Saturday, November 12, 2005

Great Christpher Knight Story On Getty In Sunday LA Times!,0,4997111.story?track=widget

Very focused, not the broad overview he will hopefully soon do - but lethally accurate.
Just read for now - my comments, later.

Ok - back from grand opening of the former St. Vibiana Cathedral - with lots of networking on how to get Broadway theater back on Broadway; but more on that later. Meanwhile back at the ranch, I mean, the Getty.... Knight superbly lays out just one of the many cases to be made against the continued reign of Barry Munitz at the Getty:

Christopher KnightTimes Staff Writer November 13, 2005

The board of the J. Paul Getty Trust has formed a special committee to examine the burgeoning controversies that have engulfed the institution, the nation's third-largest private philanthropy, over the course of the last year. One might say it's about time.One might also say it's a day late and a dollar short. (Or $5.2 billion short, given the Getty's vast wealth.) Not only does this plan not pass the smell test, it's an offense to the olfactory system.

To be meaningful, a review committee should be independent and pristine, without a whiff of conflicting interests. Instead, this one seems designed to embrace a hot national trend: cronyism.The Getty troubles trace back to trust President Barry Munitz — to serious questions about his management of the city's most important art institution and the troubling possibility of misuse of Getty funds.

Yet all three trustees named to serve with the board's chairman and vice chairman on the new committee have close personal and business ties to Munitz.Worse, two of them connect to the chief executive through the same business relationship that launched the controversies in the first place.


Munitz has served on the corporate boards of two companies founded by Broad — AIG SunAmerica and KB Home. The special Getty trustee committee now assigned to review his actions includes AIG SunAmerica's chief executive, Jay Wintrob, a Broad protégé.

A second committee member, Luis Nogales, sits with Munitz on AIG SunAmerica's board and on the board of KB Home. Rounding out the friendly trio is Lloyd Cotsen, who heads a local family foundation. Munitz sits on that foundation's board.

Can anyone reasonably expect an independent review from this group? The severely compromised committee is a symptom of the Getty's deep-rooted problem, not its solution.Remarkably, the coziness doesn't end there.

The board has also retained a well-regarded outside attorney, Ronald L. Olson, to assist in the inquiry into the trust's practices, launched last summer by the state attorney general's office. But, like Munitz directing his staff to create an outward show of distance from the land sale to Broad, the board has fabricated an appearance of diligent impartiality.

The "outside attorney" represents the company headed by the spouse of the special committee's vice chair, Louise Bryson. By now you will not be stunned to learn that his elite law firm has also worked for KB Home.


The festering problems at the Getty Trust burst into view in October 2004, following the abrupt resignation of Getty Museum director Deborah Gribbon from one of the most coveted posts in the field. Without elaborating, Gribbon cited sharp philosophical differences with Munitz. Since then the scene has grown increasingly bleak.

How did things get so bad?At the time I noted one root cause: Munitz, since taking the helm in 1998, has done what a corporate chief executive would do. He remade the board in his own image.More than half the 13 board members joined during Munitz's tenure. (Another joined this summer, and in 2006 two more who were appointed before he became chief executive will be replaced.)

Like him, all are wealthy, even though the Getty does not need trustee donations. Reflecting his own art-free background, business and education figures dominate the board. Some are collectors, but there's not a scholar, artist, intellectual or major L.A. art figure in sight. And unlike other arts organization boards, this one is only managing OPM: Other People's Money. Getty trustees have little invested in the institution they oversee.


Subsequent disclosures of Munitz's lavish compensation, travel and other perks — many of them unheard of in the philanthropic field — were equally shocking. Getty money seemed to have changed uses during his tenure, since the annual average spent buying art — the lifeblood of the institution — had simultaneously declined by one-third when adjusted for inflation. The roof promptly fell in.

When that happens to a nonprofit, the exasperated question is always, "Where was the board?" Oversight is the trustees' mandate. But that's the wrong question. In practice, board oversight is faith-based: Enormous confidence is placed in the organization's officers.Boards are composed of successful people, and successful people are busy.

The Getty board is small and meets only quarterly. The chairman, John Biggs, lives on the East Coast. Practically speaking, the board's oversight is limited. Consider Munitz's own example. Part of his argument for his unusually large compensation package is that the Getty is an unusually large institution, with exceptional management complexities.

Yet while running it he has also had time to sit on more than a dozen other corporate and nonprofit boards. How much oversight can be expected from him, as chief executive or trustee?A truer gauge of board supervision comes in trustees' response to a crisis.

The Getty board has flunked that test. For nearly a year it has remained largely silent, obstreperous or stalled. And now this "special committee" fiasco. The board's inaction mirrors Munitz's mishandling of the most recent Getty scandal.

The museum's antiquities curator, Marion True, resigned last month, just ahead of revelations about a personal loan arranged with the help of an art dealer with whom she had done millions of dollars in museum business. Getty lawyers informed trust officials about the deal in 2002 — but nothing happened. Munitz was not in charge when the loan was arranged, but by 2002 he had been chief executive for more than four years. His failure to deal with the ethical breach was a disaster.

The one point I would like to add here is that at the center of every aspect of this debacle is the moral and ethical black hole of the Getty - board chair John Biggs. At single step of the Times' investigation, the buck has stopped at his doorstep and not once has there been any evidence he ever did anything to stop the abuses at the Getty. There also even appears to be some question if kept the rest of the board informed of what was going on.

Finally... Knight's conclusion:

The board must learn the sober lesson of the Marion True debacle: It should dump its embarrassing committee, put Munitz on administrative leave and do the hard work of deciding whether that leave should be permanent.

Needless to say, the hard work is not in realizing that Munitz must go - the hard part is for the board to grow some balls and fire him. And then - equally importantly - the board needs to start firing themselves - starting with the chief co-conspirator - John Biggs.


Realized that everyone might not know the background on this 'independent' review:

My post on it with link to LA Times article announcing it:

Totally clueless LA Times Editorial on subject proving that even they don't read the news pages of the LA Times:,0,3534734.story?coll=la-news-comment-editorials

Creating a review panel is a first step toward addressing those issues. It helps that the members have a good track record outside the Getty when it comes to corporate governance, particularly committee head and board Chairman John Biggs, former chief executive of retirement fund manager TIAA-CREF.

But that's not enough. Their work won't be credible without the involvement of independent experts.To that end, the committee has hired attorney Ronald L. Olson, a legal heavyweight with extensive experience serving on or advising corporate and nonprofit boards.

Although he has indirect links to some of the committee members, Olson has no formal connection to the Getty. Biggs pledged that Olson and his firm will have "a completely free hand."The trustees view much of the controversy around Munitz as unwarranted, yet the committee plans to have Olson review every bit of spending by the CEO. It plans similar scrutiny of the museum's antiquities policies and the art it has acquired.

The committee now needs to stay out of Olson's way. The institution has taken a lot of hits. He's got plenty of ground to cover.

Joel Stein was rummored to have ghost written this editorial, but he refused to take credit. He said that everyone knows he isn't that funny.

Finally, my post on additional dirt on the independent review from Tyler Green:

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