by John Stoehr
Is it really any wonder that Alan Hopper, the executive director of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, announced he was leaving?
The news comes a month after his administration led a nine-week lockout of the orchestra's musicians, a lockout that was clearly intended to force musicians to accept a series of pay cuts over the next five years.
Hopper is leaving no doubt because the whole thing was a mess, a debacle, a publicity nightmare. When the musicians wanted to negotiate, he said no. When they wanted to perform, he said no. When he, the board, and the musicians were just shy of an agreement in December, he was at the head of a charge to cut off health-care for the musicians just when everybody else was feeling the holiday spirit.
Of course, Hopper isn't alone. Obviously, the person he answers to is also accountable in this mess. But no one is going to ask Jim Van Vleck to step down as the chair of the board of directors. He's one of the most active fund-raisers and a go-to guy in Jacksonville's old boy network.
Van Vleck's job in raising funds was more much more difficult with a mess like the lockout on his hands. What philanthropist in his or her right mind would like to be seen as someone abetting the cancellation of other people's health-care (during Christmas, for Chissakes!) or being involved a labor contract battle that might be illegal?
At the same time, the mayor, as a member ex-officio of the board of directors, got tangled in the quagmire. That was thanks to Van Vleck, not Hopper. The board chair sent a letter to Mayor John Peyton explaining that the orchestra had $3 million of debt that needed to be addressed and the only way to do that was for the musicians to take a pay cut.
Of course, Van Vleck failed to tell His Honor, and His Honor failed to remind Van Vleck publicly, that it's the job of board members and their administrations (i.e., Hopper), to raise whatever money is needed to maintain operations.
In other words, it's the not the job of musicians to worry about budgets.
On top of all this, there was speculation that the $3 million deficit continually cited in the Christmas Lockout didn't exist.
Some in the industry called for an independent audit of the orchestra's books to verify the administration's claims.
Someone's head had to roll and that someone was Hopper. No surprise there.
Unfortunately, changing leadership might fix the symptoms, but not the illness.