News

Hundreds of Filoli volunteers may quit if forced to sign new agreement

Agreement releases Filoli from liability for volunteer claims of injury or damages

There's trouble in paradise.

At Woodside's historic Filoli estate, many of the 1,300 volunteers, who do everything from selling tickets to building the trails used for nature hikes, have expressed anger and dismay over an agreement that Filoli says they must sign by March 1 or lose their volunteer jobs.

It appears that hundreds of volunteers may choose to quit rather than sign an agreement that would release Filoli from liability for injury or other damages that volunteers may incur while doing work there.

An email from Filoli management on Feb. 13 says only 600 volunteers had signed the agreement at that point.

The part of the agreement that volunteers say is the most objectionable is a "release and indemnification" that states the volunteers "will not make a claim of any negligence, personal injury, wrongful death or property damage against Filoli and its employees, officers and agents" for anything that happens while volunteering.

The agreement also says: "I understand that I will be responsible for medical costs incurred by accident, illness or injury associated with my services to Filoli."

Filoli management, including Executive Director Cynthia D'Agosta and Filoli's head of public relations Christina Syrett, have declined to comment on the controversy. Friends of Filoli president Heidi Brown had said she would speak to the Almanac after a Feb. 18 board meeting; but following the meeting said she was not yet "in a position to share information."

Volunteers comment

Volunteers say that this is the first time since the Friends of Filoli was formed in 1978 that they have been told they must sign a volunteer agreement.

"I'm not resigning. They're firing me," said Menlo Park resident Hal Tennant, the head of Filoli's Bandana Brigade, which builds and maintains Filoli's nature trails and has designed and built arbors, stone walls and bridges for the estate. Mr. Tennant, who with his wife Jeane has volunteered at Filoli for more than 15 years, said every one of the dozen members of the Bandana Brigade will be gone as of March 1 unless Filoli backs down from requiring them to sign the agreement.

The document that has caused so much consternation among Filoli volunteers, many of whom have volunteered at the National Trust for Historic Preservation site for decades, is a one-page agreement that volunteers say they first received six days before Christmas.

Susan Crocker, a former Woodside mayor who has been volunteering to lead school groups on nature hikes at Filoli for a decade, said "at the root of this possible mass resignation is an ill-drafted, one-sided and burdensome agreement which seems to remove Filoli from all responsibility if there is an injury to either the children or the volunteers."

Like many others, Ms. Crocker said, she called her lawyer "and was advised to not sign the agreement. I talked with my insurance company and was told they will not cover any injury" under the agreement.

Many volunteers say they also object to two other parts of the agreement. One says that Filoli can "publish any photos in which I appear while volunteering for Filoli." The other says the agreement "is executed voluntarily and without any duress or undue influence."

"That volunteers are under duress is an understatement -- sign or you are out," said Clare Gardella, who has been a Filoli volunteer for more than 20 years, including serving as president of the Friends of Filoli in 2002 and 2003.

"Many of us are heeding the advice of our attorneys and not signing," said Ms. Gardella, a resident of San Carlos. "It is also causing many of us to make changes in our wills and memberships."

A Portola Valley volunteer, who asked that her name not be used "because I am a bit of a privacy freak," said the unhappiness stems from more than the wording of the agreement.

"The volunteers' hesitancy to sign the (agreement) started out as a reaction to the language and intent" of the document, she said, "but I believe it has grown and snowballed into something else.

"Because Filoli management has not been responsive to our concerns, the relationship has begun to feel less like a partnership and more like a dictatorship," the volunteer, who has been at Filoli for six years, said.

Nina Bell, a Palo Alto resident who has volunteered for Filoli for 12 years, said she has been "extremely distressed by the way the executive administration has handled the roll-out of this onerous, one-sided volunteer agreement. This experience has destroyed good will and has severely impacted the Filoli culture," she said.

Ms. Bell said that "it is way too late to ensure this process is smooth, accurate, or respectful." Filoli volunteers have, she said, been trying for three months to work with management "to avoid the mess in which we now find ourselves. All efforts have fallen on deaf ears," she said.

Volunteers say they have been asking questions about the volunteer agreement since it was first presented in November, but have received few answers.

Some of the answers volunteers have received seem to contradict the agreement. A Jan. 30 email to volunteers from Ms. Brown and Ms. D'Agosta says:

● "Filoli volunteers, members and visitors are all covered under a robust general liability policy."

● "We also carry a separate insurance policy for volunteer accidental medical coverage."

In response, volunteer Ms. Bell wrote back: "If the Executive administration could take what you SAY and have it reflected in what is actually WRITTEN in the (agreement), everyone would probably sign it."

Bandana Brigade

Mr. Tennant said he and his fellow Bandana Brigade volunteers face the risk of injury due to their use of dangerous equipment, owned by Filoli, such as chain saws and "a wonderful 1974 Chevy pickup that has questionable brakes." Their work building bridges, stone walls and walks exposes them to a lot of potential liability, they say.

"You don't think about a lot of those things until the lawyers get involved and then it spoils a lot of your fun," he said.

If the volunteers are forced to leave on March 1, he said, "it's a disaster. That place, it's going to implode."

Other volunteers equate the current situation to a marriage gone bad. The Portola Valley volunteer who does not want her name used said that she feels as if a member of Filoli's management team has "taken something that was working quite well and has destroyed its fabric. I've never been divorced," she said, "but I can see that this situation has some similarities."

Several volunteers said that even if the volunteer agreement is revised they may leave Filoli. "Now Filoli has lost my trust -- who knows what they will do next," the volunteer said.

Valorie Boucher, who is in her 15th year as a Filoli volunteer, and who with her husband Rod drives 80 miles round-trip from their home in South San Jose to volunteer at Filoli, tells new volunteers whom she trains that the love of Filoli "is contagious and there's no inoculation." When she volunteers at Filoli, she said, "it's like I just go into another peaceful world."

No longer. "That's been broken," she said.

Kathie Shaw, a Filoli volunteer for 18 years and president of the Friends of Filoli in 2004 and 2005, said that she was told by Filoli volunteer leaders that "new volunteers would be available to step in for those choosing to leave."

Ms. Shaw, a resident of Menlo Park, said "this shows no respect for seasoned, experienced volunteers who have given freely of time and talents for many years. Unfortunately this attitude on the part of the administration has caused a wide divide among the volunteers."

Ms. Shaw said that Filoli's success has been based on "the partnership between the volunteers and the staff. We have worked side by side to meet the goals set forth in Filoli's strategic plan."

Things, she said, have changed. "We are no longer equal partners. Many of us will choose to leave as a result," she said.

"I am hopeful that there may be a last-minute breakthrough," Ms. Shaw said, "but I will not hold my breath."

Filoli, located on Canada Road a few miles north of Woodside, was originally built by William Bowers Bourn II and Agnes Moody Bourn. The Bourns built their country home between 1915 and 1917 and established the garden between 1917 and 1929.

When Mr. and Mrs. Bourn both died in 1936, the property was sold to William P. and Lurline Matson Roth.

