Former director, Turnage locking horns

Published 8:14 pm Thursday, August 23, 2007

By Staff
Group: Vogt wielding ‘baseless accusations’
News Editor
A former leader of Turnage Theaters Foundation said he was fired for questioning “unauthorized spending … that jeopardizes the financial viability of the project,” a statement that the organization calls a “baseless allegation” designed to tarnish the image of a decade-long effort.
John Vogt was fired as executive director of the foundation on Aug. 14. Foundation spokesman Norm Koestline initially termed Vogt’s leaving as a “departure under mutual terms” in an Aug. 15 interview. A written statement from the foundation, released Tuesday, terms Vogt’s departure a “termination.”
The nonprofit foundation is working to restore the historic theaters complex on Washington’s Main Street and convert it into a regional performing-arts center. The organization has raised $2.5 million to rehabilitate the 1930s portion of the theater, a project that will be done by the end of next month. An opening night performance in the rehabilitated theater is scheduled for Nov. 3.
Vogt, who was hired in 2005, alleges that he was fired for blowing the whistle when $53,000 in construction change orders were approved in late July without appropriate authorization. After he did that, Vogt contends, a four-member executive committee met in secret to have him ousted.
For its part, the foundation said there has been no unauthorized spending. The foundation’s contract relating to renovations includes a 10 percent contingency fund because the organization didn’t want to spend too much money “up front in the discovery phase” of the project, Koestline said. To date, the project’s costs have dipped into the contingency fund only 5 percent and work is nearly complete, both Koestline and foundation attorney Ranee Singleton Holbrook said Tuesday.
That approval happened the way it did because Vogt “decided to take the architect on and refused to process change orders,” Koestline said. “Our architect came to us and said … ‘If things continue the way they are going now, I’m going to have to withdraw from the project.’ Jerry Smyre (foundation president) signed the change orders at that point because he felt the project was in jeopardy.”
Holbrook said there have been no secret meetings regarding Vogt’s employment. The situation with the architect caused the full board to charge the executive committee with reviewing Vogt’s entire job performance, she said. That directive came from the full board on July 31.
Vogt was evaluated on five “key areas of responsibility,” according to a statement from the foundation. The evaluation found the foundation’s Web site that was supposed to be updated by March 2007 was still showing up as the same Web site from 2004 when it was viewed earlier this month, according to the foundation.
Vogt said he has been given “no reason whatsoever” as to why he was fired.
Vogt said he had booked more than 70 live performances for the 2007-2008 theater season, but Holbrook said only five of those were firm. That means that contracts had been exchanged and that deposits were made if deposits were required.
Both Vogt and the foundation said they agree on one thing — the success of the historic theater. Vogt said it has been his “sole interest” for two years.
Holbrook said it’s something she and foundation volunteers want to see for “my children and my children’s children.”