Franconia Sculpture Park disclosed that it terminated co-founder/CEO John Hock in August for "inappropriate conduct toward a young female."

After initially declining to explain his abrupt departure, the chair of Franconia's board of directors, Dorothy Goldie, took the unusual step of releasing a "truthful reason for termination letter" after 124 community members wrote Sept. 22 to question the dismissal, demanding the resignation of board members and a greater voice in the future of the 43-acre arts park near Taylors Falls, Minn.

"We understand that the privacy surrounding Mr. Hock's termination has caused you unease and may be perceived as secrecy to those not closely involved in the process," Goldie said in an e-mailed response, dated Sept. 25. "However, the reasons are sensitive for both Mr. Hock as well as the individuals involved."

Attached to the e-mail was a one-sentence letter to Hock, dated Aug. 30 and signed by Goldie: "Per your request, the reason for your termination was your inappropriate conduct toward a young female artist at the Park."

Goldie would not discuss details of the incident.

Hock, in an e-mail to the Star Tribune, said it "occurred in a consensual setting, after work hours, and off Sculpture Park property." He called it a "regrettable conversation over drinks that included some sexual content" but there was "no coercion, no harassment, and no sexual touching of any kind."

The incident occurred in the past six months, said Minneapolis attorney Kate Bischoff, who was hired by Franconia's board to investigate the incident.

According to Goldie, Franconia's board ordered the outside investigation immediately after learning of the incident.

Hock said he was interviewed as part of the inquiry "and forthrightly admitted to the conversation" with the woman, who has not been identified. He said he "was never advised that my job was in jeopardy. I never saw the 'report,' and, before deciding my fate, the board adamantly refused even to allow me to appear before them to address the situation."

Instead, he said the board delivered a "take-it-or-leave-it" ultimatum to his attorney, along with a "meager separation agreement that included expansive confidentiality and nondisparagement provisions. … The board has steadfastly rejected my repeated requests to participate in a professionally moderated mediation in an effort to preserve the viability and vitality of the sculpture park I created and love, and to salvage my damaged reputation."

Goldie, in her e-mail to Franconia community members, said that "a fair process was followed, and all parties participated." In a subsequent e-mail to Franconia's advisory board, she said Hock met with Bischoff "for over an hour. His voice was heard." His attorney "was provided in writing with the results of our investigation and John was given an opportunity to respond in writing before the board deliberated. He chose not to."

Hock's actions, Goldie said, exposed Franconia "to significant legal risk on top of any scrutiny from the public and donors. … Our actions were necessary for the protection and the very existence of the park."

Another potential complainant had surfaced on Facebook. Lily Reeves Montgomery, an Alabama-based artist who was an intern at Franconia in 2016, posted an open letter to the park's board, saying she "was the subject of sexual harassment at Franconia" by Hock.

"My safety while I was an intern was jeopardized, and my trust in professional relationships questioned," she wrote. "Franconia Sculpture Park is a wonderful place. … However, I believe that there should be no place for manipulative, dishonest, or inappropriate power relationships."

Reeves Montgomery said she decided to write the letter after receiving e-mails in support of Hock, "advocating for a 'safe place,' 'community impact' and a 'safe future' [at Franconia]. I want to make clear that none of these are possible with John Hock as director."

She is not the woman whose complaint led to Hock's dismissal, according to Bischoff. Reeves Montgomery did not respond to requests for an interview.

Founded in 1996, Franconia is a popular day-trip destination, featuring more than 120 sculptures in a rural setting.