Rights and Wrongs at Scottish Rite
Board president admits no wrongdoing in theatre director's termination
The ongoing dispute between the Scottish Rite Community Theater and some former employees has all the hallmarks of one of the organization's productions. Allegations on both sides portray valiant heroes and nefarious villains; there are even a few damsels in distress. But while theatrical conflicts are generally wrapped up with simple lessons, the real life drama is significantly muddier. The only thing that is clear is that there is no love lost among the players.
New documents obtained by the Chronicle reflect that former Executive Director Emily Marks, hired in January of 2012, was at odds with the nonprofit's board leading up to her termination in late July. Tensions appear to have escalated at the May 2013 board meeting. Amended May minutes show Marks' refusing to sign the organization's 990 tax form, the annual IRS return required of certain federally tax-exempt nonprofits, mandating the disclosure of an organization's finances, mission, and governance. The meeting notes read that Marks expressed discomfort in signing the document because she perceived conflicts of interest caused by blurred lines between the theatre and the fraternity.
One of the main additional points of contention appears to be with the Scottish Rite fraternity philosophical discussion group Collegium Ritualis Ecossais, a tenant of the independent theatre. The notes read that the group's leader, Peter Reardon, insisted on using the main auditorium on the third Sunday of every month. According to the minutes, Marks accused the board of favoring the Collegium in scheduling, a move Marks said had already hurt the nonprofit financially.
Although the board did apparently agree to discuss the 990 concerns, there seemed to be less willingness to discuss further separation between the fraternity and nonprofit theatre. In response to Marks' concerns, the minutes reflect that lodge Secretary Victor Armstrong Jr. stated, "The purpose [of the theatre] was to accommodate the fraternity and that Miss Marks needed to understand that the nonprofit was here to serve the fraternity." Board member Steve Rye is reported to have said, "The building could only host three children's shows to maintain the 501(c)(3) status." At this point, the minutes reflect Marks expressing discomfort with the legal implications of the conversation and leaving the room. For that, she was given a formal reprimand.
The minutes further show Marks saying, "Each conflict brings a new round of pressure from a specific group of fraternity members and inappropriate harassment of the Executive Director."
Todd Smith, the chairman of the theatre's board, does not deny such complaints were made, but does deny mismanagement. In a written statement posted on the group's website, he says, "the Board was made aware of the claims, took them seriously and began a full investigation of the allegations. However, Ms. Marks refused to participate in the investigation or provide additional information to substantiate her claims."
Smith's statement also characterizes Marks and former Executive Producer and Mother Falcon manager John Riedie as disgruntled employees waging "a smear campaign, including blatantly false and malicious attacks against the Scottish Rite Theatre, its Board of Directors, the Austin Scottish Rite Fraternity, and Freemasonry in general." (Smith notes that the theatre terminated its business relationship with Riedie as an independent contractor three weeks prior to Marks' termination.) Smith defends the board's governance of the theatre, and its tax status: "The Scottish Rite Theatre is in full compliance with its obligations under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The Scottish Rite Theatre provides annual reporting to the IRS and will continue to do so."
Nevertheless, the "Boycott Austin Scottish Rite Theater" Facebook page continues to be active. Comments on that page claim both the cast of Charlotte's Web and the Mother Falcon Music Lab organizers have not been paid for their services. There are also allegations that the Scottish Rite fraternity has a pattern of harassing its female employees. Missing from the chorus is the woman whose termination started the uproar. For now, Emily Marks is declining comment.