Posts Tagged ‘Ed Otte’


Investigation into Region 10 money still underway; new SPJ financial regulations approved

Some people have asked about the May 21 email from the SPJ board of directors (see below) about the possible misuse of money in a regional fund in Region 10.

The investigation is still underway, but these are some basic details:

• The board and SPJ HQ have been working with chapters in Region 10 (which covers Washington state, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Alaska) to figure out what happened.
• A member of the Western Washington SPJ chapter filed a report with the Seattle Police Department on May 10.
• The police report (a public record) says that while Ethan Chung was Region 10 director, thousands of dollars of SPJ money was taken out of the bank during a two-year period for use that was unauthorized.
• Chung was Region 10 director from about October 2015 to January 2018, when he resigned.
• In February, the board appointed Donald W. Meyers as Region 10 director to replace Chung.
• The local chapters and SPJ HQ have gotten access to the bank records and are reviewing them.
We will share more information about the case as it develops.
***
As the May 21 email notes, SPJ has strengthened its oversight on how money in regional funds is kept and monitored. I was part of a task force (along with at-large national board member Lauren Bartlett and regional directors Michael Koretzky, Kelly Kissel and Ed Otte) that came up with the new measures. We presented them to the full board, which approved them in April.
The task force is working on additional measures to strengthen financial practices for pro and campus chapters.
At the chapter level, SPJ has had a few cases of money being taken from bank accounts without authorization.

The Greater Los Angeles Pro chapter went through this with unauthorized withdrawals from 2009 to 2011.

The Oklahoma Pro chapter learned in 2012 that money was missing. Scott Cooper, who was the chapter’s secretary-treasurer and Region 8 director, later admitted to embezzling more than $43,000 from the chapter. He was ordered to serve four weekends in jail and repay the money.

***
This was the May 21 email on the current Region 10 investigation:
In the interest of transparency, we are writing to alert you that we have filed a police report with the Seattle Police Department over alleged misappropriation of funds from Region 10 bank accounts.
An internal investigation is ongoing. Based upon information to date, it is our understanding that the alleged misappropriation is isolated to one individual.
The national board, headquarters staff and local chapter leaders are cooperating with authorities to get as clear and complete a picture as possible of the extent of the unauthorized activity. Donald W. Meyers, the new Region 10 director, is helping to lead our efforts. We will update you as we get additional information.
To help avoid a similar situation in the future, the national board adopted new rules for regional accounts at its April 14 board meeting. The new rules further enhance the organization’s accountability measures.
If you have any questions, please contact Alison Bethel McKenzie, SPJ executive director, at abmckenzie@spj.org.
Sincerely,
National Board of Directors
Society of Professional Journalists

Seized funds and communication strategy

The SPJ national board took up two topics — money and communication — during an electronic meeting on Jan. 5:

1 – In September, the board voted to revoke the charters of three SPJ chapters: Mid-Florida Pro, North Central Florida Pro and Inland Northwest Pro.

Shutting down a chapter is extreme, but only comes after years of inactivity, as was the case here. A chapter gets 60 days to come up with a plan for how its money will be disbursed, or the money will be taken and used elsewhere within SPJ or SDX. The bylaws say:

Section Seventeen. Upon the decision to terminate any professional or campus chapter, whether by dissolution, disbandment, revocation pursuant to Section Thirteen of this Article, or otherwise, any remaining chapter funds shall be distributed to another adjoining active Society Chapter then in good standing, the Society, or the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, as directed by the chapter’s governing body, or, in the absence of action of the local board within 60 days of termination, the national board of directors.

The national board later heard from the Inland Northwest Pro chapter, which wanted another chance. Region 10 Director Ethan Chung supported the request, and the board granted that second chance.

The Mid-Florida Pro chapter, which has not held programs in about four years, did not try to continue. After the 60-day deadline, a chapter representative asked that its remaining money (about $12,000) go to the First Amendment Foundation. But SPJ bylaws say the money must stay within SPJ or SDX.

During our Jan. 5 meeting, SPJ President Lynn Walsh made a motion that the board reconsider its earlier vote on seizing the chapter’s treasury and ceded to the chapter’s wishes. Immediate Past President Paul Fletcher seconded the motion.

Upon proper motion by Walsh and second by Fletcher, the board voted against the motion to “reconsider the September vote and respect the wishes of the Mid-Florida Pro Chapter, instead giving the money to the SDX Foundation or somewhere else within SPJ.”

The vote was 10-8 against the motion.