The Roth family donated Filoli to the National Trust for Historic Preservation (the house and gardens) and the Filoli Center (the remaining acreage) in 1975, and it opened to the public in 1976.

In a January interview, Executive Director Ms. D'Agosta said Filoli has 1,300 volunteers, 60 employees and a $7 million annual budget and has 120,000 visitors a year in the nine months it is open.

Comments

38 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 11:59 am

Just received my membership renewal for Filoli. I just might reconsider signing.


67 people like this
Posted by Volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 12:31 pm

I have to agree with the other Filoli volunteers quoted in this article. Having been a volunteer there for more than 15 years I have seen a radical change in the way the administration of Filoli views its volunteers. Without volunteers Filoli cannot carry on its activities and open hours as they are now. The administrators of Filoli used to recognize that and treated the volunteers with courtesy and respect. Such is not the case any longer. The volunteer agreement is the newest example of the bureaucratization of the Filoli we loved. I'm sorry to see that those of us who have given so much time and energy to keeping Filoli open and thriving are being treated in such a cavalier manner.


80 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 12:34 pm

Oh wow, how very sad. You would think the executive administration would fall over backwards to keep valuable volunteers from leaving. Doesn't make any sense. Why throw away an asset like that? What are they thinking?


6 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 18, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Question: do volunteers in other parks in San Mateo County have to sign similar agreements?

To all you lawyers out there: what rights do volunteers really have? Of course, they do not have the same employment rights as full-time employees. But does this agreement infringe on any of a volunteer's existing rights or does it just make their existing rights (or lack thereof) more transparent?


67 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 12:59 pm

pearl is a registered user.

Filoli Volunteers: Make a statement by refusing to sign that agreement, and leave. I've spent 30 years volunteering for different agencies, and there's always been insurance coverage for the volunteers in case they suffer injuries while on the job, as well as while traveling to and from the volunteer site. Leave, now!!! There are hundreds of great volunteer opportunities here in the SFBA. You deserve better treatment!!!

I am embarrassed for the Filoli management folks. It speaks very poorly of them that they would treat their dedicated volunteers as a cheap commodity. Shame, shame, shame!!!


6 people like this
Posted by Curious
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Feb 18, 2015 at 1:03 pm

I wonder if this is a standard agreement that is commonplace in similar institutions? I'd love to hear thoughtful views from attorneys who can give balanced perspective.


74 people like this
Posted by Another Filoli Member
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 1:04 pm

This kind of behavior reflects a management team out of control. There should be changes at the top. We will not be renewing our circle membership or continuing any contributions until these volunteers are reinstated and top management has been replaced.


64 people like this
Posted by Volunteer
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 18, 2015 at 1:09 pm

I've been a volunteer at Filoli for more than 10 years. Most volunteers agree that an agreement between Filoli and its volunteers is reasonable. Unfortunately, the agreement as crafted considers Filoli without equitable consideration of its volunteers. With appropriate changes, most volunteers would sign such an agreement. Filol leadership has not been responsive to a more transparent process in putting together a better document. Two deadlines to respond to volunteer questions have come and gone and no answers have been forthcoming. The long term stability of this beautiful place is at stake. What a shame that Filoli leadership has not yet stepped up to manage this problem.


75 people like this
Posted by Filoli faithful
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Feb 18, 2015 at 1:17 pm

If this article accurately reflects the situation and the attitude of Filoli management, it is a very sad reflection on them.
Filoli is a gem that many hundreds of caring volunteers help to keep polished to an internationally recognized luster.
If management can not listen, or be truthful with the volunteer community, perhaps the current administration should step aside for a more pragmatic, compassionate, and intelligent leadership of such a celebrated and well-supported non profit.

To paraphrase Mr Bourn, May the Filoli volunteers "FIght for their just cause,LOve their volunteer community, and LIve the good life under more intelligent management"

Volunteers are the life of Filoli and worth more than their weight in gold. The gracious goodwill of seasoned volunteers is priceless and should be respected, not replaced.


18 people like this
Posted by gunste
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Feb 18, 2015 at 1:28 pm

The article fails to define who "Filoli" is who asks volunteers to sign such an ill drafted agreement. Who controls Filoli? Who is the executive for the group that runs it? Who is in charge?


54 people like this
Posted by a volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 1:52 pm

I am a long-time Filoli volunteer who reluctantly signed the Volunteer Agreement. I think it is unsatisfactory in several respects and may be legally defective as written. However, my major concern is with the failure of Filoli "leadership" to foresee and forestall controversy, and its subsequent intransigence and clumsiness in handling the controversy. I think that if you probe volunteers and staff, you will find widespread belief that there is a crisis of management at Filoli. I hope that action is taken quickly and this crisis is not allowed to linger on to Filoli's detriment.


14 people like this
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Feb 18, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

Gunste - Filoli is run by a governing board
Web Link
who hires and directs the executive director, Cynthia D'Agosta. The Friends of Filoli, which represents the volunteers and members of Filoli, is headed by Heidi Brown, who is also the vice president of the governing board.
Most of the communications about the volunteer agreement to volunteers were signed by Ms.D'Agosta and Ms.Brown.


45 people like this
Posted by Maggie
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Feb 18, 2015 at 2:08 pm

What a shame! Others have covered it well. My point is to appeal to those of you who love Filoli as a peaceful and worthwhile place, to not give up on it. Even if you have to leave temporarily, but don't give up the place. Management comes and goes in my experience with corporations and volunteer entities; don't let humans who can be replaced (talking about management here - not the volunteers!) spoil your love of and loyalty to the place. It sure sounds like management needs a serious "fix" if not replacement. Also, it's common to sign volunteer agreements; the issue here is a complete lack of respect and appreciation for the hard working volunteers. Re; that truck that needs brakes - get it fixed and make Filoli pay for it. You're putting yourself and others at risk. Please don't do that.


53 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 2:33 pm

I've visited aFiloli a few times including a fundraiser tea and a fundraiser decorated house tour both benefiting Filoli, Inc. Will boycott - even in the daffodil season now - until the management respects the volunteers who are crucial to keep the place going. Egads! The entrance price is high enough... lose the volunteers and it will just be a plaything for only those with deep pockets.

Or maybe the real issue is the managemnet thinks the place is so special they can get scores and scores of sheep volunteers "honored" to be at that ever more exclusive place?


55 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 18, 2015 at 2:40 pm

I wonder if anyone knows what kind of action could be taken to 'unseat' Cynthia D'Agosta and Heidi Brown.


23 people like this
Posted by gunste
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Feb 18, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Barbara Wood enlightened me:
" Filoli is run by a governing board who hires and directs the executive director, Cynthia D'Agosta. The Friends of Filoli, which represents the volunteers and members of Filoli, is headed by Heidi Brown, who is also the vice president of the governing board.
Most of the communications about the volunteer agreement to volunteers were signed by Ms.D'Agosta and Ms.Brown."

Looks like the executive director now has a serious conflict of interest.
I bet she has complete insurance coverage.


5 people like this
Posted by O'Dell
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 18, 2015 at 2:53 pm

I think many non-profit outfits ask their volunteers to sign such agreements. On the other hand, to slavishly follow what other NP's do and risk losing a major part of your volunteer force may be penny wise and pound foolish.


