New Pacific Art League board convenes

New board majority, returning minority remain civil, work together

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.


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Posted by art lover
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 17, 2008 at 9:18 pm

Yeah, great new group. They stole the election that gave the majority to the sell the building. They drove out the staff. Why don't they put some of their new ideas to a vote. Hippcrits, this is the same stuff they say the other side did to them. Maybe the members WANT outside shows? And why are they eliminating members that are NOT from Palo Alto?

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Posted by Please check your spelling
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 17, 2008 at 9:53 pm

>why are they eliminating members that are NOT from Palo Alto?
I don't see anything in the story that says that.

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Posted by full disclosure
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 18, 2008 at 1:33 am

Jim Baer is a factor in this story because he wants to redevelop the Art League's building. When the Weekly writes about this topic, you should disclose to the reader that the Weekly is partners with Baer in developing a three-story building at 450 Cambridge Avenue. Failure to disclose this fact is a major breach of journalism ethics. A truly independent newspaper would investigate Baer's role, if any, in the bitter dispute that has engulfed the normally peaceful Art League. What things have happened to tenants in the past that have caused them to move out of buildings that Baer has wanted? You've got a town full of people who could tell you stories -- if you were interested in printing those stories. But perhaps you're not because you're in bed with Baer. If so, at least disclose that fact.

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Posted by mary anne baker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 18, 2008 at 8:12 am

The first comment is from a writer who has continually mischaracterized the League and the new blood now running it. An overwhelming majority voted (though it was never tallied) to keep the building. The group taking over plans more community outreach, programs for children and minorities, and a vigorous drive to add more members from outside Palo Alto. The League membership stretches far and wide. We have never been a closed organization. Anyone can join and our dues are minimal.

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Posted by Art Lover
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2008 at 9:15 am

"An overwhelming majority voted (though it was never tallied)"

If never tallied then how to you know? Actually it was tallied and the majority voted to go with the plan to improve the building. (great how you turned it into sell the building, never the truth).

The reason the vote was stopped was from the continuous harassment and liable which drove the staff to quit and the board to quit so that nobody ran against them in new election. Who would want to, they'd get harassed by a minority that thinks they know the only way to run the art league.

And now you are moving to limit the membership to only those from Palo Alto?
Why do you have closed board meetings? I thought that was number one problem you had with the previous board.

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Posted by League member and supporter of our old building
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 18, 2008 at 9:49 am

Board meeting was open and the press and many members attended, including the Weekly staff writer who wrote article above.

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Posted by Bill Bruner
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 18, 2008 at 12:24 pm

Art Lover, why don't come and join the League and help us make it the best on the Coast?

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Posted by A former fan of the Pacific Art League
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 18, 2008 at 2:40 pm

Are not Mary Ann Baker and Bill Bruner among the newly instated board members? Why did they not identify themselves as such? Could it be embarrassment for the rancorous tone of the inaugural meeting of the new Board? Or is it shame in the way they and their new fellow board members are treating the staff?

The one remaining staff member, Executive Director Stephanie Demos, is again on medical leave because of the stress induced by being harassed by some of the new Board members and some of the peanut gallery who attended this first meeting.

Donnasue Jacobi, newly elected Board Secretary, has been berating Ms. Demos since June, and last Friday, before this week's official board meeting, said, "Oh, we are going to fire you." Then she tried to call an "emergency board meeting" over the weekend to do just that.) A few days previously Ms. Jacobi, as witnessed by four others, told Exhibitions and Education Manager Melissa Beharavesh, "You don't belong in this job." I'm told there is a binder containing a substantial stack of Ms. Jacobi's rants and that the only time she relented by even a degree was following an admonishment by an attorney.

Walter Smith is the newly elected Vice Chair. Mr. Smith apparently enjoys the role of 'the spoiler.' He is particularly proud of having unseated previous Executive Director Claudia Morgan. He's suggested suing Ms. Morgan and former Board Chair Rebecca Teutschel. Ironically his principal complaint against Ms. Morgan and Ms. Teutschel was their plan to expand the building to it's full potential, the same plan now championed by the "Committee to Vote NO" headed by Ms. Jacobi and Mr. Smith.

