He was doomed from the start. The personality conflicts that a handful of Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts board members had with Steve Renfree were the root cause of his termination. When the opportunity presented itself, they fired him, claiming he mishandled the alleged sexual assault involving an employee.

I worked at the Mabel while Steve was executive director, and there was very little he could do right in the eyes of these particular board members, most of whom sat on the executive board. The bullying tactics used and the petty demands the board made of Steve were ridiculous at times.

Their attempts to micro-manage Steve made his job nearly impossible, but he continued to rise to the occasion time and again. Memberships were up, sponsorships were up, donations were up, partnerships with local businesses were up, there were events nearly every weekend, and yet the executive board was not happy. The toxic and hostile environment they created drove me to leave the Mabel, a job that I truly loved and was passionate about.

This executive board has a history of operating in an autocratic, cavalier and divisive manner. They often failed to share information and made decisions independently without input from the entire board. I have heard from both current and past board members that there were numerous things the executive board was doing that they were not aware of.

The fact that the board has not publicly addressed the concerns that have been raised by the community is a telling sign. I’ve seen them operate in their own best interests, not the best interests of the Mabel Tainter. It will continue if we don’t do something to put a stop to this dysfunctional board. The Mabel Tainter belongs to the community— the community needs to take action.

HEIDI KILE, Menomonie


Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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