56 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 3:07 pm

The fact that the Executive Director has been so unresponsive to the volunteer's concerns speaks of something underhanded going on. What does she have to hide? If someone feels they are doing the right thing then they can afford to be open and magnanimous. From the sounds of it D'Agosta has been neither. What are her motives?


12 people like this
Posted by Beth
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 18, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Filoli is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which is a privately-funded non-profit outfit. I'm sure there's more to find, like where do the private funds come from, who's in charge of the financial output? Is the NTHP doing this will all volunteers at other places?

Does this mean that visitors are not covered? Doesn't make sense and I assume they make sure all visitors know of this - sort of an at-your-own-risk thing?


19 people like this
Posted by Volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 3:15 pm

The volunteer agreement is standard boilerplate similar to ones used by other volunteer organizations. Some of these comments are inaccurate and more reflective of gossip.


69 people like this
Posted by volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 3:28 pm

Volunteer agreements are not all created equal. There are those that clearly express respect and regard for the services of the volunteer in both their language and in the requirements made. Others clearly demonstrate a partnership between volunteer and organization by outlining exactly what the organization will do for the volunteer and what they need the volunteer to do for them. The Filoli agreement does neither of these things. Instead it is entirely one-sided with neither a statement of appreciation nor an explanation of what Filoli will do for the volunteer. Instead it just takes away the rights of the volunteer. While many non-profits have volunteer agreements, not many are like this one in either tone or content. The question must be asked, is this just a move on the part of the administration to lower Filoli's insurance premium?


9 people like this
Posted by Sisyphus
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 3:44 pm

I am not sure which is the more sad part of this idiotic dispute. The people arguing against the waiver decrying that it somehow infringes on their rights or somehow is a taking of some prior to held belief of security are missing the point entirely, all volunteer agencies, schools, universities, and companies for the most part have in place these waivers for insurance purposes as they limit their direct exposure to liability should something happen. Agreements such as these are worthless in court and any decent attorney can tell you as much.

The County Sheriff's office has one that must be signed before perspective applicants take agility tests, the UC system has them for their volunteers, as does the CSU system, and all public high schools in the state. Your airline ticket or cruise line tickets have a built in waiver on the back that you agree to by default by simply carrying the ticket!

Relax people, this is California after all; we love to sue.


19 people like this
Posted by Barbara Hooper
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 3:52 pm

As a member of Filoli, I am very disappointed that the author of this article did such a poor job of research and presented such an unbalanced view. Obvious questions: why were none of the volunteers who have signed the agreement interviewed? how does the agreement compare to others in place at comparable organizations? Times change and even the most beloved of non-profits have to ensure that they are protected in an increasingly litigious society. It may very well be that the agreement is a requirement of Filoli's insurers. Unfortunately this article fails to inform, it just provides an opportunity for one side of challenging issue to vent. That's not journalism.


46 people like this
Posted by It's money
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 4:07 pm

Time to review the books and staff requests for salary / benefits increases.

I saw the same thing happen at another volunteer-based organization. Same ill will.

In that case, the Exec. Director wanted a raise. No budget for it. Solution: Shift insurance policies to a lower cost plan, thus freeing up budget funds. The Exec. Director and her staff were stone faced on the issue.

On review, the Board had told the senior staff if they could create efficiencies, they might apply cost savings to staff salary and benefits. Liability insurance was the single largest budget item. So, they shifted liability and indemnity to volunteers to give themselves hefty pay raises. Everyone felt abused.

Check Filoli's budget and insurance cost savings. Where will those savings be applied? It's always a money issue.



64 people like this
Posted by Garden Volunteer
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 18, 2015 at 4:16 pm

According to the its website Web Link, the 2015 Spring internship and apprentice programs are CANCELLED. This is an international program that has been built up over the years. A shame to risk loosing the momentum.
INTERN:
"Spring: March 23, 2015 through May 29, 2015 ---CANCELED 2015"
APPRENTICE:
"Spring: March 23, 2015 through September 25, 2015 ---CANCELED 2015"

I guess Filoli's Executive Director, Cynthia D'Agosta must need to save money to pay for the 3 directors she recently hired.


64 people like this
Posted by Member and 15yr Volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 4:21 pm

One of the most valuable assets of any organization is it's people; ironically -- an organization poorly managed can reduce that valuable asset into a disaster. Filoli has around 60 paid staff -- and has over 1200 volunteers. The volunteers have always been an important resource that Filoli has been able to depend on and draw from for over 30 years. Few organizations can boast (like Filoli) that it's volunteers typically hold tenure for 10, 15, 20+ years. This is a HUGE resource that Filoli has benefited from! The new Leadership at Filoli - in about it's 2nd year - has managed to almost singularly alienate a large portion of the volunteer base -- and the ones who are walking away are the tenured volunteers with years of experience and expertise in all areas of the work done at Filoli. You don't 'replace' that experience with new volunteers -- you cultivate the talent and nuture it -- and it takes years. The past three months that the volunteers have reached out (in good faith) and tried to engage with Leadership over this (at best) clumsy document -- have been met with a resounding 'sign it or leave'. This isn't about 'change', and it isn't a lack of communication - it is failed leadership. And this extends far beyond the volunteer pool and this 'document'. A wise move would be to engage an outside group to survey the Filoli management, staff and volunteers and see where the 'breakdown' really resides. Then maybe some reasonable effort can be made to 'manage up'.

Mrs. Roth valued volunteers and often noted how important they were to the Filoli experience; Mrs. Roth would NOT approve of the current Leadership and how it is conducting itself.


58 people like this
Posted by Another 20+ year Volunteer
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Feb 18, 2015 at 4:29 pm

We are sad about the high-handed treatment we have received from Filoli executive staff. Not only volunteers but some long-time staff are leaving, voting with our feet. What has been lost is the close collaboration between staff and volunteers to fulfill the educational mission of Filoli. The phrase that seemed most alien in the presentation on the required agreement was "non-profit industry standard." The current staff responsible for thinking that Filoli is part of an industry do not understand the remarkable culture of cooperation that has characterized the development of outstanding Filoli programs over many years. Their new culture seems to consider the development of volunteers' Filoli expertise as unnecessary, and that volunteers are simply in the way. The volunteers have been lead to expect a thoughtful and respectful response to the many concerns that have been raised. So far--nothing.

As previous commenters have stated. Time to right this ship before the best of Filoli has been lost.


48 people like this
Posted by thatguy
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 18, 2015 at 4:58 pm

As a member of FIloli I am disappointed that the management could not answer simple questions to provide any context to their decision. The reporter can not divine these things. Be responsive to the media and you will be treated better by it. The fact they tried to evade talking about the issue speaks volumes in a story like this.


20 people like this
Posted by Our little clique
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 18, 2015 at 5:10 pm

I agree with Barbara Hooper: what a lopsided article, no effort at all to discern why this agreement was created or what management expects to achieve.

