Wednesday, March 18, 2009

White-washed

Sometimes there is a right person for a job, even if it’s for the wrong reasons. For example, Marcia White was the right person to head the Saratoga Performing Arts Center four years ago, even if it was for a fundamentally flawed reason: Her close connections to heavy-weight politician Joe Bruno.

At the time, the inexplicably mismanaged performing arts center was in financial disarray. The combined salaries of patronage king Herb Chesbrough and his wife Kathy were bilking nearly a half-million dollars from the public benefit corporation. So when Chesbrough finally departed, SPAC was drifting through dire fiscal straits, with the only possible rescue lying in the executive director’s ability to raise money for the nearly bankrupt venture.

Enter White, Bruno’s former press secretary, who had positively no experience running anything, much less a performing arts venue. Critics immediately jumped on White’s appointment, arguing her remarkable ascension from spokeswoman to executive director was yet another patronage dump, simply compounding the folly SPAC’s board committed when it basically handed Chesbrough an outlandish contract.

But SPAC’s powerbrokers quickly fired back, foisting White as someone connected in lucrative money circles and with the ability to harness some of that green to bring the performing arts center back in black. Lo and behold, they were right –or at least partially. Within her first year on the job, White managed to pull SPAC back to safe financial footing, something that was roundly lauded by her allies in a very ‘we told you so’ sort of way.

Well all this is ancient history now and SPAC seems to be drifting back into the same problems it had when White first took the job. Not surprisingly, that main problem is White’s bloated compensation for being what amounts to a social cheerleader who mails out fundraising announcements every other week.

Four years ago, members of SPAC’s Board of Trustees listed as “between $150,000 and $175,000” when White was first appointed. By the time she took over for Chesbrough, that figure was at $175,000. Come to find out today, her salary was a whopping $205,000, which pales in comparison to the more than $244,000 she made in 2006, as dutifully reported by the Daily Gazette Wednesday.

But wait. That’s not even the best part. SPAC doesn’t even know how much she made in 2007 or 2008. And they certainly weren’t prognosticating what she’ll make this year. So given the salary history and the fact that her salary increased by more than $25,000 before she even started the job, it’s not a far stretch to think she may be making close to what Chesbrough was earning before he was tarred and feathered in the news media for almost ending the annual New York City Ballet performance due to revenue losses.

The fact that White is even approached a quarter-million dollar salary after four years is even more astonishing considering it took Chesbrough –SPAC’s director from 1978 until 2005 –more than a decade to reach that mark. Also figuring into all this is the fact that no other comparable venue in the northeast pays their executive director as much as White. When confronted by all this, board chairman William Dake seemed to stammer a bit.

“We are an $8 million business,” he told the Gazette. “We interface with national organizations and it’s complicated. We have to deal with five different groups who we have to beat to death to get them to focus on the programming. And she started in a complex time. We didn’t have a lot of staff. She works her tail off.”

Beat to death? Works her tail off? Started in a complex time? One can almost imagine Dake stuttering with angst as he tries to come up with an applicable excuse for White becoming a millionaire at SPAC’s expense. What he’s really saying is things are back to normal at SPAC. Nothing has changed since the state released a scathing audit back in 2004. That’s really all there is to be gleaned from his stream of gibberish.

Worse yet is that Bruno, White’s main benefactor, is no longer in office. Nor does he seem in much of a position to throw around what little political clout he has remaining, thanks to a recent federal indictment. For the first time since she took office, White is alone in her endeavors at SPAC.

All this seems rather glower news considering the recession, one week being trimmed from the ballet this year and yet another Live Nation concert slate that doesn’t appear to be wowing the concert goers that do have money to dump on over-priced lawn seats. However, there is a simple solution to all of this: Dump Live Nation and let White earn her paycheck for a change.

Dake claims “[50] percent of the job is fundraising,” but doesn’t hint at what White does with the rest of her time at SPAC. Perhaps if she was working the phones and making connections, she could be hauling in concerts, soliciting vendors and running the operation so that SPAC gets a bit more than the paltry $1 million Live Nation offers them every year for throwing some of the worst concerts Saratoga Springs has seen over the past four decades or so.

Some argue Live Nation is the only way SPAC will ever book truly big-name acts. But the problem with this thinking is that SPAC must put on at least five stinkers to get just one big name. Even when the big names do come to perform, Live Nation is the one that makes off with the big payday, not SPAC. After all, they’re the ones that hit real pay-dirt with concession sales. Think the profit margin this company makes on just one 16-ounce Budweiser they sell for $8 in the industrial cattle pen some call a beer garden.

