Apparently things are still not right in paradise. Volunteers at Woodside's historic Filoli estate learned on Wednesday afternoon that Cynthia D'Agosta, Filoli's executive director through a recent upheaval in volunteer ranks that saw hundreds leave their unpaid jobs at the historic estate rather than sign a controversial volunteer agreement, is no longer working for Filoli.
Only a few days earlier those same volunteers had been informed of a change to their volunteer handbook, prohibiting them from speaking to the media about Filoli or sharing information that came from Filoli. That did not stop volunteers from forwarding on the email that had informed them of D'Agosta's departure within an hour of the announcement.
The email from the executive committee of Filoli's governing board does not explain the departure, or say if it was voluntary, but simply states: "Cynthia D'Agosta is no longer with Filoli."
The email says that Carolyn Daley, who heads the governing board's finance committee "will oversee Cynthia's direct reports" until an interim executive director is named.
The email says Filoli plans to "immediately retain" an interim executive director from a professional agency, and then search for a permanent replacement.
"During this transition period the Governing Board Executive Committee will provide continuing oversight of all Filoli operations and ongoing projects," the email says.
Filoli closed to the public on Oct. 24 for its regular winter break, but will, in a little over two weeks, begin its annual Holiday Traditions program, which is a major fundraiser for the organization.
The email says the board is "confident that this change will not impact the continuing operations of Filoli or Holiday Traditions." It says the event is "fully organized, staffed and in the final stages of preparation with a confident momentum of its own."
Holiday Traditions runs Nov. 27 to Dec. 5.
In mid-February, a number of Filoli volunteers contacted the Almanac to express distress over the volunteer agreement they had been told they had to sign by March 1 to keep their volunteer jobs. At that point, according to an email from Filoli management, only 600 volunteers had signed.
After the Almanac posted a story about the controversy, Filoli's governing board met and said volunteers could cross out the most objectionable clause, which states volunteers will not make "a claim of any negligence, personal injury, wrongful death or property damage against Filoli" in connection with the volunteer's work at Filoli.
By late March, Ms. D'Agosta said 1,060 of Filoli's 1,300 active volunteers had signed the mandatory agreement. At that time she said 80 of those who had left were part of a group that leads students on nature walks at Filoli. A volunteer said the nature docents who had left had more than 250 collective years of experience as Filoli volunteers.
Filoli has not had good luck retaining executive directors in the recent past. In an interview in March, Ms. D'Agosta said there had been five executive directors in 10 years. "That amount of change is hard on the staff; it's been hard on the volunteers," she said then.
Ms. D'Agosta began working for Filoli on Dec. 1, 2012. She formerly served as the executive director of the Committee for Green Foothills, and was the first executive director of the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority.
A Bay Area native, Ms. D'Agosta grew up in San Jose. She holds a master's degree in landscape architecture from Harvard's Graduate School of Design and a bachelor's degree in science and fine arts from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
According to Filoli's tax forms, which must be publicly filed because the organization is tax-exempt, in 2013, the last year for which the tax forms are available, Filoli had $5.7 million in income, including gifts, grants, gift shop sales, contributions, membership fees and admissions.
That year Ms. D'Agosta made $172,219, and the organization had 31 members of its governing body (who are not compensated), 82 employees and 1,442 volunteers.
The tax forms for 2011 and 2012 show that Ms. D'Agosta's predecessor as executive director, Jane Risser, made $185,000 in 2011 and that she was paid $165,000 in severance pay when she left in 2012.
The latest Filoli policy regarding publicity states:
"Media may not be invited on the property by volunteers for any reason without the prior approval of the Executive Director. All media inquiries should be routed to the Public Relations Associate for coordination. Volunteers may not circulate or publish confidential or proprietary information that relates to Filoli. Proprietary information includes but is not limited to confidential staff and volunteer interactions, guest interactions, and Board or Executive activities.
"Communications by volunteers, as private citizens, cannot be restricted, as long as they do not publicize any official connection to Filoli."