Unanswered questions about controversial decisions affecting some 1,500 volunteers at the historic Filoli estate continue to keep the ground fertile for anger, confusion and pain among those volunteers -- both those who remain and the hundreds who unhappily severed ties with the nonprofit earlier this month. And sadly, the leaders of the cherished Woodside institution are in hiding. They seem to not understand that in a situation such as this, silence is not golden. It is destructive.
From the time in mid-February that the Almanac began looking into the turmoil prompted by the introduction of an ill-advised, first-ever volunteer agreement, executive director Cynthia D'Agosta has refused to talk to us. According to numerous volunteers who tried to get explanations about why the agreement was imposed and about some of the poorly written provisions, Ms. D'Agosta and other Filoli leaders were unwilling to answer their questions as well.
The agreement contained several provisions that hundreds of volunteers found objectionable; some consulted with their attorneys, who advised them not to sign.
When it became clear that the situation was turning into a very public volunteer revolt, the Filoli governing board met to discuss the matter; afterward, board president Toni Barrack emailed volunteers, informing them that they could opt out of the most objectionable clause, but that the board "fully supports" Ms. D'Agosta.
Although some volunteers who had earlier balked at signing the agreement scratched out the clause and signed at that point, many noted in dismay the stony tone of the message, and the lack of a convincing conciliatory message. Also, governing board member Heidi Brown spoke with the Almanac for a Feb. 25 article, but many questions were left unanswered, and Ms. D'Agosta continued to ignore requests for comment.
Finally, on March 2 -- the day after the mass exodus of volunteers who refused to sign the agreement -- a public statement was issued. But the statement came from the offices of Kamer Consulting Group, an Oakland-based public relations firm specializing in crisis management.
The statement quoted Ms. D'Agosta, who claimed that "inaccurate or incomplete media reports" portrayed an "exaggerated" level of division within the Filoli community. She stated that Filoli "has experienced no significant loss of volunteers," and promised to put in place "an outreach campaign to our members and media organizations to clear up any confusion" early media reports allegedly caused.
Despite this commitment to an "outreach campaign," as of March 16, the Almanac remains stunned by the silence. But we have questions. For example, if there had indeed been inaccurate reporting, what were the inaccuracies? And how can the press be faulted for "incomplete media reports" when the Filoli leaders refuse to talk?
Volunteers have expressed their dismay over the spending of funds on a public relations firm to help Filoli out of a crisis of its own leaders' making, and we share that dismay. We have questions about this as well: How much has been spent on this public relations effort? And more importantly, has the consultant advised leaders to continue their strategy of silence?
We support the call by many volunteers for new leadership at Filoli. Too much damage has been done by the lack of respect for volunteers, and the refusal to communicate with them and the community at large.