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December 20, 2012

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In the first true test to gauge his power since assuming the role of editor of the Free Press editorial page, our favorite Free-Market Conservative, Drew Johnson, called for the resignation and/or firing of city arts administrator Missy Crutchfield.

In his Tuesday, Dec. 12, editorial, “Missy Crutchfield Must Go,” Johnson skewered Crutchfield for her apparent disregard of the misappropriation of funds uncovered during a city audit that resulted in the resignation of Sandy Coulter, a longtime city employee who has managed the Tivoli Theater and Memorial Auditorium since 2007.     

Johnson is clearly no fan of Crutchfield, her department (created by Mayor Ron Littlefield), her salary ($107,000) or the fact that city owns and manages the two venues, and he demands Crutchfield’s resignation for the recent scandal as well as a record of financial snafus dating back to 2005, when she first took office as the city’s Education, Arts & Culture Department administrator.

And Crutchfield will go—not as a result of Johnson’s perceived power or influence (if he has any at all), but with Littlefield’s exit in March 2013.

Crutchfield is, of course, the daughter of disgraced former State Sen. Ward Crutchfield, and has long been the focus of criticism and rumored to hold the high-paying post because of her political connections. In addition to the charges leveled at her by Johnson, Crutchfield last came under fire in 2010 for operating a for-profit online magazine from her offices and on the city’s dime. While City Auditor Stan Sewell—who appears to have kept a close eye on Crutchfield since her appointment—found no wrongdoing, he did find the appearance of impropriety and Crutchfield was ordered to cease operating the site from city offices.

But waste no time in reprimanding Crutchfield and her assistant, Melissa Turner, for bemagazine.org. The site is amateurish and an odd mish-mash of posts that would have trouble drawing even Google AdSense revenue. Instead, the entire focus should be on what appears to be her primary responsibility, namely the management of the Tivoli Theatre and the Memorial Auditorium.

Despite Littlefield’s claim that as a former actress Crutchfield has many show business connections, she has no background in venue management.  And judging by most of the performers booked at the city-run venues in recent years, these connections are obviously weak. While her experience in communications and fundraising at her former positions with UTC and Chattanooga State might have qualified her to be an effective agent for promoting education initiatives, we’ve seen little evidence of this skill. If she’s looking to capitalize on her years on the city payroll in future positions, she has little to (honestly) show for it.

Moving forward, we hope the next mayor will disentangle this department from operating the Tivoli and Memorial Auditorium and appoint a qualified new administrator with an experience-appropriate salary focused on cultivating arts and education initiatives, perhaps in cooperation with ArtsBuild and other cultural agencies.

The city should also pursue either selling, leasing or contracting out management and/or booking of the two venues to a professional management agency, such as AC Entertainment, founder of the Bonnaroo Music Festival which books many of the acts at Track 29, as well as the Tennessee Theatre. Only then will we begin to see a slate of more consistent and popular music acts and theatrical performances that will return these two venues to profitability and relevance.

Also key in this transaction is lifting the ban on taking alcoholic beverages inside both venues. Currently, beer and wine are sold prior to performances and during intermissions (one thing Crutchfield did champion), effectively robbing both venues of an additional revenue stream (of the overpriced booze they might offer) and denying patrons a comfort they enjoy at other theaters and venues in Atlanta, Nashville and Knoxville.

Until then, the city’s premier entertainment venues will remain both a costly taxpayer burden, doomed to mismanagement, lackluster booking and financial blunders, as well as a thorn in the side of a city government which has no business being in the business of operating them.

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December 20, 2012

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