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Infighting at the aquarium ebbs

SHARE Infighting at the aquarium ebbs

Four members of the Living Planet Aquarium Board of Directors resigned Saturday after reaching a mutual agreement with the aquarium's chairman and founder, ending many months of infighting.

As a result, just two of the original 12 members remain on the board — aquarium founder and president Brent Andersen and acting board chairman Brad Carroll. The other 10 have resigned in the past three months.

In addition, the aquarium is no longer aiming for a $34.5 million bond from Salt Lake County and will not build a permanent 90,000-square-foot aquarium at 336 S. 400 West in Salt Lake City, Carroll said Monday. That land is owned by the city's redevelopment agency and has been preserved for the aquarium expansion for years.

"One of the real divisions amongst the previous board is there was one camp who absolutely wanted to build downtown and another camp that were more open-minded," Carroll said. "Our visitor patterns really do weigh towards south (Salt Lake County) and Utah County."

Once reformed, the new board will begin an aggressive capital campaign to raise funds from private donors, Carroll said. The board will try to obtain three to five acres of donated land somewhere in Salt Lake County for a new aquarium site.

The current aquarium is a small-scale preview exhibit located on 43,000 square feet inside an old grocery store at 725 E. 10600 South in Sandy.

Troubles with aquarium management began boiling earlier this year. Board members began to resign, and police launched an investigation of a former employee accused of stealing thousands of dollars from the nonprofit organization.

Board members blamed Andersen for poor management; Andersen and Carroll blamed the "dysfunctional" board.

"I think we've come to a little bit of a resolution, sort of mending fences," Andersen said Monday.

Current and former board members have been bound by a confidentiality agreement and will not discuss details of the resignations.

Carroll and Andersen had planned to hold a press conference Monday to outline criminal allegations against board members, including that they held illegal meetings. Board members tried last week to hold a meeting to oust Andersen from his position by not extending his contract.

"All I can tell you is we've agreed to resign," said Arthur Benjamin, a former board chairman who was one of the four who stepped down Saturday. "We agreed to reach a mutual statement that there were irreconcilable differences."

Benjamin donated to the aquarium, and he and his wife devoted a significant amount of time to the project. The board decided to name the preview exhibits — both the first one at The Gateway and the second in Sandy — after his wife, Gail, who passed away in 2004.

Benjamin, however, requested to have his wife's name removed from all aquarium signs in March when management issues heated up.

"There was no reason to drag her into this," he said. "She was a wonderful woman and had a vision of the aquarium."

The board members who have resigned, either on Saturday or previously, are: former Utah Jazz player Thurl Bailey, Martin Baron, Benjamin, Crawford Cragun, Laurie Hofmann, Christopher Layton, Linda Lee, Tom Markuse, Marc Rasich and David Wolf.

Carroll and Andersen already have begun the process of finding new board members. During their board meeting on April 12, they plan to nominate Dr. Frank Grimmer and James Marshall, owner of Sandy restaurant Johanna's Kitchen.

E-mail: astowell@desnews.com