Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March 24: More Fairness Needed at Fairchild

By Sylvia Gurinsky

I guess I goofed. I made my mother goof, too.

We're both members of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and we sent in our proxy cards to vote for the members of the Board of Trustees that were listed. So did thousands of other members.

But we didn't know the whole story when we voted.

We knew a little bit about the contretemps that cost Fairchild Education Director Caroline Lewis her job late last year. But we and others who sent in their proxy ballots weeks ago did not know the full extent of the issues of contention, not just concerning Lewis, until The Miami Herald published a too little-too late article on Sunday. (The blog Eye On Miami has been covering the matter at length.)

The elections took place yesterday:

The grumbling and protests will likely continue, and could eventually culminate with Fairchild executives in court as others seek to receive a full accounting of what's been going on there.

The complaints have included poor employee morale and too much of an emphasis on pricey art exhibits at the expense of the gardens. (Exactly what do all those cars parked in the Lowlands on weekends do to the plant life there?)

One of the sources of contention is the lack of term limits for board members. Board of Trustees President Bruce Greer has held that position for 10 years - way, WAY too long, whether he does a good job or not.

There are other issues. At last week's Orchid Festival, I noticed quite a few Hispanic families, but did not see Hispanic, African-American or Haitian-American volunteers. The gardens need to be more reflective of the community they're in.

Fairchild has been touting its success and its profits. But there's nothing that can kill success like bad publicity, and yesterday's election will not put these issues to rest.

Fairchild has been a beautiful South Florida landmark for 72 years. Only total openness, honesty and fairness by Greer and the rest of Fairchild's leadership will take away the ugly stain of these past few months.

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