Terrible timing on plan for 67% raise for arts center CEO
By Michael Lewis
On stage, timing is everything. Maybe that's why the Performing Arts Center Trust last week put off a vote on the first step of a $153,000 raise for the CEO of the beleaguered Carnival Center for the Performing Arts.
Set aside the magnitude of raises awaiting Michael Hardy — nearly four times the debated increase just given to county schools Superintendent Rudy Crew and nearly four times the county's median household income. Somewhere, an exceptional talent in public service may merit that kind of increase.
Set aside, too, the fact that Mr. Hardy, at $230,000 a year, is already being paid like that exceptional talent in the public arena.
Instead, let's look at the center as it nears the end of its first year of operation — or what would be a year of operation if doors hadn't been closed for the summer for what Mr. Hardy has termed routine maintenance.
The Carnival Center's first year may or may not have been a cultural success, depending on a critic's eye and ear. But it surely has been an economic failure. It received a nearly $9 million subsidy from the county and is due the same next year, though Mr. Hardy had forecast a need for just $3 million the first year, declining annually to zero by year four. And even $9 million may not fill the gap — which could be the real reason he chose to temporarily close the center.
It's surely not fair to charge all of the center's problems to Mr. Hardy. He's not responsible for a virtual tripling of the center's cost to nearly a half-billion dollars.
He's not responsible for opening years late.
He's not responsible for selecting a third-rate site that draws complaints about the homeless outside.
He's not responsible for building two halls divided by a US highway.
He's not responsible for the failure to build parking or for some $20 valet patrons waiting for an hour.
He's not responsible for faulty air conditioning or perilous aisles that are an ambulance-chasing lawyer's dream.
He's not responsible for falling woefully short of what volunteers promised the county for an endowment, thereby throwing losses on the shoulders of taxpayers; and he alone didn't sell the center's naming rights at a bargain-basement price.
But as the trust plans to take Mr. Hardy's salary from $230,000 to a potential $383,000 in two steps by October, it's fair to look at two things: the economy and what operational problems do fall within Mr. Hardy's purview.
A property-tax rollback has forced Miami-Dade County to plan deep spending cuts. Cultural groups face an especially heavy ax.
Though the Carnival Center has been spared cuts under the budget proposed by Mayor Carlos Alvarez, the center's subsidy under that budget would be less than the $10.1 million Mr. Hardy had sought. So the center must cut costs. Adding $153,000 to Mr. Hardy's pay would require $153,000 additional cuts in center operations because the county wouldn't subsidize a 67% CEO pay raise.
Too, the county commission may tinker substantially with the mayor's proposed budget, and commissioners are still smarting from getting second-rate seating at the center's grand opening and dinner. That snub could haunt the center at budget time.
Beyond that, still more cuts may hit the center's subsidy. A January vote on a state constitutional amendment on taxes could require the county to tighten its belt even more, and the center may fall high on the county commission's chopping list.
Those and a failing condo market now hammering the area are prime economic concerns in assessing the raise request, external factors that play key roles.
But performance is also at issue.
Mr. Hardy was at the helm in under-budgeting by millions funds needed to keep the center open. He was the expert everyone relied on.
Mr. Hardy was at the helm as ticket sales at center-produced events lagged badly. The center is on its third marketing director in its first year.
Mr. Hardy was at the helm in booking the second- and third-tier events that often filled few seats.
Mr. Hardy was at the helm — but silent — when asked for more than three years how to solve the center's growing financial crisis.
As some volunteers grumble privately that the center needs stronger paid leaders and some county commissioners have suggested having an outside firm run the center, all of the factors that do involve Mr. Hardy call into question the timeliness of first a $96,000 raise and then in October a merit increase of up to 17.5%, $57,000-plus, for a $153,000 total raise.
It would be better to first decide what is acceptable performance for the CEO of this landmark, then decide what is successful performance, and then see if Mr. Hardy has met either of those benchmarks.
The question on the floor should not be whether Mr. Hardy deserves the raise but whether he deserves the job.