AFT Washington Affiliate Tries to Block Release of Public Documents Relating to Union Leader’s Embezzlement of Funds
by P.D. Lesko
Ideally, union leaders help and protect members to the extent allowed by the contract negotiated between the union and the employer. At Green River Community College there have been allegations made that the game is being played differently. GRCC is located in Auburn, Washington, a suburb of Seattle with a population of about 75,000. In response to allegations made by part-time faculty who are union members represented by United Faculty (UF), AdjunctNation.com launched an investigation. As a part of our effort to gather documents, AdjunctNation filed two Freedom of Information Act requests on July 20, 2012. In response, UF’s leadership has attempted to force Green River Community College officials to keep from releasing emails and documents that could confirm leaders’ alleged efforts to single out, end the career and destroy the reputation of one of the union’s own members, part-time faculty member Keith Hoeller.
Hoeller (pictured, left) claims that union leaders (one of whom is his supervisor in his position as a part-time faculty member at the college) are retaliating against him for criticizing union officials in op-eds, and launching an independent adjunct faculty association at the college in 2011. Hoeller has also provided a cache of documents including letters and emails which show him objecting to what he claims is an illegal effort by college officials, in concert with union leaders, to unilaterally change the union contract so that adjunct faculty are more easily dismissed, and pressing union leaders to provide a full accounting of the theft of thousands of dollars in union money by former UF president Phil Ray Jack—a theft that was not revealed to members until months after the union’s treasurer had uncovered it.
Hoeller, among others, wonders why details of the theft were kept from the membership, why the union refuses to provide financial information from the years during which Phil Jack led the organization, and why union leaders refused to cooperate with police in investigating and prosecuting the theft. Hoeller believes his calls for more transparency and his advocacy on behalf of GRCC’s adjuncts have prompted the effort to fire him, an effort he says his union is abetting by refusing to aggressively defend or provide him with legal representation.
In May 2012, Hoeller contacted AdjunctNation.com with details of the embezzlement of funds by former UF president Phil Ray Jack. Hoeller wrote in an email, “On April 13, 2012 Mark Millbauer, the current president of the United Faculty Coalition at Green River Community College (AFT/NEA), announced at the end of a regular union meeting that Phil Ray Jack had misappropriated at least $8,000.” In late May, union leaders told the student newspaper that Jack had stolen “$6,200 over a period of about 18 months.” In a June 4, 2012 email to faculty member concerned about the theft, Millbauer revealed that the union’s bond company (all union leaders at the UF are bonded) reimbursed the union for “$6,200 in cash withdrawn, and $3,467.73 for a portion of an unearned stipend check that should be repaid.”
In response to a question from AdjunctNation about the total amount stolen by Jack, Millbauer (pictured, right) confirmed via email that between “December 2010 and October 2011, Phil Jack withdrew–without authorization– $6200 from the UF’s bank account. He did so in a series of eight cash withdraws. He took advantage of the fact that throughout that period the treasurer at the time was gravely ill, had a very serious surgical procedure, and subsequently missed a lot of time and ultimately resigned. It wasn’t until a semi-permanent treasurer was elected to serve the remaining year of the treasurers’ term of office that some of the withdrawals were discovered. Soon after taking over, it was the replacement treasurer who found them and brought it to our attention. We immediately notified AFT Washington and our legal counsel.”
This leads to the question of whether Phil Jack took money after he was replaced by Millbauer. When asked if the theft had been reported to police, Millbauer initially answered, simply, “Yes.” However, according to King County Executive Dow Constantine, the union “chose to handle the case internally and refused to cooperate with the Auburn PD in the filing of criminal charges. The King County Prosecutor’s Office has also looked into the case and determined that, lacking the cooperation of union leadership, there is insufficient evidence for the filing of criminal charges.”
In a subsequent email, Mark Millbauer refuted King County officials. “We have not refused to cooperate with police. All police inquiries have been turned over to the UF’s attorney for handling. I am not aware of any inquiries with the prosecutor’s office.”
In May 2012 Phil Ray Jack resigned from his job at Green River Community College and moved to Colorado, to start fresh without any record of his having stolen money from the union to haunt him, a theft that would, according to an official in the King’s County Prosecutor’s Office, qualify as first degree theft, a felony. In Washington State, Class B felony theft is punishable by a maximum prison term of 10 years and a maximum fine of up to $20,000. Of course, any investigation into Jack’s theft would almost surely uncover embarrassing details about how Jack was able to steal the money in the first place, and why the thefts went undiscovered.
