The membership of the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) is clearly in revolt against their elected Board of Directors. The board, however, seems determined to avoid this unhappy group or confront members’ allegations of mismanagement.
A contentious meeting last night, called by the members and held at Manhattan’s Scandinavia House, brought out all the tensions brewing inside the 123-year-old-organization. Board member Christy MacLear claimed she expects people to act up “as we are an advocacy organization” but she was not aware until yesterday of the level of membership unhappiness and was surprised there was an attempted coup.
The Architect’s Newspaper has reported on the ongoing problems in the society and in an editorial last month we wrote that “[we] agree with the City Club that it is time for the MAS board of directors to be more transparent about its actions, change how it views its fiduciary responsibilities, and rethink its board structure and decision-making process.”
MacLear’s “coup” reference comes from a letter read at the meeting by Anthony Wood, on behalf of a core group of many active members (AN received a copy of this letter in an email.):
“To help ensure the success of our new president and help her avoid the fate that befell her predecessors, I move the following:
Be it resolved, that because of the handling of the recent change in leadership and other actions by the Officers and Executive Committee of the Municipal Art Society, the members of the Society cast a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Executive Committee and the officers (with the exception of the new President who is technically an officer) and respectfully request their resignation from the Board.”
The motion was seconded but ultimately the MAS Board member running the meeting would not let it come to a vote. They correctly claimed “there are not enough members as per the bylaws which states there must have 10 percent of the membership or 100 people in attendance so they could entertain the motion.”
The organization claims it has 836 members, but for at least the last two weeks the MAS website membership page has been down so prospective members were unable to join and older members who had not paid their dues were turned away from the meeting at the door last night. In addition to Christy MacLear, the only other board members in attendance were Carl L. Reisner and Earl D. Weiner, the legal counsel.
The Board, however, organized the meeting and had weeks to prepare for it but only had four of its 20 board members in attendance. Board Chairman Frederick Iseman and treasurer Vincent Cippola were not at the meeting and this outraged many members. In fact, Maclear seemed left out to dry by the board members and she was left to confront the angry membership in attendance. She could also not answer many members’ questions: How many board members are actually dues-paying members of the society? Why is the once-heralded Menapace Fellowship is no longer active? Why did the board vote to dismiss former president Gina Pollara less than a year into her tenure.
Many of those in attendance were dismayed by MacLear’s frequent references to “the market”—her words for the civic community.
So what happens next with MAS? There will be the annual meeting in May, but this future-focused event is traditionally not the appropriate venue to highlight problems. Let’s hope the board begins to take its membership concerns seriously. It may be time, as many members are asking, for the New York State Attorney General to investigate malpractice within the nonprofit and in the Board of Directors.