Cultural Council Update

The Cultural Council Board of Trustees had their monthly meeting this afternoon at 4.

Obviously, there are storm clouds brewing over CEO Banchs’ abusive behavior toward ‘his’ Public Art division. Sonja Haller’s article last week, her follow-up this week, and Michelle’s mini-post today should all clearly illustrate that for you.

I wasn’t able to attend the SCC meeting this afternoon, unfortunately. However, my understanding is that,

  1. There were a BUNCH of Public Art supporters at the meeting who entered ‘public comments’ into the record regarding their concerns about how SCC and Banchs are treating Public Art.
  2. The Board of Trustees of the Cultural Council expressed both ignorance of the current conflict and ignorance of the Public Art Master Plan process. Both are inexcusable in my book. They can all read the newspaper just like we do.
  3. There were no decisions made (in the public portion anyway) about any personnel issues related to Public Art.

I wish I had more for you, but that’s all we know for now. I’ll be posting some more background on the Cultural Council Board of Trustees soon.

I was privy to one of the public comments that was read into the record. I’ll share that here:

My name is Kathy Littlefield and I am here this afternoon to read a brief statement from my husband, Vice Mayor Bob Littlefield, regarding the Public Art master planning process and the controversy surrounding that process.

I think we all agree that in today’s new economic environment the traditional formula for funding public art is no longer viable and, in order for Scottsdale’s award-winning Public Art program to survive and prosper radical changes in its structure and function will be required. This is exactly the challenge the Public Art master planning process was designed to address.

Unfortunately, that process has become mired in controversy and strife between some of the parties involved.  Your task tonight is to find a way to rise above these challenges and move forward with this important process.

I believe the most productive way for you to accomplish this goal is to take four steps tonight:

  1. Appoint a task force to oversee the completion of the Public Art master planning process.  This task force should include, at a minimum, representatives from the Scottsdale Cultural Council Board of Trustees, the Scottsdale Public Art Advisory Board, the general public and city staff.  This membership would insure that all of the stakeholders are represented.
  2. Charge this task force to conduct their business in a series of public meetings to insure that all stakeholders have ample opportunity for input into the process and to insure the process is transparent.
  3. Make no changes in Public Art personnel at least until the direction the program is going to take is decided.
  4. Take advantage of the offer made by city staff to mediate the disputes between the various individuals involved in this process.

Contrary to what some might have you believe, I am absolutely committed to insuring the survival and prosperity of Scottsdale’s award-winning Public Art program.  If you decide to take these four reasonable steps I pledge my total cooperation to achieve that important goal.

What’s your take on the Scottsdale Cultural Council and the $4 million dollars of taxpayer money they receive every year? Are we getting good value for that money? When is the last time you attended a Cultural Council event?

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  1. Impressions of the last Scottsdale Cultural Council board meeting. A place where the pesky public was forced to be tolerated but obviously not welcome:

    First impression: Signs on the door set the SCC attitude and mood. A warning to “guests” that chairs are reserved for SCC officials and staff. Guests need to wait for the leftovers or stand. Great way to say “Welcome public. We care about what you have to say.”

    First observation: If they knew members of the public were going to attend, why didn’t they move the meeting to a larger room. Don’t they have a small theater in the performing arts building that would have accommodated both the meeting and public comfortably? Why is the security guard counting the number of people entering the room? I get it. They purposely wanted to have the meeting in a small room to limit participation and they were prepared to deny access once capacity was reached. Again, great way to say “welcome.”

    Mike Miller looks like a deer in the headlights when members of the public refuse to accept his declaration that they cannot speak. When he goes to plan B, saying he will allow a very limited amount of time for public comment, the crowd rebukes him again. He surely was thinking: “Wow, I’m used to my subordinates at Scottsdale Insurance jumping at my every command. These ignorant members of the public don’t know who’s the boss! I can’t believe I am actually going to have to LISTEN to the commoners”

    The payoff: Listening to some of Scottsdale’s highly respected community leaders – former city executives, former councilmembers, former mayor, former state senator, public art board members, artists and just ordinary citizens who care – speak so elegantly and passionately about the public art program they love and the talent staff who lead it.

    Good idea: A note of keen observations and a excellent proposal to form a task force proposed by Councilman Littlefield and delivered eloquently by Mrs. Littlefield.

    Popular theme: Hearing person after person express dismay at the current state of affairs at the SCC under the failed leadership of Bill Banchs. One speaker expressed it best saying basically that Banchs has sucked the life out of the arts and cultural community in Scottsdale.

    Sour note: Listening to trustee Mark Heigel “lecture” the folks in the room that they basically should keep their mouths shut and not express their concerns through the press. Who was he talking to? It wasn’t his cronies on the board so obviously he was addressing public art staff, public art board members and concerned members of the community. Mr. Heigel, the SCC Trustees have demonstrated that they are not interesting in hearing from members of the public, so how dare you criticize anyone for exercise their first amendment right to express their opinions and concerns where they can be heard.

