A portrait of Ian Campbell, the former general and artistic director of the San Diego Opera.

by Angela Carone | KPBS
edited by Lorie Hearn | inewsource

The employment agreement between the San Diego Opera and Ian Campbell, the former general and artistic director, has been under scrutiny for two months.
The employment agreement between the San Diego Opera and Ian Campbell, the former general and artistic director, has been under scrutiny for two months.

One man is getting most of the blame for trying to shut down the San Diego Opera, but that may not be warranted — at least with regard to the claim that he did it for financial gain.

Ian Campbell, the opera’s former general and artistic director, led the opera for 31 years. He also guided the board of directors to vote in March to close the company, saying it was no longer financially sustainable. That decision has since been reversed, with the makeup of the board changing.

Since the vote to close, Campbell’s salary and compensation package has been a flashpoint. It’s also been seen as a major liability for the company.

An amendment to Campbell’s contract — not brought to the public’s attention until KPBS obtained an unsigned copy of it Wednesday — suggests he would not have received a large lump sum if the company had shut down and paid off its creditors, the path proposed by Campbell and some board members.

Campbell’s original 2006 employment agreement said he would receive his annual salary through 2017, even if the opera shut down.

Read stories from our continuing coverage of the opera by clicking here.

On Thursday, KPBS obtained a signed copy of the amendment to that employment agreement. Dated June 26, 2010, it states that after 2013 the board could terminate Campbell’s contract with 30 days’ notice. It also would only have to pay him a salary through the end of the calendar year, in this case it would have been 2014.

Former opera board president Karen Cohn acknowledged there was a contract amendment.

“The [contract] has a glitch,” said Cohn, who resigned from the board because she believes shutting down was the responsible path. “It [the contract] has an addendum on the back of it. So it would pick up year to year, and the board would have to pick it up.”

KPBS consulted two attorneys to interpret the amendment in the context of Campbell’s employment agreement. Both agreed that the amendment reduced Campbell’s contract to an annual renewal process.

When KPBS obtained a copy of the original employment agreement in early April, the one-page amendment was not attached. Once aware of the amendment, KPBS sent multiple requests to see it, but the opera refused those requests. A spokesman for the company confirmed the document exists, but KPBS has yet to see a signed copy.

If the amendment is in play, Campbell would not stand to gain millions in salary upon shutting down the company, as has been speculated.

The San Diego Opera declined to comment for this story. Campbell, who was reached by phone, also declined to comment. The two parties are negotiating a settlement through their lawyers.

The opera board voted on March 19 to close at the end of the 2014 season in April, a move that shocked the company’s supporters. Some directors soon regretted the decision and led a revolt to keep the company open. Board members loyal to Campbell resigned. The opera company eventually ended its relationship with Campbell and his ex-wife.

On Monday, the new board announced the opera had raised enough money to stay open and produce a 50th anniversary season in 2015.

On Tuesday, the opera also confirmed that the state attorney general is conducting an investigation of the company. The attorney general is asking the opera to turn over hundreds of documents related to the company’s finances, and specifically asks for the compensation history of Campbell and his deputy director and ex-wife, Ann Spira Campbell.

The opera has 30 days to comply with the audit.

To contact the newsroom, email contact@inewsource.org. To contact a specific reporter, see our Staff page. Visit our Byline Policy for more information.