Grammy board ousts chief

May 01, 2002|By Chuck Philips | Chuck Philips,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It was a quiet, little-known record producer from Nashville, Tenn., who united the Grammy board to oust powerful chief C. Michael Greene.

Grammy chairman Garth Fundis had been among Greene's strongest supporters until this month, when he decided to call an emergency board meeting to address sexual harassment allegations against the embattled Grammy president.

The behind-the-scenes battle ended Saturday when Greene resigned with an $8 million severance buyout approved by 38 trustees who had flown in from 12 chapters across the nation to attend the unprecedented meeting.

Fundis released a statement Sunday saying that an independent investigation had cleared Greene of any wrongdoing - but didn't say why Greene was stepping down.

There are many questions surrounding Greene's departure from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, but probably the biggest is how Fundis was able to pull off the coup.

Greene was well known throughout the industry for his autocratic style, which had never been challenged in his 14 years on the job. Critics usually quit or were forced out, Grammy sources said.

"Garth deserves a medal for this," said Spectacor Group head Adam Sandler, a former vice president at the Grammy organization. "He went into that life-sucking vortex of the old academy and stood up and did the right thing - and emerged with his reputation and his soul intact."

When Greene took over in the mid-1980s, the organization had 14 employees, 3,500 members and $4.9 million in assets. It now has about 120 staffers, 17,000 members and more than $50 million in assets.

But, in addition to harassment allegations, Greene was dogged by investigations into whether charity funds raised by the Recording Academy were used properly and complaints that he was too temperamental.

Fundis, a volunteer at the nonprofit group, declined to comment. Friends and associates describe him as a shy, private man, a music lover who took on the Grammy chairmanship with the hope that he might be able to help the artistic community. His small studio in Nashville has produced records for country stars Don Williams, Trisha Yearwood and Alabama.

Harassment allegations

On July 25, Fundis received a letter from attorney Gloria Allred putting the academy on notice that she was about to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against it on behalf of Jill Marie Geimer, a Grammy executive who ran the academy's human resources department.

Greene denied the allegations, and the academy attempted to resolve the matter quietly. By November, however, Fundis advised the board to pay Geimer $650,000. That followed a settlement conference at which Geimer's attorneys said two other female executives claimed Greene harassed and forced them out of the organization during the mid-1990s. Fundis also advised the board to hire a private investigator to look into harassment allegations involving Greene. The investigator's report was delivered several weeks ago to an advisory committee run by Fundis.

Grammy sources say Fundis then notified Greene that he intended to fly in the board for an emergency trustee meeting on Saturday to address the report's findings. Greene's lawyers warned the academy he might sue if those findings became public.

A fresh start

The academy will likely seek a replacement who is more diplomatic and willing to share power with trustees.

"[Greene] ran the Grammys like a one-man band, wielding power over a Hollywood award like no one other person in showbiz history," said Tom O'Neil, author of The Grammys, an unofficial guide to the music show. "Today, that's rare in an industry run by committee."

Chuck Philips is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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