Oh and by the way, why doesn't someone ask these new Board Members how much they themselves have donated to the Pacific Art League?

Why doesn't "Art Lover" join you ask ... why would anyone.

I won't renew my membership and if I could I'd ask for a refund today. If you're wondering why I don't identify myself, just ask some of the people who have been bullied and intimidated by Ms. Jacobi. No thank you.

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Posted by Get Real
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 18, 2008 at 3:20 pm

Full Disclosure seems to have only one tune to sing.

Jim Baer was one of several individuals or groups who expressed interest in developing Pacific Art League's building at 668 Ramona Street. Others included Roxy Rapp, Tony Carrasco, Michael Weed, Odyssey Telecommunications and Sofinova. The only option available to any of these potential partners was ownership of the second and third floors as well as a portion of the first floor that would net PAL a full gallery, reception area, office, and studio one. PAL, a non-profit corporation, owns 668 Ramona Street outright. They are not, nor have they ever been tenants of Jim Baer.

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Posted by Disgusted with the NO group
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2008 at 3:33 pm

Who's in charge at PAL? The new Board is certainly not in synch. One of them says we want to reach out into the community. Isn't that exactly what the former Board was doing with great success, partnering with other organizations and inviting non-members to participate in exhibitions? But behind closed doors the ones identified as the leaders of the so called "Committee to vote NO" are saying they want to return to members-only shows. (Are they afraid their work is not good enough to be accepted by a well-respected juror in a more open competition? Are they afraid the same old tired watercolor and pastel still lifes and portraits won't be seen in the gallery? This is a recipe for mediocrity.) They're also saying they don't want to have another gala. Of course none of them attended the very successful 85th Anniversary Gala in June mostly claiming they couldn't afford the $100 ticket. Well, that's why there are free member and public celebrations throughout the year. But a fundraiser is aimed at creating new supporters and earning money. (More evidence of the lack of experience in this new Board.) The new Board Chair says she wants more programs for children. The new Vice Chair has on many occasions complained that the summer kids camp program creates an inconvenience for adult members like himself who like the 8-, 10- or 12- week class term better than the shortened summer classes. (Of course he also says that one of the problems with the old Board was that they were 'too young and they all had regular jobs.' There's a sure plan for obsolescence. Have a club of retirees, for retirees, run by retirees.) They think the answer to all their prayers is that mysterious, inexhaustible pool of unclaimed grant money. (Yeah, that's the ticket. Let's see how much they can raise for a lily-white, member-centric club of little old ladies and little old men.)

Grow up.

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Posted by Bad start for new regime
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2008 at 3:44 pm

1. New blood? Who are you kidding? It's the same old, same old. At least now they have the fiduciary and governance responsibility that should have gone along with their irresponsible accusations agains the former board and staff. I hope they have good insurance, because given the tendency of some of this 'new blood' to mouth off irresponsibly, there will probably be litigation in their future.

2. Mary Anne Baker says, "An overwhelming majority voted (though it was never tallied) to keep the building." Doublespeak fit for a politician. An overwhelming majority for a 600 member group would be more than 300. Were there even that many ballots cast? And what of the strong, but unfortunately silent majority who voiced their support of the staff and board privately in fear of retribution from the NO group? Nice trick, Mrs. Baker. The ballot box was locked. The ballots were shredded, but never tallied. Hmmmm. Having a little trouble with the simple truth, already?

3. "The group taking over plans more community outreach, programs for children and minorities, and a vigorous drive to add more members from outside Palo Alto." Methinks the lady doth speak with forked tongue. She surely doth not speak for others who want a cozy, little graying closed club.

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Posted by Art Afficianado
a resident of Portola Valley
on Jan 18, 2008 at 3:53 pm

And then there were none. Turns out the last holdout from the staff, Executive Director Stephanie Demos, is out on medical leave once again from overwhelming stress of this group. She's no wimp and has been around the block professionally, so it's hard to imagine the level of harassment that has been heaped upon her to send her to the hospital twice in less than two months. Personally, I think it was a brave and noble, but clearly misguided decision for her to return at all. What a bunch of clowns, indeed. Unfortunately under the greasepaint there appears to be quite a hunger for making mischief and bringing down the leadership. Isn't she the second ED toppled by Walter Smith and compnay?

