Rough Waters for the Independence seaport Museum

Checking through my feeds after a great vacation in Grand Cayman, I came across an interesting post on Maritime Compass about the Independence Maritime Museum in Philadelphia.

In June of 2006 after an “extensive internal investigation,” John S. Carter was “terminated” as president of the Independence Seaport Museum after 17 years at the helm. On January 22, 2007, the museum filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts, Carter’s home state, allegeding the misappropriation of $2.4 million. Ouch! Carter’s lawyer also confirmed to the Philadelphia Inquirer that his client is also under investigation by the FBI.

Ex-head of Seaport Museum accused of fraud – Officials claim John S. Carter defrauded the institution of $2.4 million to support his lifestyle – Philadelphia Inquirer (January 23, 2007)

Enigma who went overboard – Nobody acknowledges really knowing John S. Carter, who stands accused of bilking the seaport museum of $2.4 million – Philadelpha Inquirer (January 23, 2007)

Museum is righting itself, officials say – Philadelphia Inquirer (January 24, 2007)

Seaport museum alleges former president misused funds – Philadelphia Business Journal (January 23, 2007)

Suit alleges $2.4 fraud – Cape Cod Times – (January 24, 2007)

Former Seaport Museum Head Now Accused of Filching $2.4 Million – (January 30, 2007)

This scandal is tied into a larger one that involves a state senator whose name still appears on the Independence Seaport Museum’s website (as of this post) as a Member of the Board of Port Wardens which appears to be their governing body.

Carter’s salary was reported to be over $300,000 which was more than what the Philadelphia Art Museum, a world class institution, pays its president. While I have never actually visited the Independence Seaport Museum, this seems like a lot of money for a museum that reportedly has had to repeatedly dip into its endowment to shore up operating deficits.

As a former nonprofit executive director, I find this story to be very disheartening. Trust is the commodity on which nonprofit organizations trade; after it is betrayed it is difficult to win back.  With so much competition for philanthropic support, nonprofit leaders have to be ever vigilant in protecting the reputation of their organization and the social investments made in and by their community. This is a significant responsibility that must be shared by staff and board members.

I suspect that there is still a lot that will play out in this story in the coming months. Hopefully, the current leadership of the Independence Seaport Museum will take this crisis and transform it into an opportunity to make their organization stronger. The best place to start would be for the board carefully review their governance model and decisionmaking practices and to recruit a Level 5 Leader for the current president vacancy.

Technorati tags: , , ,

Published by

Peter A. Mello

Father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

4 thoughts on “Rough Waters for the Independence seaport Museum”

  1. Mr. Allen,

    Thanks for visiting and commenting.

    As a former nonprofit ceo it has been difficult to appreciate how all of what John Carter was accused of could have taken place over such an extended period. With your insight, it’s easier to understand how Carter “managed” the senior staff and operational aspects of the museum.

    However, it’s still difficult to appreciate how the governance of an established institution could founder so long. Maybe a current or former board member will join in the conversation and help us understand how the institution went off course on their watch.

    I’ve followed this story here in hopes that other nonprofit leaders can learn from this unfortunate episode.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and perspective with us here.

  2. While I cannot speak for the Board I will speak for my own experience with John Carter. While I think the sentence was harsh it is not excessive given what Carter did to a really fine Maritime Museum. After being there for 13 years I left after working for him for just a few because I was no longer able to do my job. All of his Senior staff left for the same reasons. We all left heart sick, depressed, and angry at what we saw happening under Carter’s leadership. He made changes to the Business Department so constantly that there was no one there long enough to have a clew about what he was doing. The new people Carter brought in thought that the way he did things was normal operating procedure at the Museum, which is blatantly inaccuarate. That he has managed to succesfully make some people think that the Museum is somehow to blame for what he did just shows how sociopathic Carter actually is and how manipulative he can be. He changed the Board and its operations in such a way that they barely met four times a year and all of the information they received came from Carter. When Carter turned on the charm and told them he would solve the Museum’s problems they listened to him because he has the same psychopathic charisma of a Ted Bundy. Those of us who stood against him saw the real John Carter, a cold, self centered, manipulative person who never seemed to make a decision without direct benefit to himself. I pity the other criminals who have to share his new life with him, not John Carter. I’m sorry for Karen but a divorce from John Carter is not a sad thing. The Independence Seaport Museum is a great institution and it has super people who are working to heal it now that this sickness has been found out and properly dealt with.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s