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New year brings new departures at CMHR

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OTTAWA -- The first week of 2013 has brought more staff departures from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and its fundraising arm.

The Friends of CMHR this week lost its interim CEO and interim director of development. At the end of this week, the museum's marketing co-ordinator is taking her leave.

The departures add to at least three dozen others who have quit, been fired or had their contracts expire in the 28 months the museum has been operating. That includes the board chairman, chief operating officer and chief knowledge officer, the director of marketing and the manager of marketing and events.

One former employee says at least 18 people have left the museum in the last nine months alone.

Friends chairman John Stefaniuk and museum officials say there is nothing wrong in either entity that is leading to the departures.

"We're a startup organization," said Angela Cassie, director of communications and external relations for the museum. "Certainly once you're an organization that has been established for 20 years, it's a different situation."

She noted there is tough subject matter being dealt with and added more than 14 of the people who left did so because their term positions ended.

"Different people leave for different reasons," said Cassie.

Cassie also mentioned the museum has hired new staff, including the museum's education and public programming team, and hiring is underway for maintenance staff who will be needed when the museum gets the keys to the building at The Forks later this year.

There are 68 people on staff and plans to hire another 25 by the end of March.

Stefaniuk said he has seen nothing to indicate there is a human resources problem with Friends of CMHR.

The Friends have been hunting for a permanent CEO since June, when Dav Cvitkovic left the post after less than a year on the job. Susan Graham, then director of development, stepped in as the interim CEO. She left the organization at the end of December.

Annette Frost, who had stepped in as the interim director of development in Graham's place, also submitted her resignation just before Christmas.

Stefaniuk said Kathi Neal will take over as the Friends' interim CEO. Neal is the director of communications and marketing for Friends of CMHR.

He said the disruption in the CEO's position hasn't caused any major issues for the organization, noting it raised more than $8 million in 2012, which surpassed its target. A search for a permanent CEO is still underway, he said.

Former museum staff have come forward to say something is rotten in the state of the CMHR. One former employee said neither the board nor the senior managers have a human rights background and that is causing conflict with the experts hired to help develop the museum's content.

In July, one of the members of the human rights advisory council submitted her resignation. Saskatchewan law professor May Eberts told CEO Stuart Murray in her resignation letter the advisory council's role was not influential enough and the board and management backed up by consultants held all the decision-making powers.

"We do not have any real opportunity to be of influence in the decision-making about the content and form of exhibits," she wrote.

Others have complained of toxic work environments and a lack of leadership that turned a blind eye to workplace problems.

Some staff also quit in a dispute over the museum's content, as its board pushed for more positive stories and nixed the idea of an atrocities gallery that would have featured information on more than 80 genocides from around the world.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 3, 2013 B1

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