, said the board creates a budget it thinks will work, but might adjust it later.

He said the theater has done fundraising in the past and expects to announce new efforts soon, including, for the first time, a significant capital campaign.

About the theater's level of medical and retirement coverage, Young said it's a matter for the board's personnel policy committee.

"That's being reviewed as we speak," he said earlier this month.

Asked if Sullivan was correct about the 100 percent coverage, Young said he didn't know and would check.

Jenni Hatcher, who joined the theater in September 2007 as director of development and marketing, has served as interim executive director since Sullivan left in March.

Board members said this month that they will start looking for a permanent executive director on Jan. 1.

For the next executive director, a main focus will be working on improvements for the 93-year-old theater.

It has been estimated that a new sound system would cost $150,000 to $250,000. Proceeds from a Friday evening concert series set up in the summer were to be designated for the sound system.

Mike Harsh, who was the theater's executive director for about four years, until 1983, said a skilled sound operator, such as the one who worked with him, is at least as important as any high-priced equipment.

"The theater is acoustically fantastic," he said.

The theater was approved for a $125,000 state bond bill during the 2008 Maryland General Assembly session. In January, Bowers said the money would pay for a variety of indoor and outdoor renovation projects.

However, it's uncertain if the theater will be able to claim the money. It would have to match the grant money by raising $125,000 on its own, Young said.

"We need to address that," he said.

One problem with the building emerged Dec. 10, when a ceiling tile fell on a woman holding her 21-month-old son in the lobby.

Greg Maciulla, whose family was at the theater for a Leadership Washington County event, said a water-soaked tile swung down and hit his pregnant wife, Heidi, in the chest. She was surprised, but not injured, he said.

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