The League of Chicago Theaters is in the throes of an upheaval following the Dec. 1 ouster of the trade association’s executive director Tony Sertich and the departures of several other staff members.
The league comprises more than 100 disparate theater organizations, including commercial, not-for-profit and educational groups. All of them are promoting different, and often conflicting, agendas. Each looks for the league to serve them in different ways, thus making it a difficult, if not impossible situation for anyone sitting in the executive director’s seat.
Sertich had been the league’s top administrator for the past 3 1/2 years. During that time he had worked with the staff and board of directors to retire a $140,000 deficit incurred mostly during the late 1980s. The league has operated in the black for the past three fiscal years.
Nevertheless, the board gave Sertich the sack after questions were raised about his managerial abilities in the wake of his firing of marketing director Michael Pauken and Hot Tix manager Phil Lombard. In a show of solidarity with the two subordinates, several other staffers ankled as well.
Though neither Sertich nor board president John Walker would comment on the developments, sources indicated that Pauken and Lombard were increasingly at odds with Sertich over the league’s mission. Pauken and Lombard apparently believed the league should be doing more to promote the local theater industry than merely operating its Hot Tix discount ticket business and providing co-op advertising services to member theater companies. They had privately expressed their concerns to some league board members who they believed might share their point of view.
But Sertich, with the backing of Walker, had been pursuing a more fiscally conservative course. Sertich had long maintained that the league could not afford to embark on expensive marketing campaigns or other promotional activities that might plunge the group back into debt. When he learned that Pauken and Lombard were making their concerns about his management known to League board members, Sertich fired them.
An emergency board meeting called after the firings resulted in a vote of support for Sertich and his actions, but only by the narrowest of margins. Pauken was subsequently offered his job back, and refused it.
Two weeks after the vote of support, the board reconvened. By then, members apparently had concluded a change in top management might be necessary to avert future staff conflicts as the trade organization is rebuilt. The vote was then taken to oust Sertich. One board member sympathetic to Sertich maintains that the league’s problems are not so much the fault of Sertich, but rather the result of t he board’s own lack of a cohesive vision of what the league should be doing to build the industry.
Sertich will reportedly remain in his post through Jan. 31 at the latest. The league will appoint a search committee to look for a new executive director, and the trade association will be rebuilt pretty much from scratch, sources said.