Fife Symington has left the garden.
The former governor of Arizona who helped spearhead the controversial expansion plan for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (SBBG) confirmed on Friday that he had resigned last week from the board, where he had long served as chairman. The expansion, otherwise known as the Vital Mission Plan (VMP), was approved with serious limitations by the county this past summer. The plan fueled tremendously divisive debate in the region, with many arguing that it pushed the institution beyond its historical goals. The fallout, both financial and political, continues to hurt SBBG, as many experienced volunteers are still refraining from work and more staff members were recently laid off.
Meanwhile, the longtime executive director, Ed Schneider — considered the mastermind of the VMP, with Symington his loudest and proudest patron — also departed this year. Those who disliked the VMP saw Schneider and Symington as the top villains, but the two maintained they were working in the best interest of the SBBG’s continued longevity and relevance in a changing world. A new director, Steve Windhager, was named just weeks ago and immediately said his primary goals are to get the SBBG back on its feet both economically and in reputation.
“I enjoyed serving on the SBBG Board,” said Symington in an email. “It was a time of great challenge. I am proud to have been part of the team which achieved victory on the VMP and which guided the Garden through the dual threats of the Jesusita Fire and treacherous economic times.”
Symington said that Boardmember John Wiemann will take his position as chair. But the departing chair won’t soon be forgotten. “A significant donation has been made for the new Conservation Center by Mary Dell Pritzlaff, my wife’s mother, in honor of the Honorable John C. Pritzlaff,” explained Symington.