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Minnesota Orchestra dispute gets TV airing

Posted by: Claude Peck under Music, Classical, Culture wars, Local TV and radio, Minnesota musicians, Orchestras, Television Updated: December 2, 2012 - 6:21 PM

Minnesota Orchestra board member Doug Kelley disagreed with veteran cellist Tony Ross about nearly every point the two debated Friday night on TPT's "Almanac" program.

At issue is the labor dispute at the orchestra that has locked out musicians since Oct. 1 and caused cancellation of all concerts through the end of the year.

Ross renewed the musicians' call for an independent financial analysis to clear up with he called "fuzzy numbers" in the orchestra's annual reports and public statements.

Kelley said the board has been "as transparent as can be" when reporting on its annual budgets, including in its lobbying of the Minnesota Legislature in 2010 for $14 million in bonding authority for its renovation project at Orchestra Hall.

Kelley refuted the musicians' claim that they were largely unaware of the orchestra's dire money crunch in the last few years. "We told you exactly what we were doing, and you guys know every bit about that," Kelley said, referrring to a meeting between management and musicians in May, 2010.

At that meeting, then Board Chair Richard Davis told the musicians that a reported balanced budget in 2009 was achieved only "by utilizing a large endowment draw."

"We are willing to do this in the short term to protect you and and the organization," said Davis, according to documents obtained by the Star Tribune. "But we cannot continue this policy long term because it will threaten the endowment. We need you to fully understand the scope of the financial challenges because we will need your help in addressing these in contract negotiations."

Ross, a member of the musicians' negotiating committee, said "they did talk to us" about finances, but he characterized the meeting as "a clumsy attempt to negotiate early."

Referrring to last week's unanimous vote of no confidence by musicians in orchestra CEO Michael Henson, Ross said that Henson and other senior managers "have created the most toxic work environment you can imagine."

Kelley said that after a recent committee meeting to discuss it, "Mr. Henson has the unanimous full support of the board."

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