The petite society scandal in which longtime deYoung Museum grande dame Dede Wilsey brought some unwanted attention to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco's financial controls has taken a new turn. Wilsey friend Therese Chen a former museum staffer who was known to do favors for Wilsey and for whom a controversial $450,000 check was cut in May 2014 labeled "disability severence" for Chen's husband, retired museum stationary engineer Bill Huggins died Friday at a hospital in Oakland, as the Chronicle reports. Chen was 65, and had suffered a stroke.
Chen's husband's heart attack and subsequent retirement and need for at-home care was what prompted the writing of the check, which Wilsey apparently made out of sympathy for the couple but without approval of the museums' Board. The ensuing whistle-blower situation with former museums CFO Michele Gutierrez then caused some resignations of prominent board members, and an audit from the state's attorney general's charitable trust division.
Now, the city controller has opened its own audit, and Fine Arts Museums Board member and former city attorney Louise Renne is calling for Wilsey simply to repay the museum coffers out of pocket. "The right thing needs to be done," says Renne. "It’s critically important for the museum, the board and the city as a whole." Presumably the repayment would not come from the surviving husband, Huggins, himself.
Museums spokeswoman Amanda Duckworth, on behalf of Wilsey, declined to comment on the progress of any audits or any decisions, saying to Matier & Ross, "That work is ongoing, and it would be inappropriate to comment until the committee’s work is completed."
Wilsey has long been talked about as presiding over the two museums, including the Legion of Honor, with some imperial power, and this situation appears to have highlighted that. Expect any paybacks or apologies to occur very quietly, and without contrition.