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Posted by PAL former fan
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2008 at 4:37 pm

Mary Anne Baker's comment leads me to conclude that this "new blood" intends to do exactly what they accused the former board and staff of doing, i.e. insulting or ignoring anyone who dares to disagree with them. At least the 'old blood' provided ample forums for those who disagreed with them to vent. Looks like the 'new blood' style is to imperiously dismiss or to dimwittedly issue a fatuous invitation from the likes of Bill Bruner. Hey, great team you've got there PAL!

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Posted by Enough
a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2008 at 6:36 pm

Enough is enough. Let's try to be civil and give the new Board a chance. Everyone has been doing what they thought was best. Unfortunately, the previous regime, in their quick move to put forth what they thought was best, brushed aside members who had questions about the proposed transaction and this lack of transparency ultimately caused its downfall. What has been termed harassment was only concerned members asking questions and asking for documents that were and are supposed to be available not only to members but in many cases, to the public as well. Asking questions to staff who were being paid to serve the members and asking questions to a Board of Directors who refused to be allowed to be contacted personally and insisted that questions be directed through the staff cannot turn around and say that members who followed the rules the staff and BOD set up to ask questions were harassing them. Please, give the new Board a chance. At least they are open to allowing anyone to speak and ask questions which, if you attended the November 14 meeting where members were not allowed to ask questions from the floor, the previous regime did not do. Once they allowed members to speak at the November 28 meeting and other members heard the truth and an objective analysis of the sale proposal as well as other options which an independent task force appointed by the regime presented as being better choices, the members, and thankfully the Board, made the right decision to postpone the sale and election. The members have now spoken in support of the new Board, so again, please give them a chance.

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Posted by Perplexed by "Enough"
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2008 at 8:27 pm

Where were you when the so-called Committee to Vote NO were spewing their poison? Apparently it's only enough when criticism is launched to your view. Frankly an admonishment to 'be civil' is laughable in the context of Donnasue's numerous rants in person and on paper. What chance is the new Board giving our Executive Director when just a week ago, two days after being elected to the Board, Donnasue told Stephanie she's going to be fired? Have you heard the infamous voicemail message she left in June when she starts out with "I don't know what the f--- you people think you are doing, but there's going to be a revolution. I'm going to use everything from my government days to get rid of you?" This has been going on for more than six months. You're right, enough is enough.

I agree with one thing you wrote..."Everyone has been doing what they thought was best." So it's hard to understand your misrepresentation of "the previous regime." Their "quick move to put forth what they thought was best" began with an announcment in January 2007 followed by a couple of open member meetings in February. Numerous letters and emails ensued outlining the details. How can you say members questions were brushed aside when the 11/14 meeting was the Board answering dozens of questions that had been submitted in writing just prior to the meeting. The truth is those were questions submitted by many members who were not present, as well as some who were. The furor arose over a couple of people who wanted to interrupt the Q&A with their own questions which they automatically assumed to be more relevant or "important" than those of others. Same characters who set up a table with a banner and soem dubious written material from the "Committee to Vote NO."

Enough is enough. If you haven't been in the kitchen yourself, you have no idea if you could take the heat.

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Posted by Enough
a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2008 at 11:33 pm

To Perplexed by Enough, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood:
I'm perplexed as to how you know what Donnasue said to Stephanie. Were you there? Did you witness it? Or is it heresay? Likewise, have you heard what you term the "infamous voicemail message she left in June..." or is that heresay too? If you're not Stephanie and the message was meant for Stephanie, would you please explain the circumstances under which you heard the message and are supposedly quoting from it as implied by the quotation marks in your message?

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Posted by Love to paint,
a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2008 at 11:46 am

I quit the League as all this got underway. I couldn't believe the pettiness, selfishness and just plain nastiness at the Members' Meetings.

