The two sides in the Rochester Philharmonic fight will likely be back in court soon.
At first blush, a court ruling on Monday seemed to be a clear win for the RPO board: State Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Fisher basically tossed out requests from a group of dissident RPO members. Upset that the board fired music director Arild Remmereit, they had tried to get the organization's annual meeting postponed so they could elect their own slate to the board. On Monday, Fisher sided with the board. But while the board issued a press release saying it was pleased, this isn't the end of the story.
The dissidents' initial court actions dealt only with the holding of the annual meeting and election. That meeting has already taken place, on January 23, and Fisher ruled that much of what dissidents were asking for – permitting write-in votes at that meeting, extending the expiring terms of board members and officers, among other things – was now moot.
But significantly, Fisher did not rule that the meeting and the election were void – because the dissidents had not asked for that. They can go back to court seeking that ruling. And earlier this week, their attorney, Eileen Buholtz, said she was preparing to do just that.
I have mixed feelings about all of this. I believe the RPO board was correct in terminating Remmereit's contract. But I also believe in democracy. The RPO's bylaws make it difficult to mount opposition board candidates. And in this particular case, there was no real dissident movement until it was too late to run opposition candidates. The bylaws set the deadline for filing nominations, and by the time the board fired Remmereit, that date had passed.
It'll be interesting to see how the court rules in this next round. My hunch is that it will again side with the RPO leadership, not the dissidents. But if I were on that board right now, I'd be pushing for a far more democratic way to elect board members.
I'd also take seriously reports of "a climate of fear" among the musicians. The RPO players should be at the core of everybody's focus, and no player should feel threatened – not by a music director, not by a union, not by the board, not by other musicians. Everybody needs to start building trust among the RPO family.
And if the court rules for the dissidents, and a new election is held, and the dissidents win? First of all, they won't be in charge. Only 1/3 of the board seats will be up. There are still a few dissidents on the board, but I'd bet there aren't enough to form a majority after a new election.
And so, some advice for the dissidents. Some of them insist that the RPO board and the CEO should never "interfere" with the work of the music director. But the board and the CEO must make sure that the books balance. And they also have a responsibility to step in if they're concerned about how an employee is treating others – whether it's the music director, the CEO, a board member, a secretary, or a musician.
And no, personnel problems should not be aired widely.
I've been troubled by the suggestion by some dissidents that employers should have different standards of behavior for "artists" than for other employees. As an out-of-town RPO supporter wrote me recently, that's ridiculous. We should not tolerate abusive behavior from anyone, not in this day and age. It's not ethical. And it doesn't get the best from people.
Finally, there's been enough dissident talk about withdrawing financial support – even about urging governments to cut off funds. That will cripple the orchestra.
This isn't the first time the RPO has gone through this kind of drama. It will pass. The question is how strong the orchestra will be afterwards. That depends on all RPO supporters, but for the next year, it depends primarily on the board. And on the leadership of the dissidents.