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More Dirt at Botanic Garden

Management Continues to Clash with Striking Volunteers


Although the flames have subsided, there’s plenty of heat emanating from the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, where 62 volunteers are still striking to protest mismanagement and demand face time with the board of trustees.

On May 7, the board’s chair, Fife Symington, the former Arizona governor who resigned after being indicted for extortion and bank fraud, responded to the striking volunteers by saying that their short-term goals - specifically to evaluate the recent layoffs, assess the work of the board’s executive committee for the past five years, bring board membership from its current nine members up to its mandated 15, and assess the work of president Ed Schneider - “cannot be achieved.” Symington did say that the three-member executive committee would be willing to meet, but the volunteers declined the offer, explaining, “The board’s response is clear: more obfuscation and secrecy. Both are fatal to a nonprofit.”

In response, the Botanic Garden sent out a press release to its members and the media saying that, despite recent damage from the Jesusita Fire, the volunteers are continuing to “engage in an attack campaign.” Explained Symington, “I would hope for your support in rebuilding the Garden at this critical time rather than further unfounded personal attacks.” Volunteer leader Christine Riesenfeld called the garden’s public relations tactic “really awful” and explained that the release did not include the volunteers’ initial May 1 letter, thereby making it seem that the board actually reached out to the volunteers first. She has requested that the initial letter also be mailed to members, and explained that the volunteers will do so anyway if the garden decides not to.

UPDATE: On Wednesday afternoon, the garden did send out the initial May 1 letter, which spokesperson Nancy Johnson says was first excluded because she did not have access to it during the fire.

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