A consultant - who is also the girlfriend of the lead bankruptcy lawyer for the Please Touch Museum - has been hired as a strategy adviser to the museum and will take over as its CEO when it comes out of bankruptcy.
In a court filing at the end of October, Lawrence McMichael, of the Dilworth Paxson firm, said Patricia Wellenbach and the museum would not move forward with the plan until "the impact of the potential hiring on my disinterestedness has been resolved."
The museum announced at a news conference Monday that an anonymous donor had pledged $3.25 million to its fund-raising effort, and that Wellenbach would eventually takeover as CEO.
Earlier, in a court filing on Friday, the Office of the United States Trustee in Philadelphia, which oversees bankruptcies, said it had no problem with Wellenbach's hiring, so long as Dilworth does not charge for any legal services related to her employment.
The museum, widely known for its interactive displays aimed at children, filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 11, citing $60 million in debts that it could not repay. Under the bankruptcy plan, the museum will repay its creditors $11 million, more, it said, than if there had been an adversarial proceeding.
Wellenbach has a long history in the nonprofit sector. Before joining the Please Touch Museum, she was CEO of the Green Tree School & Services, which provides education and therapeutic support to children with autism and other disorders. She also has been a management consultant, and her clients have included the Philadelphia Orchestra, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and other institutions.
In his filing with federal district court in Philadelphia, McMichael said Wellenbach had consulted for the board of the museum from 2007 through 2012 on various strategy issues and had performed the work on a pro bono basis. In 2012, she signed a contract to develop a three-year strategic plan over a six-month period, for a fee of $25,000.
McMichael, who once represented The Inquirer's parent company in bankruptcy, said in an interview that he had played no role in the hiring of Wellenbach.
McMichael paints a portrait in his filing of a thoroughly modern, financially independent couple, and suggests that he would not gain financially from her hiring.
"She is my girlfriend and although we share a residence, we do not share income and do not share expenses other than those directly related to the residence (mortgage payment, taxes, and condo fees)," he wrote.
The filing said the current CEO, Lynn McMaster, plans to step down as CEO sometime next year. Wellenbach would take over as CEO after the museum comes out of bankruptcy.
Wellenbach first began negotiations with the museum about possible employment in June, but in August, Dilworth Paxon advised the museum that if it hired Wellenbach in an executive position, the firm would have to withdraw as the museum's counsel.
Several weeks later, the museum resumed employment negotiations with Wellenbach, this time with the idea that she would work in a nonexecutive role during the bankruptcy, but possibly take over as CEO once the museum came out of bankruptcy, curing any potential conflict, McMichael said.
McMichael said that Wellenbach started work at the museum Nov. 2.