    Final thoughts: Did the Trustees get it? I don’t know about the newer members who came after the Linda Milhaven board stacking era. Unfortunately, I don’t think the old guard felt anything but dismay for the speakers and resentment that they had to “work” late because of the “disruption.” How sad!

    1. The attitude you observed and described is exactly why the Cultural Council is in such deep trouble. You can’t learn anything if you are the smartest guy in the room.

      That attitude is enabled and encouraged by Mayor Jim Lane and former board chair Linda Milhaven who would rather see the SCC burn to the ground than admit they were wrong. Jim Lane’s legacy to Scottsdale will be two empty buildings and a community that thinks culture is just another word for government fraud, waste, and abuse.

      Thanks for the play-by-play. Very informative!

  2. I hope we can all agree that no one wants to see the public art/cultural council burn to the ground. While I would like to say something witty and thought provoking, I can see by Kathy Littlefield’s comments that Robert has done his homework as a City Councilman and has come up with the best viable solution that will keep our public art in the public’s eye.
    One can only hope the CC will get off their high horse and do what is best for the program, public art, and the public at large.

  3. If you care about Scottsdale, then tell city leaders we are not behind Mr. Banchs. HE IS BAD FOR SCOTTSDALE’S ARTS LEGACY. Whether you like are or not, it is an important part of our history and important to our economic vitality. And he is a bad political ally. ANYONE WHO STANDS UNDER THE BILL BANCHS CLOUD IS GOING TO GET RAINED ON. Make no mistake, those of you thinking of running for office, the arts blood runs deep in Scottsdale.

    Scottsdale’s free arts for the community depends on a strong public art program which is at great risk under his version of leadership—what he calls the Bill Banchs Plan for Success. Demand an investigation into Banchs’ practices, his policy implementation, and his lies threatening to destroy the public art program. WITHOUT A DOUBT HE IS ON THE BRINK OF TEARING APART SCOTTSDALE’S MOST SUCCESSFUL AND BELOVED ARTS PROGRAM, A 100% CITY FUNDED FREE ARTS PROGRAM.

    His behind the scenes demonization of the Scottsdale Public Art Program has gone on too long. This is an award-winning city art program run competently by public art staff until Banchs showed up and saw their budget as a pot of gold.

    Don’t be fooled; even if there is a joint task force to help the Board of Trustees look at master plan recommendations, the BILL BANCHS BLACKOUT on Scottsdale will pervade until he goes away.

    Bill Banchs has been here 3 years and program by program he’s losing donors, watering down programming and his ineptitude wastes staff time and company money. And now he’s moved on to the public art program. How much longer are we going to let this compulsive liar destroy Scottsdale’s arts legacy, tarnish our cachet as an arts town?? How many directors and marketing directors has he been through? Senior staff filing for whistle blower protection??? What’s next? How about a money grab at the next chance? How about cooked books?

    Hey this isn’t Miami!!! Scottsdale is a small town with a big heart. Don’t let this outsider destroy our family. Where are Scottsdale’s values in this? How long is city council going to wait before this $4 million contract really starts to go sour? Rainy days have come. It’s the Bill Banchs Cloud on Scottsdale.

    By the way, the SCC CEO Bill Banchs, should take a few hundred dollars from his enormous and unwarranted $250,000/year salary and pay Jan Dolan and the others who begged to speak at that Trustee meeting. She gave all those boys some good free training on how and why to allow public comment.

    It’s evident how much Mr. Banchs loves the public art program; maybe he really wanted to tell the room full of people the reason why this is the first time the public art master planning consultant was before this Board. I guess he just forgot. Then again, he didn’t say anything at all, all night. He’s a liability, and now they’re telling him to keep his mouth shut. Time to make him answer some questions.

    Ask him why the public art master planner came to the board for the 1st time this past week. There will be his answer, and then there’s the truth: SCC leadership actually cancelled the consultant several times this summer, literally banning staff from proceeding with the process, threatening jobs etc. That’s called STONEWALLING; not to mention extra costs for to the public art program for sure.

    Urge City Council and Mr. Miller to please ask the arts community what they think of Bill Banchs’ leadership. Oh wait! They came to Mr. Miller this week! Pillars of our community, many of whom also founded the Scottsdale Cultural Council years ago have raised a GIANT RED FLAG and asked for your help to fix the problem.

    One person at Tuesday’s meeting, speaking in support of the public art program read a LETTER OF DISTRESS signed by 16 members of the public art board asking that Banchs and Miller let them move forward with the master plan, asking for “civil dialogue.” Other suggestions and requests were offered as long time public art supporters spoke: Someone issued an impassioned call, “Mr. Banchs, step up or step out of the way.” And straw polls give highest honors to “Watch out for the BILL BANCHS CLOUD.” Sooner or later it is going to rain, dark polluted rain on Scottsdale’s arts legacy. Or has it already??

