The new year cannot possibly bring as many allegations of intrigue, financial shenanigans and sexual misconduct as 2015, at least in one sector.
No, not state politics. We’re talking culture.
The struggle for power and money scarcely abated amid the champions of literacy and the arts in New Orleans. Neither the New Orleans Public Library Foundation board nor the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities looked any more cultivated than the average politician.
The recent woes of those august institutions are unrelated, but there is a link between them in the person of Miranda Restovic. Not only is she the new president of LEH but she is married to one of the two library foundation board directors who were obliged to resign and promise to return a large wad of money diverted to their own benefit.
Michael Sartisky, whom Restovic replaced as head of LEH, claimed in a lawsuit that she was the prime mover in a conspiracy that led to his ouster. But federal Judge Kurt Engelhardt found “no more than a scintilla of evidence, all of which is circumstantial,” that Restovic had concocted the case against him in cahoots with three female employees who reported receiving his unwelcome attentions.
If no blame attaches to Restovic in her ascent at LEH, she rates a mention in the library caper only because her husband, Ronald Markham, and his lifelong pal, Irvin Mayfield, pretty much seized control of the foundation board. Thus did almost $1 million donated by patrons of the library wind up in the coffers of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, which Mayfield and Markham run on salaries of more than $100,000 a year.
If she was no more than an observer of the ructions at the LEH and the library foundation, Restovic was still uniquely well placed to appreciate the art of writing bylaws. Sartisky, who built the LEH from modest beginnings into a cultural powerhouse over more than 30 years, was hoist by his own petard because the bylaws he had written left him with no grounds to challenge his dismissal, Engelhardt ruled.
Markham and Mayfield, on the other hand, showed how bylaws can be framed to protect the interests of their authors. Why the other foundation board members were so supine is a mystery — perhaps they were bedazzled to have a world-famous trumpeter as their chairman — but they agreed to extend their mission beyond such tedious stuff as literature and gave Mayfield unfettered control over expenditures. He and Markham were raising money for their jazz orchestra’s new concert hall and educational center, which duly got a major boost from unwitting library donors. Mayor Mitch Landrieu demanded the return of the money and stricter financial controls at the foundation board, but Markham continued to insist that subsidizing his and Mayfield’s employer was sound library policy. These guys are evidently beyond embarrassment.
Not so Sartisky, who finds himself publicly accused of hitting on female staffers and complains he has no opportunity to defend himself. Sartisky ensured that the grounds for his dismissal more than a year ago would become public knowledge when he filed his lawsuit, which claimed a denial of due process.
According to Sartisky, the LEH bylaws gave him the right to a hearing before he could get the heave-ho. Engelhardt, however, ruled that they didn’t.
Because Sartisky received written notice and was removed, on the recommendation of an executive committee, by a supermajority of the board, the LEH had met all requirements for canning its director.
All that remains is for Sartisky’s entitlement in sick and vacation time to be calculated, and his long, and distinguished, association with the LEH is over. It is a sad end, but he lacked Mayfield’s touch when it came to bylaws.
Email James Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org.