The battle between the city of North Miami and the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art continued Tuesday as the city filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the MOCA board earlier this month, claiming that it is “legally deficient.”
The city said the board’s lawsuit and recent actions, mainly the museum’s plans to move the collection to the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach, are a breach of a management agreement between the city and the board. The museum board sued the city April 7, contending it failed to properly maintain the building and didn’t fund the museum’s expansion, among other issues.
“This group seems to have forgotten that they serve at the pleasure of the North Miami City Council. In other words, they work for us,” said North Miami Mayor Lucie Tondreau.
The agreement between the city and MOCA, which dates to 2008, states the MOCA board would serve as the exclusive operator of the facilities and “shall own, protect and manage the permanent MOCA collection of art, and all additions and modifications of the same.”
In a letter delivered to the MOCA board Tuesday, the city asked for an inventory of the collection and stated that “the removal of any of MOCA’s property shall be considered theft.” Councilman Scott Galvin called the actions of the board a “modern-day art heist” and called the board’s lawsuit a distraction.
“These folks made up their own vision that doesn’t include North Miami,” Galvin said. “In fact, it seems to be more about their community than our community.”
Abbey Kaplan, a partner at the Miami law firm Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine, which filed the board’s lawsuit, called the city’s accusations “laughable and absurd and completely contrary to the concept of the collection having been transferred to a not-for-profit company.”
He said the city’s position is inconsistent with the management agreement.
“I can’t imagine that they’re looking at any documentation that would support their quite frankly comical characterization,” Kaplan said.
Board co-chairs Irma Braman and Ray Ellen Yarkin have maintained the stance that the city’s response is a distraction.
“The City of North Miami has been absent and negligent for years, and is once again trying to sway public opinion with a publicity stunt, rather than addressing the needs of the Museum,” they said in a statement Tuesday.
In the statement, Braman and Yarkin said the board of directors generates 75 percent of the museum’s operating budget and faulted the city with failing to pass a referendum in 2012 that would have expanded MOCA. Voters rejected the $15 million city bond proposal that would have funded the expansion.
The city’s complaint alleges that the board failed to give the city 30 days notice, which is required in the agreement, if there were any claimed defaults by either side.
Beyond the litigation from both sides, the city’s appointment of Babacar M’Bow as director of the board is still pending approval. The board said last week it would make a decision in May. M’Bow is the managing editor of the Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora and owner of an art gallery in Little Haiti.
The city named him director earlier this month, after MOCA sued the city. Alex Gartenfeld has been the interim director after former executive director Bonnie Clearwater left last year. The museum, in its lawsuit, contends the city hasn’t paid Gartenfeld.
The city has not laid out a definitive plan if the board denies M’Bow’s appointment, but said it would plan to take legal action.
“If the board of MOCA specifically continues to refuse to appoint Mr. M’Bow that will be a matter that will have to be taken up by the court as well,” said Olivia Benson, the city’s legal counsel on this suit.