Dede Wilsey's "personal fiefdom" managing the deYoung Museum and Legion of Honor shall apparently continue with only a few small changes, at least according to reports from special sessions of the museums' board held Tuesday to amend their bylaws. The Chronicle's Matier & Ross, who have clearly been trying to get Wilsey to comment directly to them on the scandal for the past year, now report via inside sources that Wilsey is very much remaining at the helm, if not technically as the sole president of the board or the museums' CEO.
Her PR person Nathan Ballard, who might have been recently hired, tells the paper, "Mrs. Wilsey remains firmly in place as the leader of the Fine Arts Museums board, and she has no intention of stepping down. That much is not in question."
Wilsey's troubles began last fall and continued into this year as it came to light via a whistleblower who was subsequently let go that Wilsey had ordered a large check issued to a museum staffer with whom she had a close relationship, without approval from the board. The whistleblower scandal led to a state's attorney general's office audit (still incomplete) and the resignation of several prominent board members of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, including former city attorney Louise Renne. The whistleblower suit, involving former museums CFO Michelle Gutierrez, was subsequently settled this summer to the tune of $2 million, at which point a spokesperson for the museums made the public announcement that Wilsey "believes it will serve the museums better for her to now focus on other areas where her skills and expertise will have a positive impact," i.e. in a lesser position on the board. The amount of the circumspect check, reportedly $457,000, was reportedly reimbursed to the museum by anonymous donors, one of whom may or may not have been Wilsey herself.
A New York Times piece followed, essentially decrying Wilsey's behavior and quoting several critics and detractors, including a San Diego museum director, Hugh Davies, who declared in no uncertain terms, "If they allow Dede Wilsey to play any leadership role within the museum, that would be beyond derelict."
Hell no I won't go, said Wilsey, ultimately waiting until this past Sunday to declare via a vaguely unflattering New York Times portrait that was intended to be her PR salvo back at her enemies "You can’t beat me,” and "You will look like a bunch of idiots," and "You will see me prevail" all apparently while stroking one of her pet Malteses.
She told the Times that moving forward "she will share more management responsibility with six other trustees," but she will remain in charge of politics and fundraising. Though she has served as both board president and CEO for several years, the CEO title will move to newly hired museums director Max Hollein who will hopefully stick around longer than the last one.
Per the Chronicle and one board insider, there simply aren't enough votes on the board to oust Wilsey, and the new bylaw changes will mean that board heads will have three year terms, instead of Wilsey's previous lifetime appointment. And not only that, she's been a generous donor to CA attorney general and US Senate candidate Kamala Harris. Accordingly, even though Harris's office will still have to sign off on the museums' bylaw changes, "We’re told that probably won’t happen until after [Harris]... goes before the voters Nov. 8 in her race for U.S. Senate."
The 43-person board will now have to ratify the changes at their meeting in October.