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Ex-San Diego Opera Chief Didn’t Stand To Gain Financially If Company Closed

The employment agreement between the San Diego Opera and Ian Campbell, the former general and artistic director, has been under scrutiny for two months.

Aired 5/22/14 on KPBS News.

UPDATE: KPBS has now obtained a signed copy of an amendment to Ian Campbell's employment contract with the San Diego Opera. At the time this radio story broadcast, KPBS only had an unsigned copy.

An amendment to Ian Campbell's employment contract with the San Diego Opera suggests he didn't stand to gain financially from the company's closure.

One man is getting most of the blame for trying to shut down the San Diego Opera, but that may not be warranted — at least with regard to the claim that he did it for financial gain.

Ian Campbell, the opera's former general and artistic director, led the opera for 31 years. He also guided the board of directors to vote in March to close the company, saying it was no longer financially sustainable. That decision has since been reversed, with the makeup of the board changing.

Since the vote to close, Campbell’s salary and compensation package has been a flashpoint. It's also been seen as a major liability for the company.

An amendment to Campbell’s contract — not brought to the public’s attention until KPBS obtained a copy of it Wednesday — suggests he would not have received a large lump sum if the company had shut down and paid off its creditors, the path proposed by Campbell and some board members.

Campbell’s original 2006 employment agreement said he would receive his annual salary through 2017, even if the opera shut down.

KPBS obtained a signed copy of an amendment to that employment agreement, dated June 26, 2010, stating that after 2013 the board could terminate Campbell’s contract with 30 days' notice. It also would only have to pay him a salary through the end of the calendar year, in this case it would have been 2014.

Former opera board president Karen Cohn acknowledged there was a contract amendment.

“The [contract] has a glitch,” said Cohn, who resigned from the board because she believes shutting down was the responsible path. “It [the contract] has an addendum on the back of it. So it would pick up year to year, and the board would have to pick it up.”

KPBS consulted two attorneys to interpret the amendment in the context of Campbell’s employment agreement. Both agreed that the amendment reduced Campbell’s contract to an annual renewal process.

When KPBS obtained a copy of the original employment agreement in early April, the one-page amendment was not attached. Once aware of the amendment, KPBS sent multiple requests to see it, but the opera refused those requests, though a spokesman for the company confirmed the document existed.

According to the amendment, Campbell would not stand to gain millions in salary upon shutting down the company, as has been speculated.

The San Diego Opera declined to comment for this story. Campbell, who was reached by phone, also declined to comment. The two parties are negotiating a settlement through their lawyers.

The opera board voted on March 19 to close at the end of the 2014 season in April, a move that shocked the company's supporters. Some directors soon regretted the decision and led a revolt to keep the company open. Board members loyal to Campbell resigned. The opera company eventually ended its relationship with Campbell and his ex-wife.

On Monday, the new board announced the opera had raised enough money to stay open and produce a 50th anniversary season in 2015.

On Tuesday, the opera also confirmed that the state attorney general is conducting an investigation of the company. The attorney general is asking the opera to turn over hundreds of documents related to the company’s finances, and specifically asks for the compensation history of Campbell and his deputy director and ex-wife, Ann Spira Campbell.

The opera has 30 days to comply with the audit.

An earlier version of this story reported that the contract was unsigned. KPBS later received a signed copy of the contract and updated the story accordingly.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | May 22, 2014 at 9:46 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Even if one gives Mr. Campbell the benefit of the doubt from an economic perspective (i.e. personal profit was not a motive), it still has to be said that his handling of this was incompetent.

He obviously was out of touch with what the public or his own donors and Opera artists wanted, and the way he secretly and suddenly decided to close right before a landmark 50th year anniversary was abhorrent.

The only way I will give him credit is if it turns out he sacrificed himself to be the villain in a real-life Opera in which a distressed Opera Director, realizing the institution he helms is in peril, feigns to be an incompetent hack and suddenly announces closure right before a landmark 50th year anniversary in an effort to raise forth the necessary funds to save the Opera.

if THAT'S the case then I will take back every bad thing I ever said about the man, but what are the chances THAT is the case?????

