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One snake, no quail, and a decimated garden

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
January 23, 2001

 

"The less a man knows the bigger the noise he makes and the higher the salary he commands." — Mark Twain

For years now Quail Botanical Gardens has had on display a reptile that when not making nice for the visitors, slinks about the garden disappearing people as if this once world class garden were the setting for an Agatha Christie whodunit. Curators, gardeners, educators, and docents all disposed of by the snake from Indianapolis. Why? Because they refuse to crown him king.

Most of my readers know I have a love-hate relationship with Quail Gardens. I love that it's there and hate the fact that it is being severely mismanaged. At first I thought it was a mere difference of opinion. As an environmentalist, formal gardens seemed to be nothing more than an excuse for ladies who lunch to get their hands dirty. Naturally, I questioned the role prestige gardens play in a world of shrinking wilderness.

This was before I understood that Quail Botanical Gardens was actually intended to be an ongoing commitment to the conservation of rare, threatened and endangered plant species. An Ark if you will, as envisioned by its benefactress Ruth Larabee to serve the botanical and horticultural needs of San Diego County, and to exist as an urban retreat, Sadly my initial reaction to Quail Gardens was for the most part correct.

According to Larry Gonzalez, a recently fired employee of the gardens, "The mission statement, and job descriptions are contradictory to what actually occurs at the garden." Larry Beazley, the most recent curator of Quail Gardens, was let go in November over a disagreement regarding flower pots, currently has a wrongful termination suit pending against the Executive Director of Quail Botanical Gardens. In an interview Mr. Beazley, stated that real reason he was dumped after 9 years of service was a difference of opinion. Ouch!

Julian Duval the Executive Director of the now diminished botanical garden, has left a trail of victims long enough to make the Terminator drool with envy. Most of the people were terminated for insubordination, which is Quail speak for being too competent and unwilling to swallow the manure being offered by the Executive Director . Those that weren't fired quit. Since Duval's tenure at the gardens began there has been four Directors of Operations, one of which sent a scathing letter of resignation to the board of trusties citing Duval as the reason. Boy would I like to read that.

Since Duval's arrival at Quail Gardens in 1995, five Directors of Marketing and Development have resigned, again citing Duval as the reason. Timothy Phillips, now the Superintendent of the Los Angeles County arboretum, left because of Duval's abrasive treatment of staff members. Others who have quit citing Duval's management of the gardens include maintenance workers, bookkeepers, admission clerks, and volunteers.

At this point I am sure most of you are wondering why Mr. Duval is clearcutting the horticultural staff of what was once a world class botanical collection. For those of you unfamiliar with Quail Gardens, it is comprised of 30 sprawling acres of rare and endangered plant species, yet under the direction of Julian Duval, now has a gardening staff of two. That's right, two gardeners, maintaining 15 acres each. I wonder if the City of Encinitas understood this when they decided to gift Quail Botanical Gardens an additional 9 acres in September of 2000?

The way I see this shaping up, Mr. Duval is getting rid of those employees who wish to see the gardens maintained as they were intended when presented to the county by the Larabee Family. Instead, Director Duval has surrounded himself with a gaggle of yes men and smitten women who have no problem with him running the garden as his own personal fiefdom, or his desire to turn the gardens into a profit making amusement park.

Mr. Duval is also courting the corporate dollars associated with the future Ecke genetic engineering "campus." He also hasn't ruled out using the gardens to exhibit the new and improved species generated in the labs next door.

For those of you who doubt Director Duval's intent one need only look at his proposal to cut membership out of the process altogether. By implementing a change that would remove the existing requirement that members vote on the election of trustees, Duval could once and for all crown himself king of the Garden, with only a handful of sanctioned trustees to answer to.

Perhaps this is just a misunderstanding on the part of Mr. Duval, over a dozen disgruntled past employees, volunteers, and this over eager journalist. Whatever the case, I'm sure the truth will eventually surface.

All I know is, as a nonprofit organization with a mission to conserve rare, threatened an endangered species while existing as an urban retreat, Quail Botanical Gardens is heading done the wrong path, under the questionable leadership of it's executive director.

 
 
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