Three of 11 members have resigned abruptly from the board of the Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo -- casting into doubt a proposal for the non-profit Friends group to take over the museum and zoo operation.
The three members who resigned represent 21 years of experience on the board.
The three who resigned are Carol Jansen, Virginia Chang Kiraly and Joe Martignetti, all of whom have been active supporters of the Friends taking over the operation. Martignetti, who could not be reached for comment, reportedly resigned earlier because of personal and work time pressures -- a move not directly related to the later resignations.
Chang Kiraly, who ran unsuccessfully for the state Assembly last fall, sent out a press release Tuesday announcing her resignation the week before, and mentioning that two others also resigned.
Chang Kiraly said her concern was with the board's leadership and a "lack of transparency" in terms of information shared with other board members at a Feb. 2 board retreat at the Garden Court Hotel in downtown Palo Alto.
She said the resignation of Martignetti was not disclosed to other board members even though the board chair, Aletha Coleman of Atherton, knew about it. Chang Kiraly told the Weekly that there were other instances of less-than-complete transparency that concerned her and other members.
"The current board is not in a position to rally the community to move forward in transitioning the Friends of the Junior Museum and Zoo to a nonprofit operational organization," Chang Kiraly said in a statement.
News of the resignations caught some City Council members by surprise, but not others. Council members Larry Klein, Dena Mossar and Peter Drekmeier were informed of the resignations prior to Monday night's council meeting, but they did not mention them during the council discussion of allowing the Friends' plan to move forward separate from development of an overall city policy on so-called "public/private partnerships."
Mossar, one of the authors of the memo behind Monday's decision, said she knew about the turnover before the meeting but doesn't believe it is relevant.
"Nonprofit boards have turnover. They just do," Mossar said. "Ask anybody in the nonprofit world and they'll tell you this is not uncommon."
But Mossar said her vote Monday does not stem from her unqualified support of the project.
"It's inappropriate for the city to be the one who is causing these delays," Mossar said.
Councilman Larry Klein, another author of the memo, said Junior Museum and Zoo employees and Friends members are both anxious to work out the organization's fate.
He said he learned of the board turnover a few hours before the meeting and said his vote was not an indication of support for the transition.
But Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell, who protested the council's move Monday, said she thought it was inconsiderate of her colleagues to keep that information from others.
"I wish I had known that," Cordell said. "That would have been absolutely appropriate to talk about."
The Friends group recently receive a $1 million gift to help fund the transition, and there is no indication whether the gift would remain available if the transition falters.
In addition, the proposed takeover recently came under fire from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 715, which represents the majority of city employees, because existing staff members of the museum and zoo would face either transfers to other city operations or cuts in salaries and benefits.
The Friends board had been discussing a campaign to raise up to $5 million to build a new building and facilities, as well as taking over the operation of the museum and zoo, which was created in 1934 with private donations. It celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2004, when a new sign was installed out front -- a brightly colored multi-headed dragon.