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Museum Director Fired, Resigns, on Leave?

Douglas Foard says he was dismissed from the Loudoun Museum when he asked for a leave of absence. Acting museum director Marybeth Mohr said Foard is on a family medical leave that was effective Jan. 30.

"I was stunned," said Foard, who was hired as executive director in June 2001 after serving 12 years as executive secretary for Phi Beta Kappa, based in Washington, D.C., and teaching history for another 22 years. "I had no idea they were that unhappy with me."

Foard asked for the leave of absence, since his wife Janet Foard is dying of pancreatic cancer, something she has battled since 2001, and now is staying under Hospice care in their Lovettsville home. He talked about the "dinky" engagement ring he gave her in 1961, all that he could afford at the time, he said. "That's the best I could do," he said. "That's where I am. That's my first concern right now."

Foard met Janet, who turned 60 on Feb. 12, when he was 13 years old. "What's about to happen is a different life. I hope to stay here in the county. We'll see what happens," he said.

FOARD, who is 63, handed in his museum keys Jan. 30 following a meeting with Larry Stipek, president of the board of directors, and two other executive committee members. He said the executive committee fired him and offered him a resignation offer, which he refused to accept. When the situation became public, the committee said Foard was on a leave of absence, which under federal law can be up to 12 weeks.

"I'm told they don't have the authority to let me go. I'm not even sure I want to work with these people," Foard said, adding that he refused to resign, because "I'm going to let people know there's a problem at the museum."

"I think it's a terrible shame that this happened at this time," said Kathryn Miller, a former museum director. "I had a renewed faith in the museum because Doug was there, which I don't have now."

Foard found that he had an increasingly difficult time with the board regarding its fund-raising efforts and pointed to the board's monthly meetings as a "problem," as he said.

"Most non-profits meet quarterly and let the staff run the organization," Foard said, adding that the board's focus should be on setting policy and raising money for the museum's operations and not "infringing on day-to-day operations. That's the problem. They didn't want to hear me telling them that. I was telling them more and more frequently because I was seeing the consequences of it."

THE BOARD'S monthly meetings are mandated in the museum's bylaws, which were written 35 years ago when the museum was established, Mohr said.

"The museum counts on considerable support from its volunteers. We count that board as volunteers," said Mohr, who was hired in August 2002 as director of public affairs. "The contributions the board makes to the community and to the museum are substantial, and we would not be able to survive without those contributions."

"If the board went out and raised money, they wouldn't have to volunteer," said Miller, who served as museum director in the early 1990s and now is chairperson of the Planning Commission.

Mohr said the 16-member board primarily focuses on developing policy and providing a strategic direction for the museum, while one of the subcommittees is tasked through the bylaws with fundraising efforts, which include annual events such as the Leesburg Hauntings Tour, walking tours, and museum and educational programs.

The board adopted a budget last year with a $70,000 deficit on the premise that fundraising would subsidize the Fiscal Year 2003 budget, Foard said. By December 2002, he knew that the board was "in real trouble."

Business owner Tom Jewell had offered a challenge grant through his Northern Virginia Community Foundation that required the museum to raise $19,000 in six months.

"We came close, but we didn't make it," said Foard. He took down the maps he had in his office for a proposed $5 million renovation to the museum building, which is located in downtown Leesburg next to the town hall. "If we can't raise $19,000, we can't raise $5 million. My feelings about the museum changed then."

THE BOARD should reorganize and become a fund-raising board, Foard repeatedly told board members. "They didn't do it. They set up an advisory committee, [but] no one was appointed to it. It was dead in the water," he said.

"Doug is a fund-raiser, and he knows what to do," said Jewell, owner of Carter Braxton Real Estate Company in Leesburg. "His board was not a fund-raising board. ... The board has to lead efforts in the community to get money."

Miller said that over the years, the Loudoun Museum has had difficulty with the board, which likes to "play house" by getting involved in the museum's daily operations, "tinkering" with the exhibits and staff. "The board's job is to raise money, to make sure the museum is funded and that it has the resources to do what its mission statement says," she said. "Previous boards have fallen far short of that charge."

Mohr said she is concerned that the public will lose sight of the museum's contributions in the recent "upheaval." "The museum has not missed a step in providing services to the community. I'm afraid we lost sight of that," she said. "I don't want people to get a bad impression about the museum."

THE LOUDOUN MUSEUM is a non-profit entity that receives funding from the county and the Town of Leesburg. "We have a huge moral obligation to the community, and we take it seriously," Mohr said.

Miller said the fact that the museum is a corporation is not well-known and that as a corporation, the museum is not answerable to the public. "The time has come now for the Loudoun Museum to be reorganized as a public entity, ... so it's answerable like other museums," she said. "If there isn't a dramatic change organizationally, personnel-wise and board-wise, I don't see a future for it."

"I'm bewildered by all of this. These folks are administering public money," Foard said. "Something has to be fixed, because Loudoun needs a good museum."

Stipek did not return calls by press time.