Volunteering at Filoli is considered a plum job, with apparently many applicants. As the article shows, volunteers remain in their positions for decades. I have only visited Filoli as a parent accompanying school trips, and have found the volunteers to be an arrogant, self-indulgent bunch who seem to look for ways to criticize well-behaved and respectful children, snapping at them if they raise their hands to ask questions and even chewing them out for stepping on the front lawn ("your shoes have germs").

The gardens are lovely and the hike around the Filoli property is well worth the time it takes, so we all try not to let the attitude get to us. But perhaps management believes it's time to bring in some fresh blood or at least remind current volunteers that they are merely volunteers.

P.S. to volunteers: Plenty of places to help in East Palo Alto and Belle Haven if you truly want to serve your community and the Filoli gig falls through.


33 people like this
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 5:32 pm

Thank You to all the volunteers. So sad


19 people like this
Posted by Volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 6:05 pm

It is a happy day! This past month has seemed surreal realizing that I might not be back at Filoli. There was a point that I thought if I did capitulate that I would put a large red X over the "blue bird of happiness" sticker. I think the currant powers to be need to move on.


30 people like this
Posted by Faithful volunteer
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Feb 18, 2015 at 7:54 pm

The problem is that volunteers have been assured that they are covered under a "robust" National Trust policy, but when asked to share the provisions that cover them in this policy, the administration has only said 'trust us" without any proof. That evasion gives many volunteers pause in the decision to sign or "resign."


32 people like this
Posted by Jane W Fox
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Feb 18, 2015 at 7:58 pm

Since I am no longer an active docent (emeritous) after almost 30 years of]
volunteering and leading houe and garden trips, I think this agreement is not
the sort of thing we should be signing. It seems to me that this organization is trying to go to paid employees including in the house and
garden, art work, etc. Most of us volunteer because we love Filoli and
its traditions, which this does not seem to be in agreement.
Many volunteers do contribute to Filoli financially. Will they still continue to do so? Jane Fox





s


45 people like this
Posted by Volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 8:17 pm

It looks like NBC Bay Area has picked up this story on their website. In processing the story, they got one thing wrong. This is not a walkout by volunteers. We are being ejected. Volunteers were given an absolute ultimatum to sign or leave by March 1. Since November groups of volunteers have sought to get basic questions answered and have been stonewalled by Cynthia D'Agusta the Executive Director. Attempts to discuss alternatives have been rebuked. Promise after promise to respond to written and verbal questions have been broken. We will leave because we were presented with a sign or leave edict that imposed new risks and burdens on volunteers for no apparent or explained reason. Our questions which have been presented so many times in so many ways still remain unanswered. Our offers of solutions have had no response except, "sign or leave." Virtually all volunteers believe it is time Filoli had a volunteer agreement, but this is not it.


5 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 18, 2015 at 8:54 pm

YES I love how all of you love to gossip. It is a one sided article. No comment is standard for any group in such a situation. Clearly there is something going on I am willing to bet that there is part of the story missing hopefully management will make a statement to voice their side. Until then please continue the jr. high gossip and sit on your high horses looking in on the fishbowl with your altruistic opinions. Honestly I haven't had any experiences good or bad but clearly this comment section has become a platform for people with biased opinions, I was hoping for additional information but clearly it is full of speculation and personal opinions. I do volunteer at a few places and signing a waiver or something is pretty standard, try volunteering at a food bank without signing an agreement. Best wishes I hope to continue trolling all of you.


25 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 9:11 pm

pearl is a registered user.

To Anonymous (Why Anonymous?): Have you read Volunteer's comment, directly above yours? Volunteer's comment seems to be a pretty detailed, and straightforward chronicling of the issues and current situation at Filoli.


20 people like this
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 18, 2015 at 9:21 pm

Volunteers should vote with their feet, and donors with their money. That's the only way to get things to change at Filoli.


5 people like this
Posted by OH Pearl
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 18, 2015 at 9:34 pm

I I did read a few comments that seem to give details. I would think that if a real problem was at hand wouldn't the National Trust for Historic Preservation would be stepping in….Oh thats right they haven't so far. Maybe they have but this article is clearly just half the story. I would love for a follow up of the other half. Filoli is just a small part of what they (National HIstoric Trust for Preservation) do/are but if Filoli was truly doing something so wrong wouldn't their be more coverage????? Everyone please think one entity of a large organization could not go rouge. Pearl don't be mad I am not attacking you I am glad you have brought up a decent talking point. My previous comment as anonymous was directed at the other Jr high comments made above. TO the others please speculate what Heidi Brown and Cynthia D'Agosta have said or are thinking. Any non profit that doesn't have an agreement is just looking for a lawsuit for volunteers that would expect wages for doing work. Before we speculate further without the actual agreement here we are all just lost sheep.


Like this comment
Posted by Just wondering
a resident of Woodside: other
on Feb 18, 2015 at 10:25 pm

Just wondering here about those who do volunteer at Filoli why did you start to volunteer there. I am curious if this agreement somehow has conflicted with your original interests. It seems that your voices should be heard, hopefully they make some response because if they don't i could see why you would stop volunteering. Based on what they have on their website it seems like a nice place I think that i might have to check it out I haven't been there but it must be special if so many of you have volunteered 10+ years. I hope some sort of resolution is reached I am sure no organization would want to lose such a vested group of people. I am wondering if the agreement was drafted and poorly communicated with no explanation or if a handful of people are releasing a personal vandetta. It seems that the director was recently hired and maybe there are personality or vision clashes.


6 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 11:30 pm

This sort of thing is happening elsewhere and I think it threatens the vitality of volunteerism (not to mention the inherent joy of it). Palo Alto's OES has a detailed application that reads like an employment contract and includes a waiver for a background check. To volunteer. Bureaucracy gone amok.


28 people like this
Posted by VMW
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2015 at 11:53 pm

Seriously, I remember Filoli the first year it opened to the public.....
Without the dedication of the many volunteers the house, gardens and propery would not be what they are today!
I am a member and cannot imagine what the budget would be if the volunteer community didn't exist.

Filoli cannot be managed as a revenue business and that's why they do not have 1300 paid positions. Can you imagine the membership fee if it
Any organization needs to have insurance of some kind to cover unplanned accidents. If the New Directors are truly tossing out the insurance for whatever reason.....I sure would like to know who is advising them?
I know we live in beautiful California where our courts would probably rule in a volunteers favor but why even go there.

Perhaps the ladies who sent the agreement might apologize for their poor communications and lack of "community knowledge" - The Filoli Family and forcing volunteers to sign or leave. People who respect each other do apologize even in business!!!!!!!

If not, maybe they will move along and create havoc elsewhere.

Thank you to all the volunteers and your holding Filoli so dear. Good luck to you in your future endeavors.



14 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2015 at 12:48 am

pearl is a registered user.

To Annette:

If by Palo Alto OES you mean the Palo Alto Office of Emergency Services, comparing Filoli to the OES is like comparing oranges and apples. OES paid staff and volunteers fall into the category of "first responders"; the Filoli volunteers do not. Folks working in the "first responder" category (i.e., fire, police, OES, etc.), as a condition of employment and/or volunteering, have to pass a background check for obvious reasons.


