WHY WON'T THE SYMPHONY TAKE MY CALLS?
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra does not want to talk about Chorus Director Lee Erickson.
Did you forget about him? It was easy, with all the stories about the violin stolen, recovered and triumphantly returning. And all the smiley stories about the 5 million dollar emergency fundraising effort to save the symphony.
What the MSO refuses to talk about is the status of Lee Erickson, who was suspended late last year after he was arrested by the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office. Erickson was rounded up as part of a sex sting in the parks, accused of lewd behavior.
It has been reported, Mark Belling mentioned it three weeks ago, that Erickson is back on the job. I have independently confirmed with the Milwaukee District Attorney's Office this morning that charges against Erickson are still pending and no charging decision has been made.
Guests and supporters of the Symphony are certainly free to decide whether they believe the accusations against Erickson disqualify him from his job. I take no position on that. The issue I have is that no one can decide what he/she thinks about it, unless appropriately informed.
I have emailed directly the Vice President for Marketing and Communication twice, called and left multiple phone messages. Ignored. Emailed Mark Niehaus, President and Executive Director. Ignored. Asked directly and in person by one of our reporters about Erickson's status, Niehaus offered three "no comments."
This is troublesome, especially when you consider this organization has so mismanaged its finances over the last several years that it ended up millions in the hole on an annual basis. This time, however, the hole was not just one or even two million dollars. It was even bigger. It endangered the very survival of the symphony which has been part of our vibrant arts community for more than half a century.
So the symphony went public, aided by a media (yes, us included) all too happy to help get the word out about the fundraiser, but not nearly critical enough to explore how the hell this happened in the first place. You need $5 million or you're done?
What followed next was a public hostage situation. If I were a cartoonist, I'd have drawn a masked robber at teller window of "The Community Bank." The robber is holding a gun to a cello and demanding, "5 million dollars or the cello gets it!"
The symphony, while it is a public treasure, is not a public entity like government. I cannot demand under the protection of law that they provide information on Mr. Erickson, or their finances. I can ask. I can ask again, and again, and again. When ignored, I can tell you that, and I just did.