The best part about all this is that Live Nation’s contract expires this year and apparently they’re not all too keen on keeping the terms the way they are. So basically, it’s time to put White to the test. If she’s interested in getting paid like a major promoter, then it’s high time she start acting like one. SPAC is locked into this year’s program, but now is the time to start placing feelers for next season. And if she’s not up for the task, then perhaps it’s time for SPAC look for a new comprehensive director that will earn such a lofty paycheck. Either way, it’s time for the plug to be pulled on one of these experiments.

18 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charles Foster Kane says:

Well written piece. I am not surprised by any of this, it is always the people that do the least that get paid the most. Joke on the general public once again.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous The Joker To The Thief said...

Roll over , Rover! Let Jimmy take over!
A little bit of Spanish Castle Magic!
Lord Knows I'm A Voo Doo Chile!

5:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill Dake talking gibberish? What else is new?

3:34 AM  
Anonymous John Mayer was off the charts last year at SPAC said...

A picture says a thousand words! Tedisco is right there with who else? Vote for Murphy!

4:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

please give me a break - if it weren't for Tedisco Chesbrough would still be in office, the old corrupt Board of Directors would still be sitting around their big table with the feet up and the NYCB would have been long gone.

If you don't know what you are talking about - SHUT UP!

6:33 AM  
Anonymous Disco Jimmy 80's Fan Club said...

oh, so Tedisco saved SPAC now, huh?

Good one.

I'm not sure anyone saved SPAC--have you been there in the past few years? What a miserble experience it is.

9:04 AM  
Blogger paul said...

Anon 3:34 -

i would *LOVE* to hear of your intimate knowledge of Bill Dake's "gibberish".

SOMEbody never "got" the black book, i take it.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In these difficult economic times, it is important to take a fresh look at the non-profits in Saratoga, including SPAC.

It is time to merge and consolidate arts organizations - perhaps, SPAC, UPH and the Arts Center.

Or, merge SPAC with Proctors.

The heads of these organizations need to have salaries linked to both results, fundraising and performance! Smaller boards and more efficient administration.

Marcia White was Bruno's hand picked pick. And, in the same crew as Tedisco.

It is time to take a fresh look at SPAC's CEO and focus.

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul 4:09 pm:

Some people think Bill Dake is a really smart guy. Bill Dake is one of them. The problem is that nobody is as smart as Bill Dake thinks he is. He invariably fills every room he's in with hot air. If he listened to others once in awhile, if he talked with people instead of at them, he'd do a lot better. Nobody is right 100% of the time, but Dake thinks that rule doesn't apply to him.

Next time you hear him admit he made a mistake, post it on this blog, because it will be BIG NEWS.

1:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we hear rumors that spac maintains an apt. in nyc and pays for ms. white's bmw car? anybody know?

7:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear anon 6:06 -
while i appreciate your comments, please know that Tedisco and Bruno are most certainly not in that same crew.

Tedisco stood by the community 110% every step of the way. To project anything different is actually offensive to those of us who worked so hard to expel the former corruption.

Bruno was all-powerful and i also might add the larger they are the harder they fall. So, while Bruno actually did a great deal to help our communities, we all kind of paid a price for that. In other words, I am not crying the blues that his corruption has caught up with him.

8:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sonny says "stop blogging, and start buying." !!

Take heed.

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 3:44

Sonny Bonacio ?

Rumors are that the Dubia folks bought nine condos in Saratoga last week.

5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I say clawback her outrageously high salary and send her packing. The way SPAC has been "managed" and sold out to LiveNation is an utter travesty and shame. From what I have heard and seen myself, it seems SPAC has been in decline for some time.

It really has the potential to be a great venue for large live music acts. Admittedly, I don't have an acute understanding of running a performing arts venue, but lets hire someone who does!

Pay a young person 50-60k a year to manage the place. They will work their ass off and probably would be more in tune with the type of acts young people want to see AND be able to attract them.
I know that I would appreciate getting some better acts up here.

Also, please dump LiveNation. We don't need corporate overlords who suck money out of the local economy to rip us off at the beer stand. If we have to be ripped off while trying to get drunk, lets have the money go to SPAC and stay in the local economy!!!

Dr G

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charles Foster Kane says.....

On second thought, perhaps I should
vote for Tedisco so he can go to Washington and get eaten alive by much bigger sharks. Hmmmm. Yeah, now thats poetic justice. :)

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I beleive that Ms. White was hired to get the financial picture at SPAC turned around. Now that she has done that hopefully she will get rid of Live Nation next. As for SPAC paying for her BMW, I am pretty sure she had a BMW when she worked in Albany, may be the same car?

4:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a prediction:

Live Nation's contract will be renewed but at a MUCH LOWER AMOUNT!

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember folks, she's not Herb - that's worth a lot in my book.

10:00 AM  

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