3 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2015 at 6:51 am

Pearl - agree that the two types of volunteers are very different; just making the point that volunteerism is getting complicated in ways that deter people. The need to do background checks for people involved in many aspects of OES does makes sense for obvious reasons, but it seems a little excessive when it reaches to simple, basic neighborly service that doesn't involve access to anything sensitive or government related. Just neighbors helping neighbors. I hope the Filoli situation straightens out b/c the volunteers provide a great service that makes an otherwise expensive operation feasible.


30 people like this
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Feb 19, 2015 at 9:38 am

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

An update:
Heidi Brown, the president of Friends of Filoli (which represents volunteers and members of Filoli), and who also serves as vice president of Filoli's Board of Governors (who hire and direct the executive director), had promised to speak to me Wednesday after the board met. However, yesterday afternoon, Ms. Brown emailed me and said: "I won't be able to meet with you today. I will reach out once I'm in a position to share information."
The Almanac would love to update this story with the position of the management of Filoli and more information about why they took the actions they did; but despite trying since Sunday to get someone to talk to us we have had no luck.
We will update the story when we receive more information.


31 people like this
Posted by volunteer
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 19, 2015 at 9:43 am

This is a problem with communication. Effective leaders have excellent communication skills; ineffective leaders are insular and polarizing. The Filoli community is being split by a leadership/volunteer dichotomy rather than a partnership approach between the leadership and volunteers. This is what makes this situation so divisive. Other such organizations such as MROSD are responsive, personal, available and willing to answer questions about agreements. Granted the volunteer agreements are similar in some, but not all, respects. However,the behavior toward volunteers is different. The end result is that organizations such as MROSD make you feel valued and furthermore, they know who you are. Many people do not know who the Executive Director is or would not recognize her because a relationship has never been developed with the volunteers. I understand that some of the people making posts are frustrated that the journalist did not report the point of view of Filoli management. I would guess that she is also unable to get a response and would gladly report it if provided. The questions posed by volunteers to Filoli management are not complicated or difficult to respond to. For example: “Could we make a committee specific waiver for field trips like other local nonprofits ?” OR “If you cannot change the volunteer agreement, could you add your statements about insurance coverage and protection for volunteers to your volunteer policies document?” I can relate to the feelings and reactions on both sides of this debate. The common thread from the volunteers is how much they have valued their time and experience at Filoli. When you are getting legal advice that signing the agreement puts you at risk, what is a volunteer to do?


28 people like this
Posted by Volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2015 at 9:51 am

In response to B. Wood's comment above.....thank you for your reporting and professional f/u -- I think you are experiencing exactly the same type of response/lack of engagement that the volunteers have experienced -- as we have also reached out to the 'proper channels' for months to engage in a constructive way.


36 people like this
Posted by docent
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 19, 2015 at 11:17 am

Please understand that the provisions of the Release and Indemnification clause in the Volunteer Agreement, can lead to discriminatory treatment of a volunteer versus those same injuries sustained by a guest or others on the ground.

If a Volunteer is injured, dies, or sustains major injuries or property damage as a
result of a negligent activity or omission by a Filoli staff person, they should have the same rights as a guest, or any other person on the Filoli grounds who is is injured or is damaged by that activity.

Under the Volunteer Agreement they do not. That is one of the many reasons volunteers are not signing. In other organizations the participant(s) also sign a waiver. At Filoli is is a one way waiver that only the volunteers are being asked to sign.

Bottomline is that guests and staff do not sign away their rights.

Please note Filoli is the only organization I know of that REQUIRES their volunteers to pay to be members of the organization as a condition of being a volunteer. Volunteers also pay for their Nature Ed training, so that they can take children on hikes.....

The volunteers have not only donated their time but have paid for the "privilege" of being a volunteer at Filoli.


4 people like this
Posted by Volunteer
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Feb 19, 2015 at 11:24 am

The following message was emailed to Filoli volunteers this morning:

2/19/2015

Dear Volunteer,

The Filoli Governing Board has been kept informed of the roll out of the Volunteer Agreement and the surrounding controversy. During the last two weeks, in conjunction with the National Trust, the Governing Board has asked for specific reviews of the agreement itself, with particular emphasis on the release clause, and Filoli’s insurance policies. At the first scheduled meeting of the year on Wednesday, the Board reviewed new information and concluded that the Volunteer Agreement is reasonable and appropriate for Filoli and consistent with common practice in today’s nonprofit world.

After considerable discussion and input from our advisors, the Governing Board has approved the opportunity for volunteers to opt out of the release clause by crossing out and initialing this clause when signing the agreement. Those who have already signed the agreement will be given the opportunity to re-sign, crossing out this clause if they desire.

Unfortunately, some of the interactions during the roll out of the volunteer agreement have been disruptive. It will take significant time and effort to work through the many issues created. The Governing Board has a fiduciary responsibility to protect Filoli and its employees, and fully supports Cynthia in her efforts to restore a productive environment throughout Filoli.

We want to thank all who have worked to put the agreement in place, those who have signed it, and also those who have thoughtfully listened to the explanations and respectfully asked additional questions.

Sincerely,

Toni Barrack
President, Filoli Governing Board


35 people like this
Posted by ex-volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2015 at 12:22 pm

Perfunctory.

Too little, too late and does not begin to address the harm that has accumulated from the staggering lack of respect shown by the Leadership to the volunteers for some time now.

This is a very sterile attempt to 'appear' to be addressing the mess they have caused.

Many of us will not be returning.

Mrs. Roth would still not approve of the current Leadership.


45 people like this
Posted by volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Regarding the letter from Governing Board President, Toni Barrack:

If the Governing Board is willing to send this now, why weren't they willing to offer it back in December when volunteers first voiced their concerns? Instead they repeatedly issued the ultimatum "sign or leave"​ and​ stonewalled all requests to draft a workable modification to the volunteer agreement. ​ It took the "disruption" of an article in The Almanac for them to make this offer.​

The concession they now make​, while welcome, is only made so that they will look like the "good guys​." There are still other issues in the VA that need to be addressed. Why won't they work with a team comprised of staff and volunteers to come up with a win-win document for all concerned? ​If they talk about wanting to rebuild a relationship, that would be a constructive way to start.​


4 people like this
Posted by Poster
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2015 at 1:24 pm

A new story is online: Web Link


28 people like this
Posted by learnfromthepast
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2015 at 2:09 pm

Sounds like the same Cynthia D'Agosta who "managed" the
Joint Powers Authority!


26 people like this
Posted by Disgruntled long-time member
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 19, 2015 at 2:09 pm

In general, I do not like the recent changes at Filoli. They have doubled their entry fee, started checking up on every visit by members (making the wait in line longer), and changed the dining room caterer. It sounds more and more money-grubbing and I think it is criminal not to respect and listen to your FREE volunteers! How sad. PS I also think their classes are ridiculously overpriced.... and while I am at it.... Who ever heard of paying a high price to spend money at their holiday boutique? I always found that ridiculous. I am considering not renewing my membership as well.


12 people like this
Posted by Jeanette P
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Feb 19, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Jeanette P is a registered user.

