Getty Leader’s Chief of Staff to Quit by Year-End
Jill Murphy, the controversial chief of staff for J. Paul Getty Trust Chief Executive Barry Munitz, disclosed Thursday that she will leave her post by the end of the year.
Murphy, 33, announced the departure to her staff in the afternoon after describing her plans in an e-mail to The Times. In the e-mail, she summarized a letter written in November to Munitz, saying that they had agreed on a plan for her exit.
Murphy’s designation as chief of staff is an unusual one in the nonprofit world. But her title reflects the scope of her authority at the world’s richest art institution.
Her broad power and sometimes brusque management style have drawn complaints from current and former Getty employees, who blamed her for internal tension and low morale.
Their complaints reached Munitz, who acknowledged her “sharp elbows” in a November interview.
Nevertheless, Murphy said in her e-mail Thursday that the decision to leave was hers, adding that she had no definite plans beyond taking time off, catching up with friends, reading and doing volunteer work.
“While I do not know precisely where my career will take me, Jeffrey Sachs’ book, ‘The End of Poverty,’ argues that our generation can choose to end extreme poverty by the year 2025,” she wrote. “It is an inspiring goal, and I hope to find some way to contribute towards making it a reality.”
Murphy’s departure comes amid turmoil at the $9-billion trust.
The California attorney general recently opened a wide-ranging inquiry into the Getty’s financial practices after a Times story described Munitz’s lavish pay, perks and travel. Getty senior curator Marion True faces trial in Italy on charges of conspiring to receive stolen artwork.
Since Museum Director Deborah Gribbon left the Getty last October, a string of senior executives has resigned, including Gribbon’s interim replacement and, most recently, the trust’s internal public relations manager.
Last week, the trust named Michael Brand, the well-regarded director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, to succeed Gribbon.
Since arriving at the Getty with Munitz in 1998, Murphy has served as gatekeeper to both him and the board.
She worked for Munitz in his prior position as chancellor of the California State University system. He had brought her to CSU and fostered her career after meeting her during a business dinner at the Jammin’ Salmon restaurant in Sacramento, where she worked while attending Cal State Sacramento.
At the Getty, Munitz empowered Murphy to weigh in on exhibits and trust policy, even though she had no background in the arts. She meticulously planned trustee retreats and helped staff members rehearse for presentations to the board. Several current and former employees said they came to fear her.
“She virtually ran the place. When he was away, she was in charge,” said Burton Fredericksen, who directed a program at the Getty Research Institute until 2001. “Everyone knew that Munitz would support her no matter whom she offended, and at any level of the food chain.”
In the November interview, Munitz acknowledged that Murphy had ruffled feathers but denied that the substantial turnover at the trust’s top tier was her fault.
“No one ever said to me, ‘I’m leaving, and I’m leaving because of her,’ ” Munitz said. “But people did say to me, ‘You need to know I’m having trouble with her.’ ”
He called Murphy a rare talent and suggested that she might have become a lightning rod for criticism because of her youth and gender.
Murphy’s responsibilities had shrunk substantially by late 2003, as the trust filled out its administrative roster and delegated some tasks to others, he said. Also, Murphy was sidelined by illness for more than a month in early 2004 after returning from a Getty-related trip to Egypt and a church mission to Honduras.
Still, records show that she has been central in designing the strategy for navigating through the Getty’s current crises, repeatedly meeting with the trust’s outside public relations firm, Sitrick and Co.
On Thursday, Munitz said he regretted Murphy’s departure but had come to accept it.
“Jill is an extremely bright, dedicated and hard-working executive,” he said in a statement read to a reporter by Michael Sitrick. “Her contributions to the Getty over the past eight years are too numerous to mention. While we are saddened by her decision to leave, we understand her desire to move on to something else.”
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