Broward symphony in turmoil
The Symphony of the Americas is a mainstay at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts that receives plenty of taxpayer cash.
Now it's board has been ripped apart by questions about how that money is being spent.
When now-former board president Beth Holland and other symphony officials began questioning what they saw as financial irregularities, they were suddenly voted out in what they say was basically a board coup orchestrated by the symphony's executive director, Renee LaBonte, and the long-time maestro, James Brooks-Bruzzese.
Following the ouster of Holland and symphony treasurer Raquel Cohen came numerous resignations of board members in protest, including Symphony Society President Lynne McGrath.
"There were a lot of people shocked," said McGrath. "People left. I walked out. I've been on a number of boards I've never seen anything like that."
"I feel that all of us have been had," said Holland.
At the heart of the controversy are LaBonte and Brooks-Bruzzese, who have been running the symphony since its founding 25 years ago. Former officials say the pair keep a stranglehold on symphony finances.
Though the symphony's bylaws dictate that the treasurer handle the district's money -- more than $200,000 of which comes from taxpayers -- the former officials say LaBonte keeps all the records in her private home with her husband James LaBonte, who has been hired as the bookkeeper of the organization.
While the bylaws dictate that the treasurer sign symphony checks, Cohen was barred from doing that by LaBonte, say several sources. There were also questions about salaries and symphony money going to personal and travel expenses, including travel to Rome and Panama by LaBonte and Brooks-Bruzzese.
"We weren't getting answers and then we were getting hostility," said Holland. "They were getting angry because we were asking questions."
LaBonte refused to answer questions [see video]. Past Symphony Society President Ann Clark says financial irregularities have dogged the symphony for years, leading her to her own resignation.
"People are demanding disclosure," said Clark. "They want answers."
Holland and other former board members say LaBonte and Brooks-Bruzzese organized a board coup at a board meeting in March, changing the by-laws on the spot and voting out Holland and Cohen.
"All the sudden the maestro was packing the board with his friends," said Holland.
That was followed by at least ten resignations, said former officials.
"It was like a mass exodus," said Holland. "They were furious."
Holland and other officials say they want to see a full audit of the symphony to make sure its money -- both from taxpayers and private donors -- isn't being misspent.
"I feel when people want to hide things and they're not going to be transparenet there is something wrong," said Holland. "I want answers."
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