(File Photo).

(File Photo).

VCA concludes investigation of complaint

Arts center committed to providing safe, comfortable environment, said Board President.

More than a month after Kevin Hoffberg’s resignation as executive director of Vashon Center for the Arts — followed by a radio interview in which he stated that a VCA guest had accused him of inappropriate behavior — an investigation into Hoffberg’s conduct has concluded.

VCA will not release a public report on the internal investigation or characterize its findings.

The Beachcomber reported on Aug. 21 that the investigation was under way, according to VCA Board President John de Groen, who declined to say the date it began.

The investigation was conducted by the law firm Helsell Fetterman, upon the advice of VCA’s attorney, Lauren Parris Watts, who is a partner at the firm. Watts advised that VCA initiate the investigation after she learned about a complaint regarding Hoffberg’s conduct, she said in a phone interview.

Hoffberg was aware that Helsell Fetterman’s investigation was under way at the time of his resignation, Watts said.

In his brief Aug. 8 resignation letter emailed to VCA’s board of directors, Hoffberg said that he was departing, effective immediately, for “personal reasons.” In an interview that took place the following day, de Groen said he was shocked by the abrupt resignation and did not know Hoffberg’s personal reasons.

Last week, de Groen said the investigation was both thorough and needed.

“In light of the complaint against Kevin that he has acknowledged publicly, the board had a duty to determine whether anyone under its responsibility was acting in a way to make others unsafe or uncomfortable,” de Groen said, in written responses to questions. “This is both a responsibility for the well-being of people associating with VCA and a fiduciary duty to determine any potential risks to the organization.”

He said the investigation included interviews with VCA employees and guest artists and that the firm also requested interviews with several patrons of VCA, all of whom declined to be interviewed as part of the investigation. De Groen declined to provide additional details about the investigation or its findings, but did say that “VCA remains absolutely committed to providing a safe and comfortable work and artistic environment, as demonstrated by its swift action upon receipt of the complaints.”

De Groen also said that he anticipated that the VCA board will review the organization’s policies and training as part of its efforts to create such an environment.

Watts also declined to characterize the complaint or the findings of the investigation, citing attorney-client privilege and VCA’s and her firm’s commitment to protecting the privacy of the complainants. She, too, said that VCA would undertake appropriate follow-up to the findings.

Watts said that no “adverse employment actions” — a phrase connoting terminations or disciplinary actions — had resulted from the investigation, a point de Groen also made.

“With respect to Kevin, he chose to resign,” de Groen said, adding that Hoffberg had not requested any severance package, nor has the board offered any. Hoffberg’s salary, said de Groen in an earlier phone interview, was slightly less than $100,000.

Watts said she didn’t know if employment action would or would not have been taken against Hoffberg, had he not chosen to resign.

“We didn’t have to cross that bridge,” she said.

With the investigation now closed, Hoffberg’s own guarded comments to Voice of Vashon Morning Scramble hosts Jeff and Cindy Hoyt on Aug. 15 provide the only account of the complaint. After the interview, Hoffberg canceled a previously scheduled interview with The Beachcomber.

Reading from a written statement on the radio show, Hoffberg said he had decided to resign for a number of reasons, including his own health concerns as well as those of other family members and a friend. He then revealed another factor in his decision — that he had become “aware that my presence in a public setting had caused someone discomfort.” He called the complaint “a sad misunderstanding about social interactions.”

In the interview, Hoffberg agreed with characterization by Jeff Hoyt of the interaction as “unwelcome contact” and defined it as something “you’d have seen on any given First Friday, you know, maybe a hand on the back or whatever.” Hoffberg also said that the complaint had not been made by anyone who worked with VCA, but rather, a VCA guest.

In an examination of events surrounding Hoffberg’s departure, The Beachcomber reviewed blog posts Hoffberg made in July and found that a section of one of his posts about the Seattle Dance Collective (SDC) had been deleted from the VCA website. The dance ensemble performed on July 12 to 14 at VCA, after a week-long residency on the arts campus.

The now-deleted blog post about the dance collective was the fourth of five numbered items in the Hoffberg’s July 12 blog, “The Fish Wrap,” a weekly online column Hoffberg wrote about goings-on at VCA and also emailed widely.

On the VCA website, the July 12 column now skips from item 3 to item 5.

But in the emailed version of the blog, the post remained intact. As item 4, Hoffberg wrote excitedly about watching members of the Seattle Dance Collective rehearse at VCA, saying among other things about the dancers’ appearances, that they looked “fabulous in sweatpants.” He also wrote that he repeatedly attended rehearsals by the dancers.

“Soon the rehearsals began … and I couldn’t help myself,” he wrote. “I went over to the Blue Heron dance studio ten times if I went once (I went ten times). You just can’t take their eyes off them, even when they’re just stretching.”

The now-deleted post also included a photo, credited to Hoffberg, that showed one of the dancers, with her back to the camera, stretching on the floor of the dance studio.

VCA attorney Watts, when asked about the blog post, said that she had advised that the post be deleted during the investigation, but would not comment on whether or not it had been part of the complaint made against Hoffberg.

“I can’t comment if this post was something that was complained about or something that we came across during the course of our investigation that we thought showed room for improvement,” Watts said.

She also declined to say if other blog posts by Hoffberg had been deleted as of a result of the investigation.

Likewise, when contacted by The Beachcomber and asked about the blog post, a communications representative for the dance company said SDC would not comment on anything related to Hoffberg’s resignation. The press rep did say that the dance company — founded by principal dancers at Pacific Northwest Ballet — hoped to return for more performances on Vashon.

Hoffberg did not respond to an emailed request to be interviewed for this story.

In the meantime, the work of VCA continues with a busy calendar of classes for youth and upcoming performances and programs. VCA’s annual fundraising gala, “Masquerade,” is slated for Sept. 21 at the arts center. The event includes an extended silent auction, currently underway, and a live auction of 12 artworks by well-known local artists as well as 12 high-end experiences. Proceeds from the “raise-the-paddle” portion of the evening, which last year garnered almost $100,000, will go exclusively to VCA’s much-used scholarship fund.

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