Sack the museum board, says mayor

By Wayne Thompson

Museum director Dr Vanda Vitali. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Museum director Dr Vanda Vitali. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The resignation of Auckland War Memorial Museum director Dr Vanda Vitali yesterday has brought calls for her museum trust board bosses to be dismissed.

Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey said last night he was bitterly disappointed at the Museum Trust Board announcement that by "mutual agreement" Dr Vitali would leave on April 9.

Dr Vitali has been at the centre of several controversies since being appointed in September 2007.

In December, board chairman Dr William Randall said the board was conducting a performance review with her that involved vigorous debate over matters of concern to the board.

Dr Vitali hired John Haigh, QC to represent her.

Yesterday, a statement from Dr Randall said: "For a variety of reasons, Dr Vitali has chosen to take her talents elsewhere and the trust board is grateful to her for the energy, dedication and expertise she has demonstrated during the past two and a half years."

Dr Vitali said that while Aucklanders were coming back to their museum again, "the board's vision and mine are diverging".

"As such we have reached a mutual agreement that it is appropriate that a new director is appointed."

However, Mr Harvey said he was appalled at the way the board had treated Dr Vitali.

The mayors of Auckland's cities met the board chairman and deputy chairman in December to ask them to try to make peace with the Canadian director.

"I might say we were not impressed by their answers and their reaction to what we asked," said Mr Harvey. "They were out of their depth.

"Clearly, they have made a mess of it and I'm going to ask they resign ... they should be dismissed and a commissioner put in until the new city comes in and we can select a new board.

"But I think they should pay for the resignation of Vanda Vitali with their jobs.

"Right now, we have lost one of the finest directors that has been in this country's museums.

"She made a huge difference, she was totally professional."

Mr Harvey's call was backed by arts commentator Hamish Keith.

"The board appointed Dr Vitali and they went along with all the things that happened and even supported her during the Hillary stoush," said Mr Keith.

"We know about the public rows but worst of all, the museum for 18 months has been refusing any gifts or acquisitions for the museum collection.

"The museum is about collections.

"The fact this has been allowed to happen is an appalling indictment. The board must be accountable."

The chairwoman of the Auckland Museum Institute, Rae Nield, said she had full confidence in the trust board and was looking forward to the future of the museum.

"We will be happy to work with them on that," she said.

Dr Randall was unavailable for comment last night but in his earlier statement said an interim director would be named shortly and a search to find Dr Vitali's successor would begin immediately.

The chairwoman of the Ngati Whatua Runanga, Naida Glavish, expressed disappointment at the resignation.

"She brought the museum back to life," she said.

Flashpoints:

* The swinging axe (Feb 08)
Five months after her appointment, Dr Vitali announces a restructuring of museum jobs, with some losses. A total of 46 staff eventually lose their jobs.

* Bombed out (Oct 08)
World War II Bomber Command veterans are upset at being refused space for a memorial sculpture. They say Dr Vitali has little understanding of Anzac tradition. The stand-off is later resolved.

* Sir Ed's memoirs (May 09)
The children of Sir Edmund Hillary say they are going to court to keep control of their father's writings, old diaries and photographs bequeathed to the museum. An agreement is reached after lengthy talks.

* Deputy dogged (June 09)
Deputy director Tim Walker resigns after six months after a falling out with Dr Vitali. Neither side comments.

- NZ Herald

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