Mobile Ballet’s board president has issued a statement of resolve to fight recent allegations she called “false and reckless.”
Sandra Parker, M.D., answered a lawsuit filed Jan. 27 by one former and two current board members naming 10 directors and Karen Kennedy, the managing director/development director, as agents of “misconduct, breach of fiduciary duty and self-dealing.”
“It is full of untrue, mean-spirited and wholly unwarranted statements. We plan to do the only thing you can do with such nonsense, to contest it,” Parker wrote.
The one-page letter begins “Dear Mobile Ballet community” and is dated Feb. 18, 2017.
“I think this was sent to parents and some other folks,” said current board member Marie Grip, who is one of the board members not named in the suit. In the second year of her second three-year term, though, Grip supports her colleagues who brought suit against the majority of the board and its director.
The 52-page complaint was reported in the Feb. 16 Artifice. Notice of action was first given to defendants during a Jan. 31 Mobile Ballet board meeting.
“[The lawsuit] purports to have been brought for the benefit of Mobile Ballet. However, the lawsuit does not benefit or serve the interests of the ballet in any way. It is actually harmful to the organization and has wrongfully besmirched 10 loyal and committed volunteer board members and our managing director/development director,” Parker wrote in response to the lawsuit. Neither Parker nor any other ballet board members in the suit responded to attempts to get their side of the story prior to Lagniappe’s Feb.16 article.
Parker characterized motivations for the legal maneuver as, “an attempt by two directors with views different from the overwhelming majority of the board to usurp control of the Mobile Ballet.”
“She is referring to Monty [Thull] and Beverly [Davis]. Catherine [Ashbee] and I have voted with Monty and Beverly and completely agree with them,” Grip said.
The lawsuit is filled with allegations of improper procedure, circumvention of the bylaws and irresponsibility with Mobile Ballet funds. It accuses board officers of actions that culminated in the sudden departure of Artistic Director Winthrop Corey in December 2016. Corey had been with Mobile Ballet for three decades.
“I’m kind of a law-and-order board member. I’ve done this for a very, very long time and am very familiar with the way this is supposed to work and this is appalling,” Grip said.
Grip said she tried to warn other board members about the dangers of their behavior. The correspondence she sent to board officers and members delineating those breaches are included among the 25 pages of exhibits.
“I have the Alabama Association of Nonprofits standards for excellence and they’re supposed to know this stuff. Karen Kennedy is supposed to know this stuff because she’s a member, since Mobile Ballet pays her membership in the Alabama Association of Nonprofits,” Grip said.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Ray Thompson said he initially offered settlement proposals to all 11 defendants. His stipulations were immediate withdrawal from the board or resignation from Mobile Ballet employment along with written acknowledgement of such.
“The deadline for response was 5 p.m. on Feb. 15. I got zero takers,” Thompson said.
Instead, an emergency board meeting was called for that same evening.
“The only thing that occurred at the meeting was for the majority to vote to hire Hand Arendall to defend them all and to pay for their defense with ballet funds, then to have the ballet pay for Karen Kennedy’s defense,” Thompson said.
The attorney feels there might be an inherent conflict in the arrangement owing to Hand Arendall attorney Brooks Milling’s preceding status as legal counselor for Mobile Ballet.
“How does the law firm that represents Mobile Ballet Inc. represent 10 individuals alleged to have done damage to Mobile Ballet Inc.? How is that not a conflict of interest? I put in a call to Hand Arendall to discuss this. I will say this: They have not filed an appearance in my lawsuit yet,” Thompson said.
Grip said an additional Hand Arendall attorney, Windy Bitzer, was at the last meeting. Parker’s statement left little doubt it is unlikely much more will be coming from the suit’s defendants until the case is settled or a trial takes place.
“Given that the matter is in litigation, we will not be able to comment further on the lawsuit at this time; however, we do want to assure you that your Board of Directors remains committed to providing superior dance education and presenting quality performances. We also want you to know that this meritless litigation will not deter or distract us from working to fulfill the ballet’s mission,” Parker concluded in her commentary.
Thompson is unsure when the matter will appear before Circuit Judge Jay York.