DIA chair defends double-digit compensation for execs

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

The chairman of the board of the Detroit Institute of Arts issued a statement Friday defending double-digit compensation increases given to the museum’s two top executives and promising to ensure full transparency to taxpayers on such decisions going forward.

In a written statement, chairman Gene Gargaro acknowledged that compensation awarded director Graham Beal and Annemarie Erickson in 2012, which included $50,000 bonuses for each, has caused controversy for the museum since The Detroit News published a story Oct. 9 on the double-digit increases.

According to tax documents filed by the nonprofit, Beal's total compensation increased by 13 percent to $513,868. Erickson, DIA executive vice president and chief operating officer, saw her compensation increase by 36 percent to $369,366.

“We sincerely regret that we did not anticipate the way in which our promotion and compensation decisions in late 2011 and early 2012 would be perceived in late 2014 in light of the conditions that developed for the city and the region as the DIA millage was approved in late 2012 and as the City of Detroit entered bankruptcy in 2013,” Gargaro said.

“We pledge to keep the elected officials in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties informed on a current basis as we make executive compensation decisions in the future,” the statement said.

Gargaro said DIA executives work “very hard to maintain a museum that is internationally respected, and they should be compensated in the same manner as their contemporaries in the art world.

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.

Dave Woodward, an Oakland County commissioner who was outraged at the compensation increases, said he needs to hear more from DIA officials in the next week as he continues to prepare a resolution to dissolve the Oakland County Arts Authority, the body that collects the regional tax in Oakland County for the DIA.

Woodward, along state Rep. Eileen Kowall, R-White Lake Township, called on DIA officials this week to reconsider the compensation increases which they say amounted to a misuse of taxpayer funding.

When Woodward spoke to Gargaro last week, he asked him to either have the money returned to the general fund or put measures in place to ensure this does not happen again. The DIA did not offer to return the money nor did it offer a specific measure moving forward.

Woodward said while he appreciates the letter providing a detailed and lengthy explanation, the facts remain the same — Beal and Erickson each received $50,000 bonuses and compensation increases of 13 and 36 percent respectively.

Woodward wants some form of oversight for officials in Oakland Wayne and Macomb counties when it comes to compensation for DIA executives.

“That is essential. Bonuses moving forward are no longer acceptable,” Woodward said. “Pay increases that outpace the rate of inflation are not acceptable at a moment when pensioners and others are taking cuts including in Oakland County.

“I still maintain that not only in light of this, given the transformation from a private to pseudo-public institution, greater accountability and transparency needs to happen at the DIA,” he said.