A Carolina Theatre employee told city leaders this week that the interim’s chief executive officer’s leadership style is affecting the financially troubled organization’s operations.
“Not all is well at the Carolina Theatre,” Michelle Irvine, chief operating officer, wrote in a letter to city officials Monday, the same day she was put on paid administrative leave. “After all the city has done to support the group, I would hate to see the city embarrassed once again by the action of the CEO (or interim CEO).”
Irvine also raised questions in the letter and in an interview about the board’s oversight of the nonprofit theater group and how much money interim CEO Dan Berman’s foundation has donated to the theater.
Berman and Michael Schoenfeld, chairman of The Carolina Theatre of Durham’s board, declined to comment on Irvine’s allegations, calling it a personnel issue.
“The Carolina Theatre has made enormous progress towards financial stability and even more community engagement thanks to Dan Berman’s leadership, and with the great work of the staff and volunteers,” said Schoenfeld, who is Duke University’s vice president for public affairs and government relations. “Dan has our full support and confidence as this rebuilding continues.”
City Manager Tom Bonfield also described the issue as a personnel matter. City Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden, the council’s liaison on the theater’s board, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Businessman and philanthropist Berman replaced Bob Nocek, who resigned after it was disclosed that officials had discovered $1.2 million in unexpected debt. Nocek and then board Chairman Scott Harmon blamed the surprise debt on faulty accounting and on a finance employee who no longer worked there.
In a Monday email to city officials, Irvine included a five-page list of grievances.
Berman is an “incredibly intelligent businessman,” but he lacks the knowledge and background that some long-term staff members have, Irvine said in an interview.
“We have pretty much been dismissed at every turn,” said Irvine, who has worked for the theater for nearly seven years. She was director of audience services for about two years and then director of operations. Berman promoted her to chief operating officer about six months ago.
The Carolina Theatre has about 17 employees. Four employees have left under Berman, he said.
Irvine said she was put on administrative leave after Berman accused her of being insubordinate “because I will not blindly do what he says.”
Consultant not hired
In addition to complaints about Berman’s management style, Irvine also questioned the board’s failure to hire a consultant and the amount of money Berman’s foundation has given to the theater’s fundraising campaign.
In March, the City Council authorized giving the nonprofit up to $600,000 to address the debt. The money is on top of an annual payment of about $654,000 it pays the nonprofit to run the historic Morgan Street complex.
In exchange for the funding, the council required the organization to hire a consultant to advise the CEO and board members.
Irvine said she approached some members with her concerns about three months ago, “pushing them to get that going, to do whatever they had to do, to get the consultant in here to help us.”
Berman, who is volunteering for the position, said they hope to have a consultant in place by the end of October, as well as a permanent CEO by June.
The additional $600,000 in city funding required a dollar-for-dollar match from private donors.
As of June, the nonprofit had raised about $372,749 in private donations. Irvine contends a significant amount of that money has come from the Daniel and Karen Berman Foundation.
Berman declined to say how much the foundation has given, saying that it was intended to be anonymous.
“I don’t see why one donation from a foundation that I control would speak less of the money raised,” he said. “There are many foundations that have given significant amounts of money.”