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Avatar for user 'MaxCoates'

MaxCoates | May 22, 2014 at 12:14 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Right Karen and Ian humm...ah...yeah....

We have this addendum that clears us of wiping out the Operas funds.

Oh it's not signed,(can't find a notary to back dated it) we did produce the addendum till we realized that it looked like it would be a golden farewell to Ian.

Karen Looks like you should stick to gala committee chair type work. This sorta stuff make you look really really bad.

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Avatar for user 'jbpolhamus'

jbpolhamus | May 22, 2014 at 2:21 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

I'm waiting to see what the State Attourney General's office has to say after the audit. But whatever they say, the fact remains that Campbell bilked the Opera Association, FAILED to advance opera in this city, FAILED to educate the young audience, and got paid FAR more than was commensurate for maintaining the status quo, which was insufficient to begin with. Even if it costs money to finally rid our city of him, it is worth it to save the company for his self-centered destructive intentions. More dignified MY ASS. More covered up, that's all.

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Avatar for user 'tomp'

tomp | May 23, 2014 at 10:15 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Why does the 6th paragraph now state that KPBS obtained a _signed_ copy of the addendum? The story as broadcast, and as posted yesterday, was explicit that they only had an unsigned copy, and could not prove that it was legally in force. As of 10am May 23, the audio link still states _unsigned_.

Please post a correction notice explaining the change.

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Avatar for user 'Angela Carone'

Angela Carone | May 23, 2014 at 10:58 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Tomp: When I produced the radio version of this story, I only had an unsigned copy of the amendment. On Thursday afternoon, I was given a signed copy. The audio posted here is from the morning - I didn't do a second radio version because I was out of the office. However, we updated the web story when we received a signed copy and posted the document (see above). Our stories always indicate the time in which the story was updated on the homepage. Thanks, Angela

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Avatar for user 'Angela Carone'

Angela Carone | May 23, 2014 at 11:11 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Tomp: also, we just updated the copy that goes with the audio link. Thanks for commenting.

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Avatar for user 'Caryfamilia1'

Caryfamilia1 | May 24, 2014 at 7:13 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Well everyone needs to take a step back and look at this from a purely audit standpoint. First, Mr. Campbell had been there for 31 years which gave him so much control that no one ever questioned his decisions including the Board of Directors. Not to mention his exorbitant salary and benefits package for a relatively small opera company. Perhaps, KPBS should compare his salary and benefits to other opera companies of the same size around the world? And to keep his ex wife on the payroll with her salary and benefits indicates a definite "conflict of interests" and nepotism at the least.

Now why is the AG's office looking into him we can only suppose for multiple reasons? First, having been there 31 years no one would ever question his authority. We have all heard of his lavish trips and First Class plane tickets and luxury hotels around the world, but I suppose that is typical of the opera world in general. Suppose all of that can be justified for his obtaining world class talent for the SD Opera. BUT NO ONE QUESTIONED HIS AUTHORITY AND EXPENSES!.

So now a full scale financial and operational audit is needed to have full disclosure. Did he really enhance financial statements to make the opera company's books look more robust to receive further donations? And who is looking into his lavish expenditures including multiple plastic surgeries supposedly paid for by the SD Opera's insurance for the last 5 years? An independent auditor needs to be retained for full disclosure as apparently no controls were in place to prevent the debacle of this honored SD institution. (I recently heard he owned a condo in Gstaad...hmmmmm?)

Instead of all of the conjectures and hiding behind employment contracts, the SD Opera needs a full independent audit of all of Mr. Campbell's affairs for the last five years and expand the scope of years if necessary. Only then can the SD Opera move on and put this cloud of dark scrutiny behind them. And with Mr. Campbell wanting to disband the Opera in SD on the spur of the moment, perhaps, he thought all of his problems would never come to light and go away. Full disclosure Mr. Campbell!

The San Diego Opera is a wonderful local institution with amazing performers and productions including the SD Orchestra. Why would we as a world class city want this to go away because of on going executive mis-management and lack of Board oversight? Let's keep the opera alive in San Diego and audit the "hell" out of Mr. Campbell, his wife and his administration including the blind Board members who resigned in protest. Cronyism comes in many forms.

Lets all take a step back and take an objective approach to this mess!

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