After months of massive turmoil and turnover -- including the resignation of five of its six staff members -- the Pacific Art League's new Board of Directors fumbled its way through its first meeting Wednesday night, largely avoiding the acrimony that has characterized recent board meetings.
Eleven board members, three returning, and former board member-turned staff contractor Karen Gutfreund attended the meeting in the spacious, paint-splattered classroom at 668 Ramona St. One returning board member, Kit Golson, was absent.
The board elected new chairperson Mary Ann Baker, vice chair and interim treasurer Walter Smith and secretary Donnasue Jacobi.
The board agreed to launch a search for a volunteer treasurer.
Baker -- a Palo Alto resident, photographer and art collector -- said she loves the league and has been a member for 25 years.
"I just want to see the art league continue and prosper. I have a lot of ideas," Baker said.
The new board is brimming with energy and is interested in reaching out to the community, expanding and engaging its membership and offering more opportunities for children, she said.
But it is still struggling with the aftermath of the past few months.
"We've been through a very difficult time," Smith said.
Last year, the board signed a deal with developer Jim Baer to rehabilitate and sell its Ramona Street facility; the organization would have retained ownership of part of the first floor and received $3.4 million.
The plan bred bitter discord within the organization's 600 members. Members, led by Smith and Jacobi, among others, waged a "Vote No" campaign that killed the building proposal and prompted the board and staff turnover.
During the two-and-a-half long session, board members introduced themselves, elected officers and created committees.
Smith said he thinks the board needs to scale back its number of staff members.
Currently, Executive Director Stephanie Demos is the only staff member, although she is out on medical leave. Gutfreund is acting as an operations manager and Tammy Holloway serving as a receptionist.
The turnover created some logistical problems -- Gutfreund said she doesn't have the passwords to some of the non-profit's computers or keys for the files.
"I am slammed," Gutfreund said. "I've got to have some help."
Some sparks flew toward the end of the meeting, when the board began discussing future shows and potential fundraisers.
New board member Donnasue Jacobi argued to focus on member-only shows, rather than shows that partner with other organizations.
But returning board member Rob Parish defended the past board's actions, which generated outside revenue and exposure.
"I think we should not discard that strategy (without thought)," Parish said.
As Jacobi began to interject, Baker suggested referring the issue to a committee.
The board also created an ad-hoc Bylaws Committee Wednesday, acknowledging that the organization's governing document contains contradictions and gaps.
For example, one section states that board terms extend three years, another passage places the length at six years.
Only three former board members plan to continue -- former board secretary Katie Cooney said her term ends in two months and Wednesday would be her last meeting.
And one new board member, Brian Bolitho, lost his battle to try to stay off e-mail, after repeatedly emphasizing that he is available by phone.
"We'll set up a Gmail or Yahoo account for you," Baker said.
Smith said he hopes to restore the community's positive image of the league.
"I'd like this to be an enjoyable place, to be a positive place to be a place where people like and respect each other," Smith said.