After a monthlong suspension, CEPA Gallery Executive Director Sean Donaher is back at work.
In a phone interview Thursday afternoon from his office, he shed some light on what until this week had been an information blackout about the reasons behind his suspension and a concurrent investigation into his handling of the gallery’s finances.
“Some red flags were raised due to our cash flow issues,” Donaher said, referencing the concerns of CEPA staffers who had complained to the gallery’s board about Donaher’s handling of the gallery’s finances. Some of those concerns, as reported Thursday morning by The Public, pertained to unpaid credit card bills resulting from a seasonal funding crunch.
“When investigating or looking into those flags, the board decided that it would be most prudent or above-board to bring in a third party.”
That third-party accountant, he said, “found no wrongdoing on my part. They found no malfeasance of any kind, certainly. And hence reinstated me.”
Donaher said that the organization, which has been the subject of a great deal of controversy surrounding his suspension and the board’s perceived treatment of Donaher, will make a renewed effort to ensure better communication between board members and staff about the daily operations and financial condition of the gallery.
“What came to light through the process was that there was an opportunity to look at financial reporting and communication between staff and board, and put in additional safeguards, checks and balances,” he said. Those safeguards, he added, will “allow for a better and more consistent, across-the-board monitoring of the financial state of the organization.”
Donaher called the gallery’s end-of-the-year financial crunch “a very common occurrence, something that all organizations have to deal with.”
Indeed, many local non-profit leaders often describe having to deal with late-year funding problems, in which staff salaries and utility bills must be prioritized and other accounts sometimes fall behind.
But it’s clear that CEPA’s issues went beyond the typical cash-flow hiccup.
“Part of the issues here, beyond cash flow, was the board’s awareness of the full financial state of CEPA,” Donaher said, suggesting board members may not be completely familiar with the two-year cycle in which CEPA operates. “The financial picture of any organization is not one month, it’s not two months, it’s two years … We’re running in the black and that’s been historically the case and I think in the future, that is going to be the norm as well.”
As for the CEPA board’s decision to suspend Donaher pending a review of the gallery’s finances, he said, “I don’t really know if that’s a common practice or not, but I believe they were acting with the best interests of me and CEPA in mind.”