Embattled San Francisco Art Museum Socialite President Hits Back at Accusers

Dede Wilsey insists there's no evidence of misconduct.

Dede Wilsey. Photo: Drew Altizer, courtesy the Nob Hill Gazette.

San Francisco’s de Young museum board president Dede Wilsey has come under fire in recent weeks following accusations of financial misconduct over a $450,000 payment to a former employee.

The situation escalated when Wilsey fired former Chief Financial Officer Michele Gutierrez for bringing the case to the attention of city officials. The de Young and sister institution, the Legion of Honor, together receive $16 million annually in city funding.

Now, details of a letter written by the embattled board president to trustees on November 20 to provide “accurate facts” on the scandal that has engulfed the institution, have come to light.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the memo does not elucidate why former stationary engineer Bill Huggins was paid $450,000 on top of his $56,000-plus annual pension.

It had previously been alleged that Huggins’s wife Therese Chen, director of registration at the de Young, performed significant personal favors for Wilsey over several years.

de Young museum, San Francisco. Photo: Lea Suzuki via the San Francisco Chronicle

de Young museum, San Francisco.
Photo: Lea Suzuki via the San Francisco Chronicle

Wilsey did not address the accusations in her letter; however, she wrote that Gutierrez co-signed the check and insisted that “this payment required no board approval.”

She added that Gutierrez “declined to meet with the investigator” whom the museum’s board hired to perform an internal investigation into the claims of misconduct. The investigator subsequently “closed the investigation,” she wrote.

A second investigator hired by the board spent two months looking into Gutierrez’s claims but “found no evidence of harassment or retaliation on the job,” Wilsey said.

She went on to downplay an audit launched by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, insisting that the Attorney General “routinely conducts correspondence audits of not-for-profit organizations.”

The accusation have shaken San Francisco's art scene. Photo: Nader Khouri via sanfrancisco.travel

The accusation have shaken San Francisco’s art scene.
Photo: Nader Khouri via sanfrancisco.travel

Wilsey also denied speculations of internal disruption and staff walkouts. “Based on management consultant recommendations, we have reorganized staffing and adopted a number of current best practices in nonprofit management,” she wrote.

“All of this has led to robust performance in membership and donations and puts [the museum] in a strong position for the future.”

Wilsey also used the opportunity to reassure trustees that a seven month search for a successor to former director Colin Bailey was nearing its end. “We have enthusiastic, qualified candidate […] and expect to appoint a director early next year,” she said.

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