Resolution to support former symphony head


More than two months after the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra opted not to renew the contract of its first African-American musical director, the three black members of the Annapolis city council plan to introduce a resolution tomorrow that chastises the symphony.

It begins by commending director Leslie B. Dunner and noting that February is Black History Month. It ends by stating that the city council wishes to formally express "its displeasure over the decision."

"I think the facts speak for themselves," said Alderman George O. Kelley, one of the three sponsors. "I've gotten numerous calls suggesting to me there are probably some racial undertones."

Kelley said Friday that he intends to contact the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to investigate the board's decision.

"We need to get to the bottom of this," Kelley said. "It's unfortunate we've gotten to this point."

Alderwoman Classie Gillis Hoyle, who also is sponsoring the resolution, said Dunner's nonrenewal is "a conversation wherever you go in social gatherings. It's overwhelming."

But she said she does not think Dunner's departure was tied to race.

"I'd like not to think so, so I'm trying to keep that out of the picture," she said.

Board president Fred H. "Bud" Billups said yesterday that it would be "unfortunate if the NAACP was contacted." He said the decision was unrelated to race.

"A claim like that - if anybody's making it - is nonsense," Billups said.

About 3 percent of the nation's 1,800 symphonies, including college and youth groups, have African-American conductors, according to the American Symphony Orchestra League in New York.

Dunner, 47, has not commented since the board's Nov. 20 decision was made final last month.

Dunner previously had said he did not think his race was a factor in the decision.

Guest conductors will replace him for the 2003-2004 season, which begins in late summer.

When Billups announced the surprise decision, he said Dunner was let go because it was time for a change. He also noted declining symphony subscriptions.

But Billups later said that Dunner was let go for other, unspecified reasons. Trustees apparently discussed disagreements between Dunner and symphony officials over his power in deciding what soloists to hire. The decision not to renew his contract was not related to any misconduct, board members said.

As a result of the decision, one board member resigned, and seven others called for a special meeting, which was held last month. At the meeting, with a security guard posted at the door, the board voted to support Billups' decision.

Dunner has received considerable support in the community.

Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer wrote a letter opposing the decision, and former Mayor Richard L. Hillman organized a letter-writing campaign that drew responses from more than 75 people, including several former board members.

Last week, one more board member, Edgar H. Paglee, said he had resigned from the symphony's 33-member board of trustees, though he declined to state why.

"You might want to ask Mr. Billups why I resigned," said Paglee, a six-year member.

Billups declined yesterday to say why.

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