BPAC Board fails to understand what transparency means and the basics of good governance.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  November 30, 2011  –  There is nothing nicer than a love story.  We, as people, want to be happy and want the people around us to be happy.  Being “with” someone” makes life that much richer; having been without someone for a considerable length of time I know whereof I speak. But I digress

So when we hear that someone has married or remarried we are happy for them and secure in the knowledge that good things do happen.

The story I want to tell you today is about the prince and the showgirl – well she thinks he’s a prince and she is a showgirl – or is in show business.

Brenda Heatherington, Executive Director of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre brought a sterling reputation to her job. She deserves a Board that is just as top notch – she doesn’t appear to have one..

Brenda Heatherington came to Burlington from St. Albert, Alberta.  She came with an exceptionally strong reputation and was hired by the Theatre Board to serve as Executive Director of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre.  We were lucky to get her.  I’ve no idea what we are paying her, no idea how long a contract she has – all I know is that she is deliberate, committed and good at her job.

She loves new ideas.  She likes to look for the edge of the envelope and pushes it just a little.  And, oh – she loves shoes.  When you meet her, smile back – for she will give you a dynamite smile – and then glance down and I can almost guarantee you – she will be wearing great shoes.  But again, I digress.

Someone took an idea to Brenda Heatherington.  “Why don’t we” said this producer, “do a show that features the talent that Burlington has exported to New York, Hollywood and dozens of markets in between.”  It was a great idea – and so off they went to rough out the numbers and figure out what it would cost and how it could be marketed.

Keith Strong, member of the BPAC Board. Tough guy who should have been able to ask tough questions and then have the political smarts to get in front of a possible public perception of a conflict of interest. Asleep at the switch

One can imagine how excited theses two must have been – a smart idea focused on local talent that was international in stature.  Both the producer and the Executive Director had settled into a city new to both of them; both with a show business background.  Her with a brand new Performing Arts Centre to develop and him with a beautiful new bride.  Derek Scott, the producer with the idea and Brenda Heatherington had married each other earlier in the year. They had an idea and developed it together.  Man, if that isn’t the stuff of real romance – then my friends you’re all cynics

Heatherington took the idea to her Board and then explained that the producer of what came to be called the Blue Jeans Gala, was the man she was married to: Derek Scott, a man with a very impressive bio of his own.  Nothing wrong with that. Hetherington’s husband and the nature of their relationship is none of the public’s business.  I’m sure everyone wished her the best when the marriage was announced.

Heatherington is a professional and her personal life is kept away from the office – difficult to do however when the producer of a significant show is also her husband.  But these things can be managed – providing everyone knows what’s going on – but in this instance the public in general didn’t know anything until there was a major piece in the Spectator telling the story behind the man who is producing the show.

Allan Pearson, Chair of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre with his Executive Director Brenda Heatherington. Is he going to take lessons on transparency?

And that is when reasonable people begin to ask questions.  How was this vetted by the Board?  What measures were put in place to manage the potential conflicts of interest.  This isn’t done because there is no trust – this is what every lawyer and accountant advises their clients to do every day.  It’s just a basic business practice, transparency and good corporate governance, which we assume the BPAC Board put in place..

However, the BPAC is funded significantly by the public – to the tune of half a million dollars a year and that isn’t chump change.  There are still those who think the whole idea of a Performing Arts Centre was a mistake and can’t wait for a chance to say ‘told ya so’.  And when the numbers are bad – and at some point the numbers will be bad – it’s the nature of show business and entertainment, the BPAC will need all the public support and good will it can find.

When we became aware that Derek Scott, the producer of the Blue Jeans Gala was married to Heatherington we placed a call to Allan Pearson and followed that up with an email.  No response so we followed up with a second phone call asking if a press release had been sent out.  The response to our questions is set out below:

There was no press release announcing the nature of the relationship between Brenda and Derek Scott.  Brenda brought the topic and potential conflict of interest to the Board. It was discussed and the decision was made at the Board level to carry on with Derek, as he is certainly qualified for the job. There was no discussion of a “press release” as, quite frankly, I don’t see this as “news”.

BPAC Chair Allan Pearson. When is it news and when is it not news? When you use public money what you do is news.

Well Mr. Pearson: It may not be news but it is good governance and you are a Board spending public funds.  Also, the day the story appeared in the Spectator – it was news.

In an Open Letter to the members of the Board for the Performing Arts Centre we said:


November 30th, 2011

Open Letter to the Burlington Performing Arts Centre Board of Directors.

