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Open Letter to the IBMA Board of Directors

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Bob CherryThe bluegrass world is still in shock after the recent announcement of the departure of Nancy Cardwell from the IBMA leadership role. The highly respected Cardwell was welcomed as a breath of fresh air into the Executive Director position and she served the role in a way greatly appreciated by many. Everybody was looking for a new, fresh and exciting IBMA and Nancy delivered. Raleigh and all the excitement is proof of that. Then, this turn of events during the recent World of Bluegrass, which resulted in her resignation happened. As time is passing, little bits of additional information are coming out regarding what happened to cause this abrupt and unfortunate change. One thing abundantly clear from the email lists and social media sites is that few can comprehend the reason for this sudden decision. Those behind it, are not talking. I would like to make some observations from the official IBMA press release on the IBMA leadership change...

"When the Board began its search for an Executive Director to replace Dan Hays, we knew it was important to find one who was both familiar with and familiar to our members and our industry as we moved forward in our efforts to build an IBMA capable of playing a leadership role in the industry for many years to come,” said Jon Weisberger, IBMA Board chair. “During Nancy's tenure, we have made significant strides in doing so, and her devotion to the IBMA, to its members, to bluegrass music and to the bluegrass community have been indispensable assets." (Ed. spelling corrected)

If this part of the IBMA press release is true, then why the secret vote of "no confidence" by the board? She had all the ducks in a row, turned the IBMA around, was very competent in the leadership role for the industry and, in rebuilding the IBMA's image as witnessed by Raleigh Business support. She not only made enormous strides in the direction you claim were needed, she did it with an energy, devotion and a dedication not seen for a long time or even within other associations and businesses. The financial health of the association was recognized and she worked hard to reverse the red ink and stop the hemorrhaging.

Among her accomplishments, the press release says, "During her tenure as executive director, Cardwell oversaw the successful move of IBMA’s signature event, World of Bluegrass, from Nashville to Raleigh, North Carolina. Additionally, over the past two and a half years, the IBMA has seen a rise in membership, the establishment of the Nashville office in its current location in Berry Hill, the hiring/training of three full-time IBMA employees, the launch of a new website and an increase in the organization’s online presence." While significant, this was just the tip of a bigger picture. Cardwell achieved more in a couple of years than others did in twice the time.

Nancy knows the music, the people, the IBMA, its needs, its wants, its weaknesses and its strengths. Good Luck trying to find a replacement who has all of these attributes. The IBMA will be hard pressed to find anybody "both familiar with and familiar to our members and our industry" as stated above. Nancy had it all and then some. She never spoke ill of anybody and always carried a positive and even energetic glow publicly. She certainly had better interpersonal skills than some on the board. She was professional, persuasive, and listened. All in all, she was what a real leader is all about and more. She was honest, ethical and maintained her integrity through it all.

David Morris, in Bluegrass Today, wrote, "IBMA Chair Jon Weisberger called her pending departure a mutually agreed upon decision, but it comes a week after the board’s lopsided no confidence vote in the executive director at a closed-door meeting in Raleigh during the World of Bluegrass." Lets emphasize this again. ...the board’s lopsided no confidence vote in the executive director at a closed-door meeting...

If anybody deserves a "no confidence" vote, it would be the IBMA board and not Nancy! Nancy saved the IBMA from the board. Nancy deserves a medal for her heroic efforts. Not this.

Something here just doesn't pass the smell test - not even remotely. If what David Morris writes is true, then why did some on the board want her out? Who was the driving force behind this effort? It certainly wasn't due to her outstanding performance as Executive Director. In fact, according to the official IBMA press release, she was actually meeting all the board's expectations and then some. Where is that transparency that was supposed to occur after Dan Hays' departure? Why the secret elections and meetings? These aren't really difficult questions to answer unless someone has something to hide.

Of all the smelt I ever smelt, I never smelt a smelt that smelt like this smelt smelt. And, this fishy smelt smells pretty rotten to the bone. This isn't the first time the association has "stumbled" and, I'm sure, it won't be the last. I had really hoped that things would change under Nancy's guidance but, alas, that is just not in this deck of cards. The problems were there with Art and Dan. They are here with Nancy. They will be there waiting for the next ED. Why? Because, what needs changing isn't in the Executive Director's chair. The Executive Directors are not the problem. I believe they are the scapegoats sacrificed by a bigger underlying problem.

With that being said, I want to say "Thank you Nancy!!" Your 20 years with the IBMA are greatly appreciated by many of us (a huge majority, I believe.) You earned our respect and our gratitude for a job extremely well done. You showed us how great the IBMA can be. You showed us positive direction and guidance of the association. You elevated its stature among members and non-members alike. You brought more people into bluegrass music through the street festivals of Raleigh. You got companies interested in the business of bluegrass. You gave the genre a much needed boost in exposure and recognition. You made a difference and a positive one at that. That is quality leadership that goes above and beyond expectations. I will happily support you in any direction you decide go. Thank you again and again for your outstanding service to the IBMA and Bluegrass Music!!!

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