Our blog has written about the turmoil at Fairchild Garden in Coral Gables. At the end of last year, I joined a group of members whose efforts to introduce term limits to the By-Laws of the organization are being stiffly opposed by long-time trustees.
The group of members had coalesced around the firing of the head of education at the Garden, Caroline Lewis. Ms. Lewis was dismissed without cause by Bruce Greer, the president of the Garden. Greer worked around a chain of command to remove her for reasons that do not add up. The contortions that ensued to protect Garden management from criticism have wrapped up the Garden board, demoralized staff and volunteers, and shaken a Miami institution.
After Ms. Lewis was fired (she had innovated and built an environmental education program called the Fairchild Challenge that served, last year, more than 50,000 students in Miami-Dade and provided a model for an important national purpose. She was fired on a pretext-- see our archive for more), the members tried to organize a Special Meeting, provided by the institution's By-Laws, to support Ms. Lewis and to recommend term limits for directors. A protest demonstration was held outside the Garden walls. The board, shocked that opposition had developed for the first time and that members would actually resort to requiring compliance with the Garden's By-Laws, rejected the members' request. Protests continued, including a banner plane flying, "Term Limits for Fairchild". The members also proposed to introduce term limits to the organization at a forthcoming annual meeting. The board refused this request, too, rescheduling the annual meeting. At a board meeting last week, the Fairchild trustees passed a hastily organized, paranoid response: they voted to change the By-Laws to require that any further amendment (ie. term limits) must be approved by a supermajority vote of the board.
In its reaction to criticism, the Garden's politburo-style management-- defending a $20 million endowment-- proves the point of the term limit proposal. The more Garden management papers over divisions it alone created, the more clearly it makes the case itself for change. But Garden managers, with access and use of Garden financial resources, are gambling that the opposition will dissipate over time; to that end, the Garden refused to provide access to the membership mailing list by members as also provided by By-Laws.
Fairchild leadership is convinced that they deserve nothing but praise for dedicated service to the garden and the community. These contortions have been described more fully in the blog, "Term Limits for Fairchild".