“No one is being held accountable,” complains a part-time faculty member who teaches at GRCC and who asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation. “Not Phil Jack, not Mark Millbauer. Then again, maybe Mark can relate. Maybe that’s why it’s ok that Phil stole our money and walked away.”
Millbauer described Phil Jack (pictured, right) as “a long time adjunct and former union president who lost his long sought tenure track position, robbed his colleagues of their hard-earned dues subsequently losing their trust and respect.” On the other hand, Mark Millbauer knows exactly what it’s like to be caught stealing. In 2007 he was reported to the state’s ethics board for theft. Millbauer, confronted with audit findings, waived his right to a hearing and reimbursed Green River Community College for $1,787.36. He also paid a civil penalty of $1,000 to the state’s Executive Ethics Board, according to documents. AdjunctNation filed a Freedom of Information Act request for Millbauer’s personnel file and found a 2007 letter of reprimand from Ron Wheadon, Executive Dean. The letter begins, “Please be advised that this letter serves as a written warning for violating college policies and state law with respect to your use of state resources for private benefit….(Y)our actions represent ethics violations that are not acceptable and cannot be repeated.”
On June 4, 2012 Keith Hoeller received an email from Green River Community College Dean Joyce Hammer alerting him that Humanities Division Chair Will Scott had filed a complaint against him. Will Scott is the Chief Negotiator for the union that represents both Scott and Hoeller, a relationship that Hoeller believes represents a serious conflict of interest. On June 13, Hammer emailed Hoeller to say that Scott had not filed a complaint, but rather the “Humanities Division” had filed the complaint against him, despite the fact that the union contract clearly states that a complaint may only be filed “by a person.” In that June 13, 2012 email, Hammer informed Hoeller that the complaint was related to this clause in his contract: “To participate in periodic evaluation of the individual instructors’ [sic] effectiveness and accomplishments.”
In a June 15, 2012 letter to Hammer which Hoeller provided to AdjunctNation.com, Hoeller refuted the basis of the complaint by explaining to the Dean that, “I have never refused” to participate in periodic evaluations. Dean Hammer has steadfastly refused, according to Hoeller, to give him a copy of the complaint filed by Will Scott on May 9, 2012.
Sandy Johanson is a full-time faculty member in the Philosophy Department in which Hoeller has taught for 27 years. On July 17, 2012, she sent him an email that read, in part: “…I would like to meet informally with you to address several concerns we have regarding your job performance as an adjunct faculty member at GRCC. In particular, Section F, Part 1c of the Faculty Contract states that ‘the instructor will communicate and work collaboratively with the Division, department lead, and the Division Chair.’ ” The clause is ominously vague and open to a variety of interpretations. Prior to her July 2012 email to him about his communication and collaboration, Johanson had tangled with Hoeller and lost. She had opposed giving him an additional class. Hoeller threatened a grievance, and Johanson backed down, finally abiding by the contract language which clearly outlined Hoeller’s right to teach the additional course.
While adjunct faculty make up a majority (300) of the 450 faculty teaching at Green River Community College, according to college officials, only a few dozen adjunct faculty have joined the joint AFT-NEA unified local that represents the college’s instructors. It is the only joint AFT-NEA local in the state.
Green River Community College is a public institution and, as such, personnel records and emails sent to and from addresses at the college are subject to public records requests, according to state and federal law. In a July 27, 2012 response to two July 20, 2012 Freedom of Information Act requests the college’s Assistant Director of Public Information, Katie Rose, sent along a message which reads, in part, “We estimate that we will need 10 business days (August 10, 2012) to identify all documents within the parameters you provided and to redact certain employee and/or student information as well as any other applicable disclosure exemptions.” On August 1, 2012, Rose emailed the following, “We estimate that we will need 15 business days (August 22, 2012) to locate these documents and redact certain employee information as well as any other applicable disclosure exemptions.” On August 22, 2012, Ms. Rose sent along an email in which she claimed, “The United Faculty’s union legal representation is looking into the legality of this request for public records. We are awaiting their response, which may not be available until late September.”
In short, the Green River Community College faculty union, headed by Mark Millbauer, tried to claim that public records (Millbauer’s email messages and personnel file, among other email messages sent to Greenriver college email addresses and personnel files) were not public records. College officials, either through ignorance of the law, or in open defiance of the law, allowed union officials to stall the FOIAs under the guise of “looking into the legality of the request.”