There was a clique who was ignorant of real financial constraints and would not address them, and even a faculty member who vociferously opposed earthquake safety and handicapped access. I was stunned to hear her suggest that PAL ignore the law and her rants against the disabled saying "Why don't they just go away and leave us alone?" Well...I did.

The selfish group of spoiled Palo Alto residents chased other sane folks away. Perhaps this brouhaha is just part of a natural evolution for this organization. It's heyday is over, and maybe it's just time for PAL to go bankrupt and go away -- and all this whining will speed that along. Sadly, PAL is so insular that it does NOT provide a positive atmosphere to learn about, produce, and exhibit art and meet other artists and would-be artists.

In this crazy world with serious conflicts all around us, the unending supply of Palo Alto power squabbles are offensive. PAL is just one of many tiresome rants.

On the other hand, PAL's unraveling HAS NOW provided an apportunity for another existing, or new, organization to step up to the plate to serve artists in a positive and creative atmosphere. I'll contribute my dollars and time to that.

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Posted by Enough
a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2008 at 9:02 am

To Perplexed by Enough

Just as I suspected, you haven't been able to answer those even more perplexing questions I asked a couple of days ago. By not answering my questions, either what you said is heresay or you are Stephanie Demos, the Executive Director herself, who wrote what I suspect are false accusations. I think the people following this blog are smart enough to figure that out for themselves. If you don't reply and state who you are, if not Stephanie, and how you came about to hear alleged messages that were supposedly left for Stephanie and how you came about to hear alleged statements that were supposedly said to Stephanie, then my only conclusion can be that you are Stephanie and that this tactic of making false accusations is very low.

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Posted by Art Mouse
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 20, 2008 at 4:58 pm

Doubt it is Stephanie, she is sick. Are you also saying she is faking that.

So, how do you explain that the NO team abused a member of the staff, who then left in tears and quit the next week. Yes, you say they are there to "serve you". As what, personal serfs?

How do you explain the rest of the staff who then also left after severe abuse?

As for the message to Stephanie, many have heard it and many have heard such similar ABUSE from Donnasue.

Look, you are NOW in charge, you OWN the PAL. We all left, yet you continue to dredge up the past to prove what?

Instead why don't you send at least one mailing or email out to the members to show us what you intend and why we should stay members.

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Posted by Former member
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 23, 2008 at 7:34 pm

Wow. We knew this was an amateur group now running PAL, but who could have imagined something as patheticly low class as this announcement to members:

Dear Pacific Art League Member,

Valentine's Day provides an early opportunity to start our fundraising for 2008, and also provide a way for people to give original art and chocolate to their loved ones.

The idea is a combination of art donated by members and candy donated by Schaffenberger - a local candy maker. The purchaser will be able to purchase a box of candy and also receive a piece of art for $20, $30, $50 or $100.

We will set up the gallery for this fundraising sale starting on February 1st through February 14th. The League will be open on Valentine's Day until 7:00 p.m. for last minute shoppers.

So come on in and get some beautiful art, delicious candy and also help YOUR League.


Board of Directors

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Posted by ART
a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2008 at 4:17 pm

Pacific Art League's new Board met 2-3 times, and apparently the new Chair had had enough since she handed in her resignation. What's interesting about this, aside from the obvious difficulty of this group to work well together, is the fact that they, who raised their fists in the air to erroneously decry a lack of "transparency" from the previous Board, aren't practicing what they preach. No announcements to the membership about resignations. No press releases on yet another significant shift in leadership. How sad for the members who were hoodwinked into thinking this new group could lead. The very last thing any NPO needs is s reactionary Board only interested in their own personal agendas and unfamiliar with the basic principles of stewardship, governance, and inspirational leadership.

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Posted by JC
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 16, 2008 at 11:24 pm

PAL Should sell the building and move to a new home. Financial problems are a fact of life and change is inevitable. Start somewhere fresh in a better financial situation or face a future that will be dictated by others.

Good luck and remember don't sweat the small stuff :)

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Posted by Disappointed member
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2008 at 6:34 pm

the new president left after 2-3 board meetings? huh? i haven't heard anything about it, no emails, no announcement! i thought the new board would provide the communications they accused the old board of not providing. what's going on here?!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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