    Oh dear, unofficial meeting minutes report another really smart guy, who gave some constructive input on how to resolve the problems, simply asked, what exactly are you afraid of Mr. Banchs? One answer might be: he’s afraid of losing his juicy salary. I wonder what the official meeting minutes will say?

    1. Agreed!

      I’m amazed at how many obviously bright folks have tried to tell our obviously dim leaders (Mayor Lane and Council member Milhaven in particular) how bad this situation has become, and they just won’t listen.

  4. It’s official: The Bill Banchs Blackout has hit Scottsdale.
    Last night’s meeting is proof positive.

    Mayor & Robbins: It’s not your job? Work it out amongst yourselves? This is not an SNL sketch. It’s your $4 million contract. And, oh by the way, it is YOUR public art collection that is at risk under the current leader of the arts council. And economic vitality in Scottsdale hinges on a few things, and the arts, public art is one of them.

    Last night the Mayor, and Councilman Robbins, said they’re not worried about this little arts problem brewing. What they meant to say was that, it hasn’t cause enough collateral damage yet. I know what you mean: I like to drive my car as long as possible without looking under the hood until parts are actually falling off and the car won’t run.

    Here’s a little lesson in Scottsdale politics: Funds for public art are swept by the SCC and then they make their budget request. City, being asleep at the wheel, doesn’t notice, and approves your funds. Or even better, maybe you’ve greased some palms and/or whined and lied a whole bunch, and the city is on board with your “borrowing” some money from the public art earmark.

    It’s called: look at the pattern over the last several years. Don’t ignore the whistle blower and the long time arts volunteers and donors who can help read between the lines of all the lies and white washing.

    And Mr. Mayor is not concerned enough yet to have his staff look into it? Even though pillars of the community have now pleaded in two public forum for city leaders to find out what’s going on? Oh he’s a bit worried, I assure you. Not only is this arts fiasco making him look bad, but it’s now cutting into his Tuesday night tv watching, and, oh yeah, maybe even his upcoming campaign.

    Q: How many city staffers does it take to listen at a city council meeting about the arts, a topic the Mayor says he’s not that worried about?

    A: 4, the general manager from economic vitality dept; the guy who is responsible for the arts contract but cant’ remember which stack of papers it’s buried in; the new million dollar girl in the economic vitality dept; and the zoning administrator (probably the only guy who knows how to interpret the arts ordinances). Make no mistake: the Mayor is worried.

    Mr. Robbins, with all do respect, when 15 people take their precious time to participate in democratic process and plead to you that something is amiss, that means something is amiss. They’re telling you it’s time to direct staff to get to the bottom of a brewing problem before it gets any worse. Those citizens spoke passionately and eloquently, and many of them are names that appear in Scottsdale’s history books. And after all their comments, you’re not exactly why this item was before you? Please, I beg of you, take notice. This is not about Councilman Bob Littlefield, though he apparently is the only one who cares enough ask some questions and do his homework.

    Mr. Mayor is worried that this might cause– what, extra work?? Oh sorry, what he said was it could cause opening the contract up, possibly revising it, and worse– having to go out for bid. Yeah, I too hate having to work hard to make sure my business is efficient, effective and produces the highest quality widgets.

    Scottsdale calls itself an arts town?!!! Not with this Mayor. It’s not too late, as a few people said, but he has to take head now. One of the people who spoke last night, Bill Heckman, is the chair of the public art committee (and a member of the Board of Trustees). He spoke as though he’s leaving the BOT, didn’t he?

    Betsy Fahlman, former Scottsdale Mayor Sam Campana “the arts mayor”, Bob Frost, and more. They hit the nail on the head, or shall we say, they called the clown out: Bill Banchs is bad for the arts in Scottsdale.

    Someone did a roll call last night:
    Public art supporters: 32
    Bill Banchs Board members: 1 plus her husband, and maybe another one who cut out before the meeting started. Hmmm.

    People are going crazy over the pattern of allegations and the lack of understanding about the public art program perpetrated from within the Scottsdale Cultural Council.

    I have been a long time supporter of Scottsdale arts, but all this is creating many open ended questions about SCC leadership. Frankly, this cloud over Scottsdale arts is embarrassing and I hope the public art program does not get dragged around any further. The SCC is going to have to work hard to gain my trust again after the 3 ring circus ships out of town.

  5. I couldn’t agree more. I was at the City Council Meeting last night. I was happy to be present, both to show my support for Public Art & to learn more, which I did. I found all the comments to be well thought out and articulated…. until the end, when Mayor Lane & Councilman Robbins spoke. Such a disappointment.

    1. Absolutely agree. Very disappointing. Not a sterling display of leadership.

      Thank you for your comment…and for your support of Public Art.

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