No: Keem Muhammad, Jane Primerano, Bill McCloskey, Amanda Womac, Michael Koretzky, Ed Otte, Andy Schotz, Leticia Lee Steffen, Ethan Chung, Patti Gallagher Newberry

Yes: Rebecca Tallent, Paul Fletcher, Sue Kopen Katcef, Joe Radske, Michele Day, Lynn Walsh, Matthew Hall, Kari Williams

I voted no because the process the national board used was fair. Chapters get plenty of leeway to resume their activity. They get a few years of probation before their charters are revoked. There is no point having an inactive chapter indefinitely.

The 60-day period for deciding on a place for the money also was fair. The chapter was given numerous opportunities to meet that deadline; it did not.

The bylaws are clear about money staying in SPJ or SDX, and the chapter’s request did not follow that.

I thought the money should have stayed in Florida to help SPJers there. The Florida Pro chapter is excellent and could serve the people who previously were in the Mid-Florida chapter. But there was little interest in my idea. Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky assured me that the Florida Pro chapter doesn’t need the extra money to do programs that serve that region.

*****

2 – Walsh has said she wants to work on a better communication strategy for SPJ. She has created a committee to look at best practices. The committee includes:

  • FOI Committee Chairman Gideon Grudo
  • Ethics Committee Chairman Andrew Seaman
  • Membership Committee Chairwoman Robyn Davis Sekula
  • Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky
  • Communications Strategist Jennifer Royer
  • Michele Boyet, an officer in the Florida Pro chapter.

They will join the SPJ Executive Committee at its meeting in San Diego this month.

The question before the national board on Jan. 5 was a $6,860 budget.

That covers travel, hotel and meals for the six people above. (Executive Committee members have stipends to cover expenses.) The budget also covers $2,250 for (W)right On Communications of Solana Beach, Calif., and North Vancouver, British Columbia, to lead a strategy session.

Walsh said during our electronic meeting that SPJ needs a more specific plan for how and when to speak out, particularly on issues in the news. She said an attempt to create a plan internally has not worked well.

Walsh noted that the national board, a year ago, approved a budget of $8,850 for a strategy session on membership. That also included covering the costs of SPJers who flew in for the meeting and to pay a consultant.

A motion by Walsh to approve the budget for the communication strategy session, seconded by McCloskey, passed 16-2.

Yes: Muhammad, Primerano, Womac, Koretzky, Otte, Steffen, Chung, Gallagher Newberry, Tallent, Fletcher, Kopen Katcef, Radske, Day, Walsh, Hall, Williams

No: McCloskey, Schotz

I voted against this proposal because I am skeptical of hiring consultants to run meetings. I’ve covered many “facilitator” sessions as a reporter and I’m not convinced they are worth the expense. I also don’t buy the argument that an outsider has to be brought in to help a journalism organization learn how to communicate.

For the record, I voted against the budget for the membership consultant, too.

 

What the board and delegates did at EIJ16

Below is a recap of discussions and actions taken by the SPJ national board and convention delegates during Excellence in Journalism 2016 in New Orleans in September.

*****

SPJ national board meeting #1 (Sept. 18):

1) A few items from SPJ Executive Director Joe Skeel’s staff report:
• The Native American Journalists Association would like to join NAHJ, RTDNA and SPJ for EIJ17.
• SPJ distributed 84 news releases from September 2015 to Aug. 19, 2016.
• SPJ’s social media followers were: 33,000 Facebook; 42,000 Twitter; 2,345 LinkedIn.

2) The board revoked the charters of three inactive chapters. It also designated 22 chapters as “inactive,” including one in Region 2 — Howard University. “Inactive” is an intermediate step. A chapter can easily be revived if there is interest, but this is a sign that there has been no sign of interest in a while.

3) On a related note, the board unanimously agreed that the money taken from the bank accounts of revoked chapters will go to a regional directors’ fund to be distributed, by request, to other chapters (and not just in the same region). First, under SPJ bylaws, the chapters that were revoked have 60 days to take action on how to distribute the money. The national board takes action if the local board does not.

3) The board went into executive session to talk about a possible investment and to do an evaluation of Skeel.

4) When the board reconvened in public session, it unanimously approved a motion by at-large director Bill McCloskey made a motion that SPJ consider reincorporating in another state. SPJ currently is incorporated in Illinois. Under Illinois law, SPJ and other nonprofit organization can’t take electronic votes. This makes it tricky for SPJ to do conference call and electronic meetings, and take any action.

5) The final action was a vote on a change in the awards process. Last year, the board voted to give the final approval on most SPJ national awards (minus the Wells Key). Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky decided this year that the board didn’t need to formally vote on these awards, but should have the right to call for a vote after reviewing the choices. At EIJ16, the board approved that update to the process. Two people voted against this change — me and Region 6 Director Joe Radske. [Note: I voted no because the new iteration of the process was not what the board decided last year — we wanted approval authority, not the ability to review.]

