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Officials consider action over DIA pay hikes

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A state lawmaker and Oakland County commissioner are calling on officials at the Detroit Institute of Arts to immediately reconsider the double-digit compensation increases given to both the DIA director and its executive vice president and chief operating officer in 2012, saying they are a misuse of taxpayer funding.

Rep. Eileen Kowall, R-White Lake, said Monday she is asking the DIA’s board of directors to reconsider the pay boosts so tax dollars sent to the museum via a regional millage approved by voters in Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties go where they are supposed to — for museum operations.

“Given the DIA’s very public part in Detroit’s recent bankruptcy case, I was shocked to see such drastic raises being given out on our taxpayers’ dime,” Kowall said. “I have worked hard to protect local taxpayers, and this is money that should have gone toward protecting the city’s art, not lining the pockets of top officials at the DIA.”

Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward, D-Royal Oak, said he spoke Friday with Gene Gargaro, chair of the DIA compensation committee, and asked him to either have the money returned or put measures in place to ensure this does not happen again.

If nothing happens, Woodward said, he would take steps to dissolve the Oakland County Arts Authority that collects the voter approved $11 million annually for the DIA.

“The DIA must act now to acknowledge the mistake, apologize and fix it,” Woodward said. “Otherwise, I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to see that no further Oakland County monies go to it.”

Asked for comment Monday, Gargaro confirmed he spoke with Woodward on Friday and told The News: “I need time to consider what Dave and I discussed ... when I have something meaningful, I will share it with you.”

The News reported last week that DIA director Graham Beal’s total compensation increased by 13 percent to $513,868, according to 2013 tax documents filed by the museum. Annmarie Erickson, DIA executive vice president and chief operating officer, saw her compensation increase by 36 percent in one year to $369,366. Each received $50,000 bonuses as part of the compensation.

Gargaro has defended the compensation increases, saying they were based on multiple factors including personnel evaluations, the overall financial performance of the DIA and the pay of other comparable museum executives. In Erickson’s case, it was also the additional responsibilities she had taken in recent years.

“Yes, it’s a significant amount of money. That’s what it takes to attract and retain top talent in our community,” Gargaro told The News last week.

The increases came in 2012, the same year voters in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties approved a $23 million millage to fund DIA operations for 10 years, and just months before the museum became embroiled in Detroit’s historic bankruptcy case.

Woodward has begun drafting a resolution to dissolve the Oakland County Arts Authority and cut off all further support from the Oakland County arts millage to the DIA, he said. If there is no solution to the problem, Woodward says he will introduce it at the next regularly scheduled Oakland County Board of Commissioners meeting and ask for an immediate vote.

JChambers@detroitnews.com