Kevin Miller’s abrupt resignation as executive director of the Confluence Arts Center, a public-private project years in the making, brings up the issue of transparency.
Miller resigned from the post Oct. 23 after slightly more than three months at the helm. Members of the Confluence Council, who have provided little in the way of a detailed explanation, said the move was a personnel issue and that the $47 million project in all likelihood would continue as scheduled. It’s slated to open in September of next year.
More than $15 million has been raised privately for the project. It also is receiving $15 million from the state, $5 million from the city of Eau Claire and $3.5 million from Eau Claire County.
As a project that relies significantly on tax dollars and private donations, the public deserves more specifics about Miller’s short-lived tenure in the post.
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Miller “didn’t earn degrees from UW-Eau Claire and UW-Milwaukee as he stated when he sought the position,” read a story by Leader-Telegram reporter Julian Emerson.
Miller indicated he had an undergraduate degree from UW-Eau Claire and master’s of fine arts degree from UW-Milwaukee. A check of graduation records at the schools, however, found that this wasn’t the case. Records show he attended UW-Eau Claire, but earned his bachelor’s degree at UW-Milwaukee and did not earn a master’s degree.
Miller said there was no intent to mislead those who hired him.
“It’s been 25 years since I was enrolled in a (master of fine arts) program at UW-Milwaukee,” he told Emerson, “and was shocked to learn my degrees were not what I thought they were.”
Miller previously oversaw the development of the Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts in Fond du Lac. He earned positive reviews as well for his role as chairman of the Wisconsin Arts Board.
“Kevin Miller brings a demonstrated track record for strong relationship building and fundraising, along with local roots and statewide connections, to the position,” said Vicki Hoehn, Confluence Council board president, during a June 29 news conference announcing the hiring.
Miller, who was one of 90 candidates for the job, was equally enthusiastic at the event.
“We know what the arts can do for a community, and you’re seeing that here in Eau Claire right now,” he said. “It is about more than the art on the wall. It’s about the jobs you create with an arts center. It’s about being a vital part of the community.”
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For now, it’s Jason Jon Anderson’s turn to steer the project. The Confluence Council named the assistant director of conferences and event production for University Centers at UW-Eau Claire as acting director of the Confluence Arts Center.
The project, which has been widely backed by the community, likely will continue as planned despite the relatively minor setback. As a public-private endeavor, however, it’s expected that significant issues be brought into the open. It’s not enough for officials behind the project to report only on positive developments. They should have unveiled — and commented on — how and when they become aware of discrepancies in Miller’s resume.
Mistakes were made in this hiring, and we’ll all learn from them. Organizations tend to be guarded when met with adversity, but conjecture often leads to assumptions more negative than what actually transpired.
The Confluence Arts Center will anchor a vastly improved downtown in Eau Claire. It’s critical that those directly involved in the project are transparent to the taxpayers and donors who made it possible.