The city's most powerful museum official and prominent arts patron is under new scrutiny after a report released over the weekend accused her of financial impropriety.
San Francisco Chronicle columnists Matier and Ross reported Sunday that the museum’s CFO, Michele Gutierrez filed a complaint with the city and state Attorney General Kamala Harris, over a $450,000 payment from the museum to Bill Huggins, a former engineer at the museum.
Huggins' wife is director of registration at the de Young Museum, a city institution along with the Palace of the Legion of Honor.
A spokeswoman for the museum said she’s not authorized to speak about the report, and “Mrs. Wilsey is not available for comment.”
She also issued a statement saying that the payment was a “pay-equity, disability severance payment made to a 32-year city employee of the Museum.” Huggins reportedly retired in 2014 after suffering a heart attack.
The Chronicle story says that Wilsey didn't seek the board's approval for the payment.
But the museum’s statement reads “payment was approved unanimously by the audit committee and the full board of COFAM, [the Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco], and the payment was separately and unanimously approved by the audit committee of the Museum's Foundation.”
The museum is governed by three sets of trustees, with an annual budget in 2013/2014 of about $55 million, with almost $14 million of that coming from the city.
Wilsey is both the board president and the museums’ chief executive officer. She donated $10 million of her own money, and raised much of the $190 million it took to build the new de Young facility in Golden Gate Park, now celebrating its 10th anniversary. But she’s also been dogged by accusations that she’s high-handed in running the museum, and she’s been blamed for some high-profile firings of well-respected staff.
The museum’s statement says it hired an outside independent investigator to look into the complaint. “The investigator conducted a thorough investigation and issued her findings approximately one week before the article was published in the Chronicle. Those findings found no wrongdoing by the Museums, its employees, or its Trustees.”
A spokeswoman for the state attorney general said she can’t comment on any potential or ongoing investigations, "or even confirm or deny them, to protect the integrity of our investigations."