Acrimony takes the stage at Piper’s
Appeal Staff Writer
Disagreements amongst members of the board of directors at Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City and bookkeeping irregularities from previous administrations have led to the resignations of the chairman, treasurer and the historic hall’s executive director. A third member has been voted off the board.
“Right now the board, as it stands, has been literally in a state of dissension, with people refusing to work with each other,” said Howard Bennett, who resigned Monday, along with treasurer Ron Waicul and Executive Director Margo Memmott. “There was no joy in it. I decided it was best for me to go.”
The opera house, built in 1880, has been undergoing restoration since the late 1960s, and is owned by Piper’s Opera House Programs Inc., a nonprofit corporation.
Jay Davis was voted off the board at Monday’s meeting. She and Waicul could not be reached for comment.
Bennett, a retired educator who was born in Virginia City, said the problems were so pronounced, he felt one option would be for the current board to resign so a vote of the membership can be taken to choose another board.
“The board needs to be people who understand how a board needs to work and who support the executive director fully,” he said. “Our board tends to be hands-on to the point of micromanagement.”
Memmott, who plans to stay until June 30, also cited the current board problems as contributing to her decision to resign.
“Basically the board and I don’t agree as to where we need to go, what direction we need to go in,” she said. “But I am very much in support of Piper’s Opera House in every way. It’s a very important historic resource, not only to this community but to the country.”
Alexandra Muntean-Musser, who is now serving as interim treasurer, admitted that there were problems, but said financial and bookkeeping problems led to the acrimony on the board.
She praised Memmott for her knowledge and work on the restoration and her love of Piper’s, but said there had not been sufficient grants and bookkeeping problems persisted.
“We don’t want to be poor anymore, we want grantwriting and we want all these other things,” she said, adding that Davis was voted off the board because of repeated absences from meetings.
Muntean-Musser also admitted to some micromanagement.
“We feel we did end up to a certain degree doing that because we are accountable,” she said. “The opposition has moved aside, so now we can do some work.”
She did not support a resignation of the remaining six members of the board at this point, saying since there are 11 spots on the board, that would be enough to bring in new blood. Muntean-Musser did say a board resignation could be a possibility later.
“It would be irresponsible to leave at this time,” she said. “It would be disastrous to dump this entire mess on some poor new board.”
Board member Malcolm Hunt said that Piper’s was finishing a two-year audit, required for an organization that accepts grant funding, and admitted there were some problems with it, which he categorized as technical.
“The chart of accounts has to change,” Hunt said. “It’s a way of categorizing money, when you are using federal funds, you have to have the money in separate accounts.”
Bennett, who served as executive director until 2002, when he was replaced by Sam Folio said the accounting problems occurred mostly from 2002-04, adding that a new audit would be undertaken shortly to cover the 2004-06 period.
“There’s nothing so out of line that would concern me,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with accountability. Under the previous administration, well, sloppy is the word I would use.”
Folio resigned least year, and Memmott took his place.
Memmott, will take a position as senior archaeologist at ASM Affiliates of Reno. She said her goal now was to ensure a smooth transition with the next director.
“I want to set it up so that whomever is my successor can pick up right from where I left off and carry the ball,” she said.
Memmott said during year as Piper’s director, she re-established daily tours from May through October, addressed fire-safety problems, worked to restore and rehabilitate the lobby and re-established the membership program. She also wrote grant proposals, receiving awards from private and public entities, including Sierra Pacific Power Co., the Nevada Commission on Cultural Affairs, Storey County commissioners and the Nevada Arts Council.
Entertainer Sheree Rose of Red Rose Productions, producers of shows at the opera house lamented Memmott’s departure.
“She was the best thing that’s happened to Piper’s Opera House,” Rose said. “I don’t know what they’re going to do now.”
Bennett said he believed Piper’s needs an full-time office manager to be there 9 to 5, and a part-time executive director to oversee operations. “The finances are not there to support both,” he said.
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