Mum's the word but Murman's a player in departure of Glazer Children's Museum leader

Jennifer Stancil, president and chief executive officer of the Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa, was forced out of the job under circumstances the museum's board will not reveal. [JAMES BORCHUK   |   Times (2016)]
Jennifer Stancil, president and chief executive officer of the Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa, was forced out of the job under circumstances the museum's board will not reveal. [JAMES BORCHUK | Times (2016)]
Published Oct. 16, 2018

TAMPA — Jennifer Stancil was looking forward to Halloween and the role she would play in a new downtown event celebrating the spooky holiday.

"WE ARE SO EXCITED to be a partner with the Riverwalk for Halloween," Stancil, president and chief executive of the Glazer Children's Museum, wrote in a Sept. 19 email. "I think it will become the signature Halloween event in Tampa this year."

Six days later, Stancil learned she was being terminated from the $169,280 a year job she had held for three years.

Exactly why remains something of a Halloween mystery.

Those contacted among the museum's 21-member board refused to talk. Chairman Kenneth Curtin, who brought down the hammer in a meeting with Stancil on Sept. 25, emailed them Tuesday instructing them not to talk with the Tampa Bay Times.

Stancil could not be reached for comment.

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A series of emails obtained by the Times from the city of Tampa under Florida's public records law shows a flurry of negotiations once the decision was made to terminate, including an agreement to keep quiet about it and to describe it as voluntary.

The documents also indicate that the move involved Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, a children's museum board member.

In a Sept. 28 email, Murman wrote that she was hesitant to waive her write to comment on the resignation, "given the fact there have been numerous missteps with Jen regarding contracts, etc. we need to make sure we protect ourselves."

In an email Sept. 25, Murman held firm to including a non-compete clause in the board's termination agreement with Stancil, saying she feared Stancil would raid the museum's staff while seeking a new job as education director at the Museum of Science Industry. MOSI is taking steps to leave its site near the University of South Florida and move downtown.

Said Murman, "generally it is way too uncomfortable for us to keep her in the Bay Area and we would constantly be answering questions why she is no longer with GCM."

She added, "The disparagement needs to be on both sides and since she has mentioned my name to several people as the cause of her downfall this is very important to protect our brand and our board and staff."

Contacted Tuesday, Murman said, "Both sides agreed not to comment on the reason for her departure. That was part of the agreement and that is all there is to say."

Chairman Curtin said in an email to the Times, "Based upon mutual agreement, we are not discussing the specific terms of her departure."

The museum released a terse statement when asked about Stancil, saying she "has left the GCM family."

Kristen Nieves, a 14-year employee of the museum who made $78,605 as chief operating officer, was named interim chief executive.

The private, nonprofit children's museum operates on revenues of $3.5 million a year — up from $2.45 million when Stancil arrived, according to its 2017 federal tax filing. Hillsborough County will contribute $264,840 in public money to the museum this year and the city of Tampa, $65,000.

The 53,000-square-foot museum boasts more than 200,000 visitors a year and is a lynchpin in Tampa's museum district, adjacent to the Tampa Museum of Art, Curtis Hixon Park and the Tampa River Walk.

Stancil, 48, was hailed as a museum director outside the traditional mold when she joined the children's museum in November 2015 from PBS affiliate WQED in Pittsburgh. Museum board member Bryan Glazer, whose wealthy sports and business family are the museum's namesake and chief benefactors, said at the time, "Jen's combination background of education and entertainment is tremendous."

Stancil worked earlier in her career at education centers in Alabama and North Carolina.

The emails obtained by the Times were sent to and from the account of the city of Tampa's representative on the museum board, city special events superintendent Tony Mulkey.

"I met with Jen last Friday and informed her of the news," chairman Curtin wrote to the board in his Sept. 25 email. He called her reaction professional, and added, "When we told her the board was terminating her employment, she asked about a non-compete."

A severance agreement mentioned in the emails would pay Stancil six months salary, or $86,750.

Times senior researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Paul Guzzo at Follow @PGuzzoTimes.