Power Play

A drama featuring MDCC president Eduardo Padron in the role of backstabbing Brutus. Or is it tyrannical Caesar?

Galan believes that arrangement won't pass the legal smell test. The foundation operates independently and must maintain real, not illusory, standards of internal accountability. These new guidelines, he contends, are being permitted to go forward only because Padron, eager for greater power, has solicited a favorable interpretation of nonprofit laws from MDCC's legal and accounting consultants, the law firm of Greenberg Traurig and the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers. Galan wants a second opinion, and not from someone on the MDCC payroll. "Whoever was hired by the college is fine for the college," he asserts, "but we as a foundation should have our own counsel."

Actually Abigail Watts-Fitzgerald, with the law firm of Hunton & Williams, was paid by the foundation to serve in just such a capacity. Problem is, she was barred from presenting her views on the proposed bylaw changes at the December 7 board of trustees meeting. Galan says that too was engineered by Padron, working in concert with foundation chairman Robert Beatty, who declined to respond to the charge.

Significantly Watts-Fitzgerald tendered her resignation as foundation attorney less than a week later, at the conclusion of the December 13 foundation board meeting. Beatty, who was about to adjourn, expressed surprise. "Well," he stammered, "this is a shock."

Perhaps. One wouldn't want to accuse Beatty of being disingenuous, but resignations from the foundation have become almost as common as summer showers in South Florida. In addition to those of Gonzalez-Levy and Galan, and before that of Watts-Fitzgerald, resignations had been submitted by prominent foundation members such as WSCV-TV (Channel 51) vice president and general manager Luis Fernandez-Rocha, Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce president William Collum, businessman Andrew Blank, and businesswoman Lydia Harrison, who had chaired the foundation's governance committee.

That's a lot of casualties for an organization heading into a major fundraising offensive. Beatty acknowledges the recent turnover on the foundation but says he sees nothing out of the ordinary. "Some members have resigned for philosophical reasons," he admits, "but that's not at all unusual, peculiar, or even troubling. People have different perceptions about how organizations should function."

Galan argues that Beatty's own ideas regarding nonprofit organizations and the people who run them are peculiar. As the Herald's number-one lawyer and as foundation chairman, Beatty would appear to be uniquely positioned to funnel advertising dollars to the paper while discouraging any news coverage of the foundation he might deem negative. And it is true that the Herald has reaped extensive revenue from MDCC advertising in its pages while the human hemorrhaging on the foundation, a veritable who's who of local business and civic leaders, has escaped scrutiny. Whether Beatty has used his dual influence inappropriately or not -- and Galan has no proof -- it just doesn't look good.

Galan tried to raise the issue at the December 13 foundation board meeting. He wanted the board to adopt an open-disclosure policy regarding possible conflicts of interest. Beatty and others thought the matter should be referred to the governance committee for a recommendation. "Why, when this is standard practice at almost every similar kind of institution?" Galan asked at the meeting. The question hung in the air and then disappeared, like the proposal, into committee. No Heraldreporter was in the room. (Beatty did not respond to calls seeking comment on Galan's conflict-of-interest concerns.)

Beatty, though, will be stepping down as foundation chair after all, claiming to have agreed only to a two-year term in 1998. He will be succeeded by attorney and current foundation vice chairman Victor Diaz, whom Beatty credits with authoring the bylaw changes currently being considered. "Victor did incredible amounts of research," says Beatty, "and produced a set of bylaws that follow the statutory law more closely than ever before."

Padron agrees, carefully pointing out that the bylaw changes were initiated not by him but by the foundation board of trustees. "These proposals went through committee," he says. "The board has created a true partnership between the college and the foundation."

Galan isn't convinced. More to the point, he no longer is comfortable working on behalf of an organization he believes operates with disturbingly little regard for standard business practices or the public trust. Indeed the MDCC alumnus fears the institutional culture at the college is too incestuous to permit significant change. "The problem with the people at the top at MDCC," Galan concludes with a frustration only slightly tempered by his affection for the school, "is that everybody grew up in the institution."

Galan, for his part, has outgrown it. He will make his resignation official sometime in the near future, taking with him what he says would have been his own major gift to the school: another five to ten million dollars he was personally prepared to raise on behalf of the college, and the knowledge that, at MDCC, the biggest lessons sometimes come long after one graduates.

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