Letter to the Editor: Leadership of Catalina’s Nonprofit Conservancy Under Scrutiny

Byline: Todd and Sandy Binder

We have watched as the Los Angeles Times has revealed many serious issues regarding Catalina’s nonprofit Catalina Island Conservancy — instituted for the preservation of Catalina’s unspoiled interior lands, we have been told. (A Dec. 13, 2012 story reported that six senior officers and scientists had left the conservancy in the past year due to rancor and dissatisfaction with the direction and leadership of the organization — with critics calling the director “aloof and tough,” and decrying a move away from a focus on conservation and toward support of money-making tourist attractions.) We are saddened, but not surprised.

Reading the articles, one would imagine that the conservancy’s executive director, Ann Muscat, had only recently become a self-serving figurehead. However, since her arrival many years ago, it has been clear (in our opinion) that she had little interest in the prosperity of the island community and conservancy partners.

This includes the yacht clubs and the conservancy service clubs (to which the two of us have belonged), except insofar as she could “use” them for her own end. Why would the needs of the city or others be considered any differently?

In a talk Mrs. Muscat gave to our club many years ago, her agenda became immediately clear. She purported to enlighten us on the work of the conservancy, while all the while lecturing us on the attributes of the island, for reasons apparently only a scientist of her stature could understand. Of the hundred or more in that room, there wouldn’t have been a soul who didn’t deeply appreciate the island, and many were appreciating it before she was born!

While the event was billed as a discussion, she made it clear that it wasn’t our ideas or feedback she was interested in; only our money. And goodness help you if you had ideas different from hers. There wasn’t one suggestion made that day that she seemed to take seriously. We got a taste of Avalon Mayor Bob Kennedy’s (statement to the Los Angeles Times that when it came to dealing with Muscat, it was) “her way or the highway.”

Out of courtesy and real concern, my wife and I tried to engage with her after the talks, but her eyes quickly wandered and keyed in on others of known higher net worth. She excused herself — and ultimately fell all over herself getting an introduction (to those wealthy individuals).

Personal disappointment with the person who was selected for the most influential post on the island aside, it is obvious to us that there are serious issues at the conservancy — and, in that case, for the island also. The pristine interior is the partner asset to the glorious beaches and coves that make the island a prime destination for tourists.

Neither of us is a stranger to the satisfaction and perks — and also the responsibilities — of serving on a board. Given that this “CEO” has not had the wisdom and grace to work effectively for the benefit of the organization that has paid her $286,000 a year (if the newspaper is to be believed), then the board is now compelled to act.

No matter what the past successes that are the source of the remaining board of directors’ stated “full confidence” in Mrs. Muscat, what is obvious — to those of us at 1,000 feet — is that her positive contribution to the conservancy and to Catalina is done, and it is time for a change. We only hope that change comes swiftly, to avert additional damage to this iconic institution and the island.

Todd and Sandy Binder

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