"The Land Of The Free" ! What has happened? Every day we make our country so much smaller, confined and restricted. Today it seems we live by, not the law, but by "The Game of The Law". We have become paranoid about lawsuits. Volunteering is a job from the heart and the soul, no matter where carried out. There is an old saying: "Only a thief think man steals".
These dedicated and wonderful human beings called Volunteers, preserve (in this matter) the Filoli, a piece of history, for all of us to enjoy, and are now being questioned of their integrity, some after 10, 20 or 30 years of giving something you can't buy for money.....Time and Love.
The Volunteers are the heart of Filoli, and it shows in their dedication, kindness and knowledge.
Every time I have visited over the years, I come away uplifted, not just by the beauty of the Estate and gardens (where you won't find a leaf out of place) but the kindness and no rush mentality of everybody involved. The little Cafe is a gem to visit (wonderful food, service and outdoor tranquility), the gift shop has more service and security than any place I can think of, as every lady there keep a proud eye on everything.
It is my hope, that this (and it seems like it may be moving in a positive direction) newly and out of balance agreement, will come to a positive solution for all.
The Titanic sank needlessly, let's take it slow here and do the right thing.





I have been to Filoli many times over the years


38 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2015 at 3:02 pm

Grace and Elegance are the bywords in describing the beautiful estate of Filoli. It is too bad management has so little in common with the estate. There was a tradition of “What would Mrs. Roth do?” that tempered many decisions made regarding the everyday running of Filoli.

People are saying that times and business change and we can no longer use Mrs. Roth’s guidance in making decisions in a modern business climate. Those people are wrong: Great style is ageless. How much longer would it take to write a legal document worthy of Filoli? The Volunteer Agreement was not crafted or written by anyone concerned with Filoli’s Volunteer rights: It is a roughly written management solution—it is a savage document. There is more wrong with agreement than just the release clause.

Most, if not all, programs have a Volunteer Agreement—it is part of the requirements in running a non-profit. Volunteers have been asking for a redraft since it was introduced. Why has this been ignored? Why was it necessary to address the problem in a public forum?

If I remember correctly, 1300 volunteers contribute enough hours to equal close to 60 full time employees. You would think the loss of 600 volunteers would be reason enough to honor the volunteer’s commitment and rewrite a well-crafted agreement.

Feb 19, 2015, letter to volunteers from Filoli Board of Directors and National Trust:
“. . . the Board reviewed new information and concluded that the Volunteer Agreement is reasonable and appropriate for Filoli and consistent with common practice in today's nonprofit world.” “Consistent with common practice” is a poor excuse and plainly out of touch with the spirit of volunteerism at Filoli.


47 people like this
Posted by volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2015 at 3:41 pm

Regarding the letter from Governing Board President, Toni Barrack:

People know when they are being treated poorly -- and the poor attitude and behavior of the current Leadership towards the volunteer base has been ongoing for far too long. The letter today does not take the tone, nor have the feel, of a serious attempt to reach out to the volunteer fellowship.

It has the appearance of an attempt at damage control.

The over 1200 Filoli volunteers contribute more than 88,000 work hours/yr. They deserve better.

They deserve a better and more respectful Leadership and they deserve a better Governing Board. We trusted them.


17 people like this
Posted by cur mudgeon
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2015 at 4:09 pm

The beatings will continue until morale improves.


45 people like this
Posted by Volunteer 1996
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2015 at 4:44 pm

I wonder if Toni Barrack really thinks that the tone of her letter reflects an attempt at CONFLICT RESOLUTION??


29 people like this
Posted by sleepingdog
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2015 at 6:49 pm

sleepingdog is a registered user.

Some of the members of the Governing Board of Filoli that I have talked to about the Volunteer Agreement have made statements supporting it that make me wonder if they have come under the control of some evil spirit. In the past I thought these were intelligent and caring people. How can they not see the pain and anguish they have inflicted on many of the Filoli volunteers with their Volunteer Agreement.


37 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2015 at 7:13 pm

Filoli's culture has been under assault by Executive Directors for years. During Jane's tenure, I personally heard her screaming at employees during meetings in her office many times. Everybody within 50 feet could hear it including paying visitors. Plus she unilaterally killed the retirement plan for employees apparently because she needed to raise tuition money; and in the process triggered tax consequences for long-time employees that in some cases were five figures. Plus her petty power struggles over matters outside of her expertise and of no monetary consequence alienated many valued employees and volunteers. It's no secret why Jon and Lucy quit.

Now Cynthia is following in Jane's footsteps. For decades, some employees and volunteers have been bringing their dogs to Filoli during the day. There has never been a problem with any of them. Yet, Cynthia has decreed that Filoli is now a no-dog zone. This policy has caused heartbreak and inconvenience to many.

We don't understand why operation of the café has been taken away from the volunteers. It always made me smile to be served by them; their enthusiasm and joy were contagious.

The volunteer agreement was ham-handed and clumsy. If the Trust needed to limit liability, a clause to bind claimants to arbitration instead of a lawsuit might have achieved the same effect without poisoning the well.

Most of us think the time is right for another new Director.


3 people like this
Posted by Hey Member
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Feb 19, 2015 at 8:15 pm

I was Just there today and ate at the cafe….They still have volunteers there just the food service has been contracted out. The volunteers there were in a great mood and I felt that they were in good spirits plus the food was better than I remembered. I don't know about the dog thing but really who needs a dog at filoli (other than service dog) dogs belong at home in my opinion I have one but taking him to work seems kindda funny.


18 people like this
Posted by Fire the management
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 19, 2015 at 9:35 pm

The café at Filoli is under new management. The food is HORRIBLE. I ordered a salad and much to my horror I found a long toothpick mixed amongst the salad greens. I could have choked or broken a tooth if I had bitten into the toothpick. The salad was served on a paper plate. My friend ordered a Panini. The Panini hadn't been baked long enough. It was tasteless and awful. The side salad didn't have even one drop of salad dressing on it. Also served with the Panini was a scoop if inedible potato salad. The lunch was ghastly. The prices have gone up, too. I fear the café will lose its business, soon. In the future I will be heading into Woodside for lunch after visiting Filoli. You couldn't pay me to again eat in the café.


33 people like this
Posted by Clean House at Filoli
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 19, 2015 at 9:50 pm

I bet the Director of Filoli will be fired in the next few weeks. Usually when an organization puts out a press release defending an embattled employee, the employee is fired shortly thereafter. The employee can say she decided to quit (to safe face), but she was actually fired. I suspect this will be the case with the Director of Filoli. The Director and the rest of the management of Filoli has done irreversible damage. They should all be shown the door.


12 people like this
Posted by volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2015 at 9:54 pm

To the editor of the Almanac:

Why has this discussion with its 40 to 50 comments disappeared from the top of the list of Town Square topics to be replaced by a later story which has only 5 comments? Let the discussion continue in the forefront so that the story that the many local Filoli volunteers can continue.

This is about communication which Filoli paid staff seem to have forgotten is important. Don't join them in shutting down the voices of concern.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 19, 2015 at 9:58 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

By commenting you put this back at the top.