For more information about these and other topics, go to the board packet:
https://www.spj.org/pdf/boardmeeting/spj-board-meeting-agenda-2016-09-18.pdf

*****

SPJ national board meeting #2 (Sept. 18):

1) At-large director Bill McCloskey was again chosen to serve on the Executive Committee.

2) University at Maryland SPJ chapter member Maggie Gottlieb, who won a seat on the board as campus representative, also was added to the Executive Committee. Gottlieb and new campus representative Keem O. Muhammad were each nominated to serve on the Executive Committee, resulting in a secret vote within the board.

3) Bill McCloskey and I were chosen for the Finance Committee

4) The board talked about the process for choosing the Wells Key, resulting in a proposal to have the national board, and not just the Executive Committee, review nominations. After a period of debate on this and other points, the proposal was tabled. Three people voted against tabling the proposal — Koretzky, Radske and me.

*****

Conference business session (Sept. 20):

1) Delegates approved several resolutions as a group:
• Commending Mark Thomason for standing up to a Georgia judge who had him arrested and jailed because of a public records request he made
• Urging the University of Kentucky to comply with Kentucky’s public records law
• Urging President Barack Obama to abandon restrictions to getting government information
• Support increased protections for student journalists
• Support women in journalism
• Recognize Alistair Cooke’s contributions to British-American relations
• Thank outgoing SPJ President Paul Fletcher and the SPJ staff

2) A change in the bylaws to create a “supporter” category, in which people can donate money to SPJ without becoming full members, was approved by a voice vote.
First, there was some concern that the new category would steal people who might otherwise be members.
By a 69-31 vote, delegates supported preserving a provision that anyone in the “supporter” category would be ineligible for full membership.

3) Delegates approved a bylaws change that addresses a gap in representation of SPJ members who don’t belong to a chapter. The new process is to choose delegates in each region to represent unaffiliated members, at the same same rate (one delegate per 50 members) in place for chapter delegates.
The measure passed by a voice vote, with only D.C. Pro chapter President Kathy Burns opposed.

4) A resolution to start the process of renaming “Society of Professional Journalists” to “Society for Professional Journalism” was defeated 57-44.
[Note: After being opposed to this idea for a few years, I voted in favor this year. I think the proposed name now matches changes underway to make SPJ more open and inclusive.]

5) By a predominant voice vote, delegates tabled a resolution opposing requirements that college faculty give mandatory “trigger warnings.” The resolution did not oppose the warnings, which might precede possibly objectionable discussion topics in class; it challenged making those warnings mandatory. Ben Meyerson of the Chicago Headline Club, who moved to table the resolution, said it strays from SPJ’s journalism mission.

6) By a predominant voice vote, delegates approved a resolution supporting the rights of journalists to report on political campaigns without threats or reprisal. A first draft of the resolution was amended to remove references to specific presidential candidates, so it would apply to all presidential candidates and all journalists.

7) Delegates approved a resolution supporting transparency in media ownership.
An early draft of the resolution was aimed at Sheldon Adelson for his family’s secret purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, condemning “the manipulation of news outlets for personal gain by wealthy media owners everywhere.”
The broader revised version that passed condemned “the clandestine behavior of Adelson’s group leading up to the purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and subsequent manipulation of news coverage.”
The revised resolution passed by voice vote, with two people voting no.

*****

Election results:

1) President-elect: Rebecca Baker — unopposed (926 votes)

2) Secretary-treasurer: J. Alex Tarquinio — unopposed (919 votes)

3) Director at-large (one open seat):
Rachel Wedding McClelland — 444 votes (winner)
• Jason Parsley — 271 votes
• Elle Toussi — 173 votes
• Alex Veeneman — 69 votes

4) Campus adviser at-large (one open seat):
Leticia Lee Steffen — 522 votes (winner)
• Chris Delboni — 395 votes

5) Regional directors
• Region 1: Jane Primerano (unopposed) — 142 votes
• Region 4: Patricia Gallagher Newberry (unopposed) — 77 votes
• Region 5: Michele Day (unopposed) — 88 votes
• Region 7: Kari Williams (unopposed) — 32 votes
• Region 8: Eddye Gallagher (unopposed) — 65 votes
• Region 9: Ed Otte (unopposed) — 47 votes

6) Student representative (two open seats)
Keem O. Muhammad — 414 votes (winner)
Maggie Gottlieb (of the University of Maryland) — 387 votes (winner)
• Emily Bloch — 282 votes
• Jessica Hice — 241 votes
• Katherine Rosenhammer — 84 votes

There were 1,016 votes, for a turnout of 16 percent.

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