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MOCA director proposes new board

Moca Museum of Contemporary Art is at 770 NE 125th St., North Miami.
Moca Museum of Contemporary Art is at 770 NE 125th St., North Miami. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

More than a month after its board of directors left with plans to start a new arts institution, the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami is moving on.

Director Babacar M’Bow has proposed a new 14-member panel to function as interim board members. The group includes developers, a well-known lobbyist, healthcare professionals, a real estate broker, attorneys and a TV judge.

“For MOCA to move forward to provide services and programs to advance the mission it has had for some 20 years, there needs to be a future Board of Trustees to govern and support the institution to the benefit of the city and its visitors,” M’Bow wrote in a short report to the North Miami City Council.

Council members will vote on the proposal Tuesday, two days before MOCA is scheduled to introduce its first exhibition since the split.

The 33-year-old museum has been in turmoil since April, when the former board filed a breach of contract lawsuit against its municipal landlord.

Last month, the MOCA board said it was moving its employees out of the city building to the Design District, where it plans to set up the Institute of Contemporary Art. Both sides have been working toward a resolution; one of the key questions is what will happen to the 600-work permanent collection.

In a report to the council posted on the city’s meeting agenda Thursday afternoon, M’Bow said MOCA’s outgoing board of trustees and the city remain in mediation.

M’Bow wrote that a steering committee is needed “to help plan the future of the museum” once litigation has been resolved. Members of that committee would be considered interim board members.

His effort has already hit a roadblock. One of the proposed board members, real estate developer and investor Yoram Izhak, said through an attorney Friday that he will reject the nomination after the Miami Herald asked about a past tax evasion charge and airport security arrest.

Izhak was sentenced to three years probation for a tax evasion charge in 2004 and a year of probation for going through an airport security checkpoint with a loaded gun in 2002; both sentences were later reduced.

Glenn Widom, who represented Izhak in the tax evasion case, said Friday that the allegations were “incredibly old” and irrelevant and added that Izhak did not volunteer for the position but was asked to join the committee by the city manager.

“Mr. Izhak is a successful businessman who was obviously trying to contribute to his community,” Widom said.

Joseph Fanfan, a pediatrician who is also on the list, was convicted of federal tax evasion in 2002. He was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to repay more than $179,000 in back taxes. Fanfan could not be reached despite phone calls and email.

And well-known lobbyist Ron Book, another proposed member, pleaded guilty in 1995 to four misdemeanor counts of funneling illegal campaign donations through his secretaries’ checkbooks.

“People are entitled to outlive anything that happened to them in the past,” he said Friday afternoon, pointing out that he has been chair of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust for 21 years.

“I’ve run a $55 million budget for Miami-Dade County,” he said. “No one seems to have had a problem with that.”

M’Bow said that any red flags in nominees’ backgrounds were not a cause for concern. He said that he did consult with the city attorney and the City Council over some of the issues but chose to focus on “artistic viewpoint.”

“My focus with these people is their engagement with art and based on their personal collections of art,” M’Bow said. “This is just a steering committee to begin the formation of the constitution of the board.”

M’Bow said the members of this committee will not necessarily become a part of the new MOCA board, but that he needed additional assistance moving forward.

BoardSource, a national organization focused on nonprofit governance, advises groups to choose board members who “share the values and also can protect the reputation and integrity of the organization,” said chief governance officer Vernetta Walker.

Walker said nonprofit boards of trustees are tasked with reviewing how organizations budget and spend their money, helping a group establish and follow monetary policies and verifying that financial systems meet accepted practice.

The list of proposed interim board members also includes:

▪ Developer Richard LeFrak, president of a privately held group of real estate companies that is part owner of the 1 Hotel & Homes South Beach.

▪ Michael Dezer: Chief executive of Dezer Development, with holdings in New York, Florida and Las Vegas.

▪ Aventura-based plastic surgeon Ernest DiGeronimo.

▪ Rudy Moise, president of the Comprehensive Health Center in North Miami and a two-time congressional candidate.

▪ Karen Mills-Francis, a North Miami resident best known as the star of the syndicated TV show Judge Karen.

▪ Larry Pierre, executive director of the Center for Haitian Studies.

▪ Mary Ann Portell, a real estate broker who operates on Fisher Island.

▪ Sheldon Philp, an associate at White & Case primarily dealing with white collar crimes.

▪ Clark Reynolds, a member of the North Miami community redevelopment agency advisory committee.

▪ Pamella Watson, an accountant with Watson & Company.

▪ Brian Flanagan, owner and executive producer of New York-based production company Magilla Entertainment.

Miami Herald researcher Monika Leal contributed to this report.

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