The Forum does not have a mechanism that prevents duplicate topics being opened.


40 people like this
Posted by volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2015 at 6:51 am

So, because of the pressure from the Almanac article, the administration is now permitting volunteers to cross out the liability clause. OK, but it is still a flawed document. There are other issues which still need to be addressed. The liability was a big one but the job isn't done. Why continue with a flawed document when you could scrap it and start afresh?

None of this makes any sense. The administration was given amply opportunity to respond to volunteers' concerns and could have crafted an agreement that would have been mutually respectful while addressing everyone's needs. Reasonable, caring people would have seized that opportunity. Instead the Executive Director was rigidly adamant, repeating her mantra, "sign or leave."

It was that attitude that forced the majority of volunteers to prepare to leave. In a last desperate move, some went to the press. And because of that action, the volunteers are now receiving a letter which begrudgingly offers a way to make the agreement somewhat palatable while demeaning us at the same time.....creating more bad feelings.

And none of this needed to happen!!!!!! There were many volunteers who earnestly sought to craft a worthy agreement. The Executive Director, Cynthia D'Agosta, and the President of the Governing Board, Toni Barrack, shut them down at every turn. Why? Why not work together? Why not make something good happen? Instead they chose bullying and belligerence.

Toni Barrack's letter squarely places the blame on the volunteers who would not sign. Her letter makes no acknowledgement of the part administration played in this debacle.
Whatever happened to accountability?


33 people like this
Posted by Nature Ed Volunteer
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 20, 2015 at 8:27 am

Regarding the letter from Governing Board President, Toni Barrack:

Crossing out the liability clause in the Volunteer Agreement does not address other major volunteer concerns: secondary medical insurance for volunteers, a volunteer's liability in case a visitor is injured on his/her watch, and the photo release.

I came to Filoli with good will, to take children on hikes in the woods. And I've worked at Holiday Traditions, helping raise money for Filoli because I wanted to contribute. Sadly, this has become an adversarial relationship, full of toxicity. We volunteers have willingly donated our time, and when we questioned portions of the VA, we were called disruptive.

I'm not sure this relationship is fixable.


31 people like this
Posted by Volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2015 at 1:33 pm

The Daily Journal online ran an article entitled: "Filoli tweaks volunteer agreement."

In the article, the reporter includes a quote from Executive Director, Cynthia D'Agosta: "D’Agosta took part of the blame for how the agreement was rolled out and how volunteers responded to it."

Interesting.......D'Agosta has never made that statement to the volunteers who actually need to hear it. Clearly she has said that just for the benefit of the newspaper.

Also included in The Daily Journal article is this statement, again by D'Agosta:
"But the National Trust may end up adding the liability clause back into any future agreement, she said."

Pay attention volunteers!

Finally, another quote from D'Agosta: “We are all here for the same thing, to protect and preserve this place. We can’t operate without them. We treasure them,” D’Agosta said about the volunteers."

Gee, why is it we, the volunteers, don't feel "treasured?" Again, another statement for the benefit of the press that has never been sincerely conveyed to the volunteers.


31 people like this
Posted by volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2015 at 4:01 pm

Re: The online Daily article entitled: "Filoli tweaks volunteer agreement."

(Cynthia D'Agosta) "...said Filoli’s business model created 40 years ago does not function today and that the volunteer agreement is standard for California nonprofits.

“The agreement didn’t start with me. It’s been a three-year collaborative effort with the Governing Board, National Trust and volunteers,” said D’Agosta, who has worked at Filoli for two years."...

That's the narrative and the strongest argument offered for this debacle?

I would suggest that if an organization can boast of 1200+ volunteers -- many of whom are 10+ years volunteering there -- and the organization has been able to recruit and retain them on the business model created 40 years ago -- THAT BUSINESS MODEL IS RELEVANT AND DOES WORK FOR THIS SITUATION.

An effective Leadership would be able to recognize what works, understand why it works, and enhance that -- not bring it to ruin.

The Executive Director states 'It didn't start with me".

That comment, offered as justification, is beyond understanding. An organization suffering a loss of trust (of this magnitude) in its leadership, surely there is something more to offer than ‘It didn't start with me'.


26 people like this
Posted by Fire the Management
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 20, 2015 at 7:36 pm

I read an interesting Palo Alto Online article about the Director of Filoli, when she quit her Creek Agency job to head the Committee for Green Foothills. Try googling "D'Agosta Quits Creek Agency to Head Committee for Green Foothills," dated March 18, 2008. The article and the community comments that follow the article suggest her tenure at the Creek Agency was contentious and had potential conflicts of interest and corruption.
Filoli volunteers should do their homework and dig deeper into D'Agosta's past employment history. I bet she has caused trouble before. Her tenure at Filoli should be scrutinized, too. Has she given contracts to family members, received financial gain from her contacts through Filoli, etc. I bet there is a lot more to this story and volunteers should investigate D'Agosta's past. I like googling "Intelius." The Intelius Official site. That website gives some interesting information about a person and is a good starting point for investigating a person. I am so disappointed in Filoli's management. A big thank you to the wonderful volunteers.


2 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 21, 2015 at 8:25 am

Well as a Member I have some interest in the topic but as a member I also am sickened by some of the volunteers that felt that they needed to air their dirty laundry in public. I remember visiting a sculpture in the garden exhibit last year and hearing some volunteers hated it, it was about the same time some volunteers were complaining about a groupon offer. So possibly these Volunteers dislike change. I wouldn't speak this for all of them but clearly it seems like a few really like to throw their weight around. I would like to thank the many volunteers for all their hard work and dedication, and challenge them to see what they can do to help repair the damage a few have done. I challenge the Filoli Board of Directors and Staff as well. 1300 people from different backgrounds means a ton of differing opinions but clearly this has turned into a witch hunt. The same one these volunteers had the previous director. To the Governing Board, Staff and Volunteers, the volunteers are there to help carry out the Mission of Filoli not direct it, that being said Filoli Volunteers are amazing and need to be respected I hope some common ground can be found Filoli is a truly amazing place.


14 people like this
Posted by Volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 21, 2015 at 11:06 am

Now that management has backed down, they should make good on their hollow words and schedule a series of meetings with the volunteers to clarify their position, explain how the agreement "plays in California", and eat a little humble pie by LISTENING to the concerns of those who make Filoli what it is intended to be.

Filoli, after all, it is part of the National HISTORICAL PRESERVATION community. The key words are HISTORICAL and Preservation. Yes, look at ways to improve cash flow and attract new membership, but do not throw away your core constituency, your affluent community base. Use imagination and input from those who have the Historical perspective and do not belittle the value it brings to maintaining a continuation to today's generations and future members and volunteers. Filoli is not a Silicon Valley tilt up and cannot be replaced.

Creative management will take all input into consideration, and then find solutions in attracting those who will continue to nurture the values set forth in a different era. That is the legacy of Filoly and the thousands who have volunteered prior to this ugly, unnecessary episode.

