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By BERNIE BELLAN

The manner in which Adam Bronstone was removed from his position as Jewish Federation of Winnipeg CEO has led to a cloud of uncertainty over not just the professional leadership of the Federation, but the ability of the Federation board itself.

 

Through a series of conversations that I have had with various individuals, including some of Bronstone’s harshest critics within the community, it has become clear to me that Bronstone’s greatest failing was an inability to cultivate strong alliances among the most powerful members of this community who represent, for the most part, the moneyed movers and shakers who really run things.

Bronstone’s predecessor, Bob Freedman, in contrast, over the 28 years in which he filled the position, had key protectors who were willing to stand by him when he, like any CEO, had to make some very unpopular moves. For instance, several years ago Freedman took on the Jewish Heritage Centre which, at the time, had a much greater space allocated to it within the Asper Campus, including a full-scale museum. When Freedman halved the financial allocation given to the Heritage Centre by the Federation and ordered the museum closed, he created many enemies within the Heritage Centre. Yet, he was able to persevere because he had the backing of certain powerful individuals while the Heritage Centre had no powerful allies within the community.

Let me declare that I have no axe to grind in favour of Adam Bronstone. I had only a brief experience of having dealt with him prior to his taking over as Federation CEO. Frankly I was surprised to hear of his appointment last June. At the time I had written that I thought it was time that the position was held by a woman, since there were several eminently qualified female candidates who had applied for the position and, for the most part, women had been filling the major positions within the Jewish Federation bureaucracy. By the way, I still stand by that position.

But, once Adam Bronstone was chosen as CEO, I had no preconceived notion of what he was going to be like fulfilling his duties. I knew Adam to be somewhat cerebral. (He does have a PhD in International Relations and I had taken a course on Middle East politics which he taught last spring.)

His greatest failing, however, is that he made an enemy early on of one particular individual who can be ruthless in her determination to influence events within this community. That individual is prepared to use her connections among some very powerful individuals and her own influence arising from her family name to threaten anyone whom she decides deserves to be threatened, often for quite bizarre reasons.

As a matter of fact, it was from her that I learned that Adam had been removed from his position as Federation CEO when she phoned me late Friday afternoon, June 12, to crow about how she had threatened the Federation with a lawsuit and withdrawal of financial support for the Federation from a key donor unless Adam Bronstone was removed from his position.

She has now taken upon herself the duty to outline the necessary qualifications that she thinks the next CEO of the Federation should have, with the clear implication that Adam Bronstone had none of those qualifications, including being a “mensch”, having “honesty and integrity”. Of course, one would want that in anyone, wouldn’t they? But, somewhere Adam Bronstone made an enemy of this individual and like Martin Luther nailing his encyclicals to the church wall, she has clearly suggested that Adam Bronstone had failed to meet with her approval so, therefore, he had to go.

Yet Adam Bronstone had a lengthy resumé before he took the position of Federation CEO, having held similar positions in other cities, including Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville and New Orleans, as well as with the Kansas City Chamber of Commerece.

He may have had his failings, but he also had his strengths, including a keen appreciation of the importance of developing strong systems within an organization. For instance Adam had noted that there were no regular meetings of all the various Jewish agencies together. He had begun holding meetings where the executive directors of the various organizations got together with him and were able to discuss common concerns. Similarly, he had begun to hold monthly staff meetings within the Federation itself, something that was also new to the Federation, which has grown into a large-scale bureaucracy over the years.

One of the biggest knocks on Adam Bronstone was that he wasn’t an eager “fundraiser”. Perhaps he wasn’t as adept or as enthusiastic in performing that function as Bob Freedman, but was it spelled out to him when he took the position that was going to be one of his principal functions? According to what we have learned, it wasn’t. So, when the Combined Jewish Appeal fell some $200,000 short of reaching its goal this past year, it became much easier for others to point to Adam’s failure to be as successful a buttonholer as Bob Freedman had been in getting reluctant donors to ante up.

Granted, Adam had been on probation and his term was set to end this August, so it seems likely that his contract would not have been renewed in any event – given his lack of support from any of the powerful movers and shakers who really control things within our Jewish community.

But, to be terminated in the manner in which he was terminated? And, let’s be clear – all indications point to his being forced out of his position, despite the official pronouncement from David Kroft, President of the Jewish Federation, that Adam had “resigned”.

Adam has refused to comment on the manner in which his tenure as Federation CEO ended. No doubt there is a certain amount of money at stake here for him that requires him to remain quiet, under the terms of his contract, but ask yourself this: Why on Earth would he have decided to leave his position just two and a half months before it was due to end? (Naturally, when I posed that question to David Kroft in the form of an e-mail, asking whether Adam “jumped or was he pushed?”, I failed to receive a reply. I don’t blame him for that. Yet the manner in which he has handled this entire affair suggests that he has cast a much bigger cloud over the future of the Federation than was necessary.)

So, what now? Who is running things at the Federation? Who knows? There are always some very important decisions to be made, foremost among them being what is going to happen with the Gwen Secter Centre. Readers may recall that in our last issue I reported that the National Council of Jewish Women is prepared to renew the lease for Gwen Secter for another five years and that the W.R.H.A. is prepared to take over responsibility for paying National Council $30,000 a year for that lease; however, National Council has asked that it be relieved of responsibility for having to pay back the Jewish Federation some $90,000 that it has been loaned by the Federation over the past three years. Is anyone from the Federation negotiating with National Council? That would have been the responsibility of the CEO.

As for filling the position of CEO – anyone out there who might be considering applying for the position, whether they are from Winnipeg or elsewhere, should be aware that they must meet with the approval of a certain powerful individual who has been neither elected nor appointed, but who has taken upon herself the duty to keep watch over how this community functions in so many respects.