On September 4, 2012 AdjunctNation contacted Tim Ford, the Ombudsman in the Washington State Attorney General’s Office and asked for Mr. Ford’s assistance in the matter. The same day, Green River officials sent along a portion of Millbauer’s personnel file (a letter of reprimand), claiming only letters of reprimand were public records and subject to records requests. AdjunctNation is preparing to file a FOIA appeal, as the Washington State law cited in the refusal is, we believe, being misinterpreted by Green River officials. While it’s possible to believe that Green River officials may be ignorant of Freedom of Information Act request procedures, an email sent by Katie Rose to several of the college’s part-time faculty in May 2012 suggests otherwise. Part-time faculty members had requested copies of email messages sent by current union president Mark Millbauer, among others. In her message to the part-timers, Rose claims, “Green River Community College has the ability to capture emails on college servers for the past 30 days.” State law, however, requires public institutions to keep emails for three years and to make those emails available to records requests.
Why are union officials trying to stop the release of the emails sent to and from Mark Millbauer through his Greenriver college account relating to Phil Ray Jack and Keith Hoeller? It’s just the tip of the iceberg, an iceberg that goes wide and deep below the surface of the Washington State union local. It’s a iceberg that includes the theft of thousands of dollars in union money by former union president Phil Ray Jack, includes allegations that the union has refused to cooperate with the police in investigating the theft, as well as Millbauer’s refusal to release financial information directly to his own part-time faculty union members who requested it.
In an email message to AdjunctNation in response to questions about the union’s refusal to release financial records directly to members, Millbauer wrote: “The UF informed our membership of this incident and have offered to meet and provide anything we can to all members that have requested more information. We have had two members request further documentation. While we do not have permission to distribute certain documents and communications via e-mail or in hard copy form, specifically copies of the AFT auditors report and e-mails with our attorney, at the request of those members seeking further documentation, we did get permission to share that documentation with them by facilitating them reading it in the UF office. We did forward request treasurer reports.”
In a June 2012 email to GRCC part-timer Kathryn Re, who had requested a copy of the union’s latest audit statement, Millbauer refused her request: “As per your request for a copy of the audit, I can’t freely send that to you. This was reaffirmed to me by the auditor again just today. However as before, I can and would be happy to show it to you and try to answer any questions you may have as a result.”
Karen Sidney is a lawyer and CPA in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In answer to a question about whether auditors routinely refuse to allow their work to be released to members of an organization, Sidney said, “Auditors don’t have that kind of control. Maybe if the audit were a draft, the auditor would take it back and make changes, but auditors don’t decide who sees the final audit and who doesn’t. The auditor’s job is to make sure the group’s finances are in order.” AdjunctNation has contacted the Attorney General’s Office in Washington to request a copy of the most recent audit filed by the union with the state.
After the May 2012 confession by union officials that past president Phil Ray Jack had stolen thousands of dollars, part-timers Kathryn Re and Keith Hoeller shared emails with AdjunctNation that reveal they began pressuring union officials, including Millbauer, to release financial documents that prove exactly how much money in dues Phil Ray Jack took, when he took the money, and how. Hoeller and Re asked to see treasurer’s reports encompassing the time Phil Jack was the head of the union.
Mark Millbauer downplays the incident. He told AdjunctNation in an email message, “We’ve received very few comments on this incident from our membership, let alone complaints. In fact, I’m not aware of being pressed to prosecute Phil Jack by our members, including Keith Hoeller. Phil Jack and Phil Jack alone was responsible for taking those funds.”
On May 13, 2012, Keith Hoeller wrote a letter to Peter B. Lewis, Mayor of Auburn, Washington, and a member of the GRCC Board of Trustees. In that letter, titled, “Misappropriation of Funds and Retaliation,” Hoeller writes:
Thank you for talking with me briefly last Friday afternoon. As I mentioned, I would like to talk to you in more detail about two things.
First, I want to report that there may have been a crime committed by a Green River faculty member. I have heard from several union members that a former president of the union was found to have misappropriated at least $8,000 in union funds. The union has given out very little information, and it has refused to honor our requests for budgets, income, expenses, audits, and even minutes of union meetings. I have also heard that this important information was kept from consideration in his tenure review. I do not know if anyone has reported this incident to the police.
