North Miami on Thursday fired Museum of Contemporary Art director Babacar M’Bow amid allegations of sexual harassment.
Interim City Manager Arthur Sorey made the decision after an investigation into a misconduct complaint against M’Bow by one of his female employees.
The investigation results, following interviews with several employees and M’Bow, indicate multiple instances where M’Bow apparently used inappropriate language, sexual innuendo and sexual language with staff members, particularly female employees.
“Based on the findings of the city’s investigation into allegations of sexual harassment made against you, as well as your lack of appropriate supervision over your subordinate employees, I lack confidence in your ability to continue to serve as the spokesperson and chief advocate for the museum,” Sorey wrote in a close-out memo.
The employee, Tiffany Madera, who serves as outreach and programs manager for the museum, said M’Bow often commented on her sex life and said that staff members needed to “get laid.”
The main incident that led to the complaint was a Dec. 8 staff meeting where M’Bow apparently told the museum’s assistant director, Alan Waufle, to take a female vendor out and “show her a good time.”
Waufle, according to the report, replied by calling the woman a “skanky b-tch,” which led to an argument between Waufle and Madera. According to the complaint, M’Bow interrupted Madera and said she was using “feminist rhetoric.”
In his interview with city staff, M’Bow denied the allegations.
“It is clear that the allegations are false; they are the reaction of an employee who thought I was going to fire her on Jan. 1,” M’Bow said. “I have felt a certain level of discomfort that the city could have handled this better.”
Natasha Colebrook-Williams, the city’s chief of staff, will lead the museum on an interim basis. M’Bow was given until Monday to return any city property and to retrieve his belongings at the museum or City Hall.
Earlier this month, the city placed M’Bow on paid administrative leave after Madera’s complaint. Waufle was given a three-day suspension.
The city’s report also indicates that when M’Bow was originally put on leave and traveled to Bogota, Colombia, the trip was not approved by staff. The city did not pay for the trip.
Sorey said he will consult with the City Council about the search for a new museum director.
“We have to have a museum director and we’re not going to rush. We’re going to make sure we get the right museum director,” Sorey said.
Mayor Smith Joseph thanked M’Bow for his leadership but said he had to trust the recommendation of Sorey and his staff.
“I hope we can pass through this moment and move very swiftly in the weeks and months to come to do whatever is in the best interest of the museum,” Joseph said.
M’Bow began his tenure with the museum in the midst of controversy surrounding both his hiring and the status of the museum.
The city appointed him as director of the museum in April 2014 as the board of trustees began planning an exit. The former board members left to start the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami’s Design District; they were concerned about North Miami’s commitment to expand the museum after voters rejected a bond issue in 2012.
At the time M’Bow was interviewing, the board initially rejected him, saying he failed to provide certain documentation and to participate in a background check. The board continued to recognize Alex Gartenfeld as the interim museum director and chief curator following former director Bonnie Clearwater’s resignation. Clearwater is now director and chief curator of Nova Southeastern University’s Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale.
The city eventually hired M’Bow, at a salary of $100,505, and he moved quickly after the split to appoint an interim steering committee and eventually a new board of trustees. The museum is currently hosting an exhibit curated by Colombian painter Carlos Salas called “Latin America and the Global Imagination.”
“Babacar did a great job of bridging the gap for us with MOCA, but unfortunately we had this turn of events,” Sorey said.