TO: Allan Pearson, Chairman, Rick Burgess, Vice-Chair, Peter Ashmore, Rick Craven, Ilene Elkaim, Mayor Rick Goldring (Ex-Officio), Ed Hannah, Mary-Ellen Heiman, Dominic Mercuri, Philippe Pango, Keith Strong, Denise Walker and City of Burlington Acting General Manager of Development and Infrastructure Steve Zorbas

You have let your Executive Director down.  There was an opportunity for this Board to show the public, the people who provide the half a million dollar subsidy you get,  that you are totally transparent and that you keep the books wide open

Close to a year ago your Executive Director came to you with an idea for an event that would feature entertainment talent that came from Burlington.  The event would feature talent the city had exported to New York, Hollywood, London and Los Angeles.   The idea brought to the Board was a good one and Heatherington did the right thing in advising her Board. (Does Heatherington have to take every idea to the Board?  That would take the Executive out of Executive Director wouldn’t it?)  They approved the budget and apparently approved the hiring of the producer.

Brenda Heatherington, Executive Director of the BPAC explained that it was a good idea, the budget was more than reasonable and she believed in the person producing the program – and well she should, she is married to Derek Scott.

That in itself is not a problem.  Yes, there is a real potential for a conflict of interest but if it is declared beforehand it can be acceptable.  In going to her Board on the conflict possibilities Heatherington did what she was supposed to do.  Good on her.

Her Board however failed her.  They in turn should have advised the community of the possibility of a conflict and report that they have looked into the matter and are comfortable with it going forward.

The Blue Jeans Gala is a really good idea guys – but you’ve queered it by not informing the people that have to put up the half a million dollar subsidy they give you to run the place, that the man producing one of your significant shows is married to the Executive Director.  You just tell people – they will understand.  It is when you deliberately don’t tell that people begin to get suspicious.  And neither Brenda Heatherington or her husband deserve to be treated like that.

What is wrong is a Board with a significant amount of legal talent on it – with at least one lawyer who should know better – and you all decide to sit on it. The second lawyer on the Board, Rick Burgess has served as legal counsel for Our Burlington Inc..  He did the incorporation of the not for profit structure we have and was more than patient in getting his invoices paid – which by the way were very reasonable.   Burgess knows better.

The BPAC needs the financial support and good will of the community and  you don’t get that (nay you don’t deserve it) when you hide things. Particularly in matters of trust. Every opportunity to build that trust has to be taken.  It means you are always transparent and on the front edge of good corporate governance practices.

What’s really bothersome is that this had the potential to be a really beautiful story.  Heatherington is a wonderful person.  I don’t know Derek Scott,  but I can say he is a very fortunate man.  The two were married early in the year and I’m sure all their friends are delighted for both of them.

There was an opportunity to tell the story of this woman, new to Burlington, who meets a man in the same field and they marry – and then they go on to take a really cracker jack idea and develop it  into a program that highlights the city and its talent in a way that no one has ever done before – and if the web site is telling the ticket sales story fully – the show is going to do very well.

Those are called win, win, wins – and you let it get away on you.  The BPAC needs every ounce of public support it can get

Now you’ve got a situation where you are vulnerable.  At some point someone who didn’t want the BPAC in the first place will ask “how much did you pay her husband to do the show and why wasn’t it put out to a public tender”.  You’ve read the comments on the Orchids on Upper Middle Road and the $100,000 the city spent on some bloke from Ireland.  “Should have gone to a local artist”, was a comment made publicly by more than one person.  This you do not need.

In a conversation with BPAC Chair Allan Pearson, I outlined the concern and asked if the BPAC had sent out a press release.  I may have missed it.  Nope – there was no press release sent out.  Your chair didn’t think it was necessary.  He didn’t think there was any conflict of interest – and there most certainly was a conflict.  The Board had an opportunity and I would argue a responsibility to get out in front of it and tell the story – which is a great story.

“Pearson said: “it’s not the public’s business”, and he didn’t think some comment from the Board was needed.  Really!

Pearson added that he was disappointed we were asking questions – he should be disappointed if we hadn’t asked questions.  Sitting on information that the people paying the bills have a right to know smacks of small town cronyism; that ‘we know what’s best for the community’ attitude

I have concerns with a Board that decides it can determine what the public needs to know and question the political savvy of a group that would let this slide.  Particularly disappointing is Ed Hannah’s going along with the idea of letting it slide.  (Maybe he was absent and wasn’t part of the decision?)

Hannah has degrees from Harvard Law School. Osgoode Hall Law School, York University where he did an MBA and before all that Yale where he earned a degree summa cum laude, in economics and political science.  That’s what you call a gold plated collection of degrees – but the decision not to go public with the potential for the conflict of interest was a mistake politically and a mistake of corporate governance – and Hannah of all people should know better. 

Let me however be perfectly clear, all there was, was the potential for some conflict.  You declare it – and get it out of the way. The Board  didn’t do that and now they have an Executive Director who is left hanging out in the wind with people snickering about the great deal she got for her husband.   She deserves better.

The Blue Jeans Gala should be a good show – we expect to attend and review it.  Been a long, long time since we’ve seen and heard Jimmy  Tapp.  We’ll let you know how he does.


Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.