Music Row executive Donna Hilley looked like the ideal choice to be honored this year as Easter Seals' ``Nashvillian of the Year at the charity's annual fundraiser. That was certainly the consensus of the charity's board members and top staffers who gathered at the charity's Woodmont Boulevard offices last August.
Several nominations for ``Nashvillian of the Year'' were tossed out on the table, but according to board members who attended the meeting, Hilley was obviously the perfect choice and was selected unanimously.
Easter Seals chief executive officer Jayne Perkins, according to one board member, ``was excited about Hilley because she was a woman, could draw a crowd, and could involve the music industry. Hilley had wonderful credentials as a community and business leader, having worked her way up from a secretarial position to become the respected president and chief executive officer of Sony/ATV Tree Music Publishing, Nashville's largest music publisher. Also, the diversity-conscious members at Easter Seals were looking for a woman to honor at this year's banquetan annual event that usually raises approximately $100,000 for the charity. Proceeds from the Nashvillian of the Year event benefit adults and children with disabilities. In so many ways, Hilley seemed the right choice.
Near the conclusion of the meeting, Perkins asked Nashville civic leader Lucius Carroll, chairman of the Nashvillian of the Year committee, to visit with Hilley and ask if she would accept the honor. At that point, everything seemed cut and dried. But before long, personality conflict would erupt, Hilley would be de-selected as ``Nashvillian of the Year,'' and the fundraiser would be completely cancelled.
Says longtime Easter Seals volunteer Rudy Kaduff, who also was at the Aug. 12 meeting: ``It is easy to understand why some folks might have left the meeting with different ideas as to what will happen next.''
Which may be putting it very politely indeed. Here's what happened:
Carroll and E.W. ``Bud'' Wendell, the retired CEO of Gaylord Entertainment and first recipient of the ``Nashvillian of the Year'' award, were deputized to visit Hilley Sept. 3 at her office on Music Square West. As hoped, Hilley graciously accepted the award.
But she didn't just accept the award. Insiders in the music industry and at Easter Seals say the affable executive quickly began lining up tables for the big event, which translates into big dollars for the charity. Hilley was able to call on a lifetime of contacts in Nashville, New York, and Los Angeles to sell tables. Her friends Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn even agreed to participate in the gala fundraiser.
All this was known to Perkins, who, naturally, seemed excited about Hilley's selection. Then, for reasons that continue to puzzle many board members, Easter Seals suddenly decided not to give the award to Hilley. Perkins allegedly confided in one board member that she had pulled the plug on Hilley because ``Buddy (Killen) had a problem with it. Perkins denies ever making the statement about Killen, who, in addition to being the chairman of the Easter Seals board, had been Hilley's former boss at Tree International. Killen owned and ran Tree for many years before Hilley helped him engineer a sale of the company to Sony/ ATV Music Publishing in 1989.
For his part, Killen is adamant that he had ``absolutely nothing to do with the decision to revoke the offer to Hilley. But some Easter Seals board members and insiders say that Killen simply didn't want to see his former assistant win an award that he coveted for himself. Why else, they ask, would the offer have been revoked and no explanation offered?
In any event, weeks after she had told Carroll and Wendell she would accept the award, Hilley received a puzzling letter in early October from Easter Seals indicating that she was ``one of three nominees for the 1999 award, and not the winner. When some Easter Seals board members learned of the letter, they were shocked. One board member was particularly troubled that Perkins didn't ``have the decency to sign it herself. Instead, the letter had been signed by Gingi Lanius Lofgren, the charity's marketing director. Perkins claims the letter was sent at the suggestion of several Easter Seals board members, whom she declined to name.
As if to add insult to injury, Hilley was then sent another letter, which only compounded the gaffe. In this letter, which had no signature whatsoever, Hilley was told that ``another candidate'' had been selected as ``Nashvillian of the Year,'' and she would no longer be given the award. Perkins now says the second letter was mistakenly sent out by ``a low-level staffer.'' She also says she strongly wishes she had handled the incident ``differently.''
Meanwhile, befitting what numerous people contend is her style, Hilley withdrew graciously and quietly.
Earlier this week, the fundraiser was ``postponed until next year,'' according to a statement released to the Scene on Monday. In the statement, Perkins said, ``It was never our intention to cause any embarassment to anyone.'' She declined to explain publicly what prompted the decision to revoke the offer to Hilley.
It is not known who will be designated to receive the award next year, or who, at this point, would even want it. For their part, Hilley, Carroll, and Wendell all declined comment on the unpleasantness. But several board members privately blamed both Perkins and Killen for putting personal concerns ahead of the needs of the charity.
For their parts, Perkins and Killen both acknowledge being ``deeply loyal to each other. Killen chairs the executive committee which sets Perkins' salary; her compensation package totals more than $125,000 a year. And Killen did admit to the Scene hed like to be honored as Nashvillian of the Year, ``someday, maybe if I deserve it. He added, ``I love Donna and I'm afraid she'll get embarassed by this whole thing. I don't know who'd start a rumor that I didn't want Donna to get it.
WOW, xray/zoombah/gastthedead/vladthevulgarnakedmonkey, looks like AnglRdr served you a sh*t supper.
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