I do not know if the college administration knows about any of this. I do not know if any college funds were misappropriated. I do not know if there was any use of state resources for personal benefit. Green River does have an Ethics Policy (Policy Number GA-23) in its “Policies and Procedures Manual.”
Mayor Lewis initially agreed to meet with Hoeller to discuss the allegations that a crime had been committed, but a subsequent email from Lewis reveals that he “was told by GRCC officials” to refer Hoeller to the President of the Board of Trustees—not the Auburn Police Department. It was, in essence, the same thing done by officials at Penn State University, where a crime was reported to college officials—who handled the matter internally—as opposed to handing the case over to the police. A Freedom of Information Act request filed with the city of Auburn turned up a May 17, 2012 email to Mayor Lewis from the president of the GRCC Board, Tom Campbell, in which it was revealed that the Trustees and Dr. Eileen Ely, President of GRCC, had been informed of the misappropriation of funds by Phil Jack in April 2012 at an executive session closed to the public. The information could only have come from union officials.
GRCC spokeswomen Vickie Sheehan, when asked why Hoeller’s report of a crime to a Trustee resulted in the referral of the individual to the President of the Board of Trustees as opposed to the Auburn Police Department, said: “The alleged crime had already been reported in March 2012 and the president of the faculty union had notified President Ely as a courtesy at that time. As the alleged crime was already under investigation by the faculty union and their representatives, there was no need to duplicate the efforts already underway. Again, as the faculty union is a separate entity from Green River, the College cannot and will not interfere in union business.”
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) is the federal law enforcement agency responsible for administering most provisions of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA). The agency’s criminal enforcement program includes investigations of embezzlement from labor organizations.
The agency’s civil program collects and publicly discloses unions’ annual financial reports, conducts compliance audits of labor unions and seeks civil remedies for violations of officer election procedures.
“When crimes such as these occur, workers are right to demand that we deliver swift, effective justice,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Labor-Management Standards Don Todd. “Our work has resulted in convictions of individuals found guilty of wrongdoing against unions, and we are proud of our results in protecting America’s union members. We have obtained more than 800 convictions and exceeded 850 indictments since fiscal year 2001. The court ordered restitution in these cases is just about $103 million.”
OLMS’s public disclosure Web page at http://www.dol.gov/olms/regs/compliance/rrlo/lmrda.htm contains union annual financial reports and additional forms required to be filed under the LMRDA. Other information, including synopses of OLMS enforcement actions, is available on OLMS’s home page at http://www.dol.gov/olms/.
Is Keith Hoeller being targeted for dismissal by full-time faculty who are also members and leaders of the union to which he belongs because of his insistence that Phil Jack’s crime not be swept under the rug, among other issues? One thing is certain, Phil Ray Jack was the AFT Washington’s golden boy—a golden boy gone bad. It would be not only an embarrassment for the GRCC union to have the scandal reported widely, but for the state affiliate, as well, and Sandra Schroeder, who heads AFT Washington. Phil Jack served as a member of Schroeder’s AFT Washington board. Between 2007 and 2009, according to AFT Washington financial records filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, the affiliate gave Phil Jack over $25,000 in salary and disbursements for official business. In 2010, AFT-Washington money dried up, and that corresponds roughly to when Jack began to steal from his union local.
In the 2011 AFT Washington LM-2 report, Phil Jack is listed as Schroeder’s VP Legal Affairs. Meanwhile, in response to Hoeller’s request for help in defending himself against trumped up complaints filed in retaliation for his advocacy work, Schroeder responded to a June letter on July 12, 2012. She writes, “I understand that you have called WEA again because I have not yet responded to the letter I received on June 29th. You did not indicate in the letter that there was a need for an urgent reply or that there was a deadline pending. In order to give an adequate reply, I have been investigating your allegations and consulting with our attorney on the union’s obligations. Since you had contacted WEA several times before you contacted me, they are aware of the situation. The decision on what to refer to which state organization, if anything, will be jointly made by leadership in the two organizations.”
In June 2012 Keith Hoeller won the GRCC Distinguished Teaching Award. He is the only adjunct, in the history of the college, to whom the award has ever been given. One month later, in a July 29th email, Sandra Schroeder told Hoeller that AFT Washington, the state affiliate to which he has paid dues for over two dozen years, is not inclined to help him battle the allegations leveled against him by the full-time faculty members of his own union.
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