Socialite Dede Wilsey Victorious in San Francisco Museum Squabble

Wilsey says "nothing has changed" despite her new title.

Dede Wilsey © Patrick McMullan. Photo by Drew Altizer/Patrick McMullan

Following a board meeting of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (FAMSF) this past Tuesday (September 27), controversial member Dede Wilsey managed to retain much of her power, according to a report by Jori Finkel in the New York Times.

Wilsey, formerly CEO and board president, has relinquished the CEO title to Max Hollein, now the director of FAMSF. In the wake of the change, Hollein told the paper, “Now you have a clearer division between the operational side and the board side of the museum.”

The board also voted to change Wilsey’s position from president to board chair, and it confirmed Carl Pascarella and Jack Calhoun as vice chairs.

The board, however, “stopped short of removing Ms. Wilsey as its head or instituting term limits that would have checked her powers,” according to the report.

A memo about the changes reportedly states the shift in title for Wilsey is meant to help “distinguish these volunteer board positions from salaried positions.”

“Absolutely nothing has changed,” Wilsey said to the Times. “It’s just semantics—they thought ‘chair’ sounded more important.”

The state attorney general’s office is still investigating the propriety of a $457,000 payment that Wilsey directed to be made from museum funds. She claimed the payment in question, made to Bill Huggins, a retired city employee, was because of his failing health. Huggins’ wife, a museum registrar, had helped Wilsey with personal favors.

Wilsey has been accused of running the museum as though it were her “personal fiefdom,” according to a report in the Times last week.

Michelle Gutierrez, a former CFO, highlighted the payment to the attorney general’s office last fall. She subsequently lost her job and eventually won a $2 million settlement in lieu of a wrongful termination lawsuit. The investigation is ongoing.

According to a release on the FAMSF website, the institution appointed a new CFO, Ed Prohaska, earlier this month, following a five-month search.

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