Being an effective manager involves excellent communication skills, foresight and objectivity, as well as the ability to learn. Most of all it involves respect to those who give of their time so that managers can manage. Somehow,, these attributes have become a fading bloom, past it's prime, and ready to be pruned inthe Gardens and House that is

A volunteer with over 10 years of dedicated service


17 people like this
Posted by volunteer
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 21, 2015 at 11:31 am

"Member" commented above about "airing dirty laundry in public". Yes, it is unfortunate. But once the story broke into the open in journal articles (two in the almanacnews, one in smdailyjournal), and Filoli management continued to delay issuing the promised responses to volunteer questions, it was inevitable that comments would accumulate and reputations of named persons would suffer. It's not pleasant, but commenters have a duty to describe the situation as honestly as they can. Some volunteers may not have liked the sculptures last year (I did), and others may have complained about the Groupon offer (I thought it was a terrific way to bring a new demographic to visit Filoli). The smdailyjournal article says the Executive Director "noted that many of the volunteers have been with the agency for 30 or 40 years and did not respond well to the new agreement". But believe me, it's too easy a dismissal of dissent to imply that it's coming from people who dislike change.

This comment thread is more active than the one following the second article, and some comments have been copied to here. I'll copy mine.

"Review the comments on the previous article, and you will see that many agree that some sort of legal protection for Filoli against lawsuits makes sense, and that a reasonable agreement on this and other issues could have been worked out. But as you'll see again and again in the comments, what has really rankled is the insistence by the Filoli board and ED that nothing is negotiable, their unwillingness or inability to answer questions, their demeaning implication that questions and dissent were simply the result of a failure to "listen", and their cavalier attitude toward volunteers who have given so much their time freely, and have contributed much to making Filoli feel like a friendly place to visitors. As things stand with the amended VA, Filoli has gained little and lost much. I'm sure the Board and the ED have been convinced in their hearts at every step that they were doing the right thing, but they are apparently plagued with a fatal lack of judgement. Yesterday's change in the VA hints that they have belatedly arrived at a somewhat realistic assessment of the situation, but the tone-deafness of the email announcing it suggests that they have learned little. Over the past few weeks, I have talked with about a dozen current and former volunteer leaders, all of them intelligent and reasonable people, and nearly all have expressed dismay to one degree or another with the way the VA has been handled (among other things that have transpired in the past year). All but two had already signed the VA, so one cannot infer the amount of support there is for Filoli management simply by counting the number of signatures. Unless the Governing Board and ED admit to themselves that they chose a really bad strategy, and until they offer a sincere (or at least sincere-sounding) apology to volunteers, they are not in a good position to lead us back to a healed state. If they can show that they have learned from experience, then I think that most of us will be willing to bury the hatchet and move on. Whether it is under a chastened version of the current leadership, or new leadership, it is my hope that Filoli will become once more a genuine community, where transparency in decision-making and diversity of opinion are embraced, and autocratic tendencies are eschewed. I am by nature a conciliator, and I can hardly believe that I'm submitting such preachy words to a public forum. Gentle reader, forgive me."

It has since occurred to me that my statements about Filoli leadership may appear too unqualified. Each of us can only see what we directly observe or are told, and we may over-generalize. "Genuine community" may be the very thing they have tried to achieve most of the time, in their own way, in most of their interactions. But if the leaders who have been criticized are reading this thread, I would advise them not to dismiss the comments lightly on that account.

The ED is quoted in the smdailyjournal article as saying "the National Trust may end up adding the liability clause back into any future agreement". Interestingly, the letter from the Governing Board only says that the Trust thinks the VA was appropriate, and does not say anything about a future agreement. I assume that the group entrusted with drafting a new agreement will fully represent the range of divergent viewpoints. I assume that the legal context and the stakes for Filoli and volunteers will be openly and frankly aired. I assume that the resulting document will reflect mutual understanding, and will be broadly, if not universally, acceptable to the National Trust, the Filoli Center, the Governing Board, and the volunteers. I know this is a realistic expectation because I have participated in many deliberations that began in disagreement but ended in harmony (or at least grumbling acceptance). The only necessary ingredients are mutual respect, honest assessment of facts, diligence in researching models, and a conviction that if none of the models is quite right, intelligent analysis and creative thinking can come up with something better.


2 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 21, 2015 at 3:04 pm

I did say air out their laundry. I apologize if I offended all but clearly you might have been. YOu did a great job explaining a point of view. Too bad the previous people weren't as well spoken. Kudos to you if the 1300 volunteers sounded like you I'm sure there would have been some negotiation but as you read previous people let emotions get the better. I have seen a draft of the VA I could see how it was somewhat opposed but Now that the National Historic Trust will be involved lets see how that goes. I would be shocked if it was only one page and no liability clause these days dumb if you don't have that.


1 person likes this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Feb 21, 2015 at 3:31 pm

pearl is a registered user.

Did someone say volunteers have to pay Filoli for the "privilege" of volunteering there? If so, how does that work, and how much does a volunteer have to pay?


1 person likes this
Posted by volunteer
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Feb 21, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Pearl, volunteers must be members, and they pay the ordinary membership fee.


10 people like this
Posted by Volunteer & member
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 21, 2015 at 3:55 pm

Filoli wasn't broken and didn't need fixing !


1 person likes this
Posted by marsha
a resident of another community
on Feb 21, 2015 at 6:31 pm

I would like to address any comments made about the Cafe at Filoli. There is brand new management, and with this change has come many positive things. The caterers in charge are kind, attentive, conscientious, interested in having only fresh food at all times, and preparing food that our Filoli guests will enjoy. They will make a sandwich to your
personal satisfaction, the panninis are delicious, the soups are made fresh every morning and are wonderful, and the desserts worth taking a walk in the woods for. I can only say how happy I am to volunteer and work with a professional staff who make it fun to be in the Cafe. Come to Filoli and let the Cafe and our cheerful volunteers enhance your visit.


2 people like this
Posted by docent
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 21, 2015 at 7:03 pm

Pearl, the membership fee at Filoli is $70 if you are a senior it is $50.


13 people like this
Posted by Volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 21, 2015 at 8:19 pm

It is interesting to read the Filoli Strategic Plan 2004-2014.
Web Link

Below are two of the stated goals from that document. Both are worthy.
Unfortunately though, neither one of these goals has been realized and it doesn't appear that they will be at any time in the near future.

Volunteerism: We value and appreciate the significant contributions made by the large number of devoted volunteers who contribute their talents and time to Filoli in a wide variety of ways, recognizing that they comprise a major portion of our human resources. We recognize that their lives must be enriched by their service to Filoli.

Application: We recruit, train, support and respect our volunteers, regarding them as colleagues. We work diligently to ensure that our volunteer corps remains viable and strong.

Excellence and Integrity: We value high standards and integrity in our work, exhibiting competency and accountability.

Application: We establish, maintain and hold each other accountable to high standards and ethical behavior.


2 people like this
Posted by docent
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 21, 2015 at 9:46 pm

I am surprised by the comments. Did they copy them from another publication????


1 person likes this
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Feb 22, 2015 at 4:38 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

I was finally able to speak with someone from Filoli management, nearly a week after I first asked for comment, and have posted another follow-up story: Web Link .


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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