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March 17, 2010; New York Times | A front-page New York Times article calls to mind the old (and tired) joke that people who head foundations never worry about having a bad lunch or people laughing at their jokes. The piece, which explores the recent dealings of the Judith Rotschild Foundation, suggests that during his time as its sole trustee, Harvey S. Shipley Miller has enjoyed far more perks than that.  In fact, the story suggests that Miller has used his position to promote himself as much as the underappreciated artists that Rothschild established the foundation to serve.

In addition to setting a salary of $200,000 a year for himself, the Times reports that Miller lived in Rothschild’s Park Avenue Town House after her death and had use of her upstate country home. Also, some of the foundation’s $130,000 directed to the University of California, Los Angeles underwrote a fellowship named for Miller, not the foundation’s namesake.

While such acts might be considered bad manners, other of Miller’s dealings have come under scrutiny of the New York State attorney general’s office. It launched an investigation of the foundation after it failed to make payments last year that had been promised to arts groups. This was written about previously in the Times and in the Nonprofit Newswire.

Miller, who since made the payments, blamed the delayed payments on neck injuries from an accident.  That Miller has long been the foundation’s sole trustee and employee—another reason he gave for not making the grant payments on time—doesn’t sit well with some. Nancy E. Kelly, an accountant at Metis Group who serves on the advisory panel of Charity Navigator, a charity watchdog, told the Times: “This kind of governance fails to protect against possible conflicts of interest.” Either that, or putting personal interests ahead of the charitable.—Bruce Trachtenberg