Statement from PEF President Susan M. Kent:
I write to assure you PEF handles allegations regarding misuse of your dues through thorough investigation, proper procedures and actions. The Times Union article of Tuesday, September 30th, which sensationalized allegations about alleged misuse of funds by two PEF members, is woefully inaccurate, in my opinion, this was done solely to once against portray public sector unions and their leaders and members worthy of disdain by the public.
Five times in the Times Union article, it alleged that the DA’s office contacted PEF. This is completely false. No one from the Rockland County DA’s office contacted PEF’s counsel’s office or PEF officers located at our headquarters regarding the Debbie Lee matter. I did not, and would not, shield someone from potential prosecution. Had the DA contacted us, we would have responded and cooperated with him with any requests that he had.
Although asked for a comment by the Times Union, I declined to comment because this is an internal matter, not yet finally resolved. PEF’s PR Director explained our ethics process to the reporter and explained a union’s responsibility with respect to protecting our members’ dues. She also advised the newspaper the Rockland County DA never contacted me.
The Times Union states that PEF “local union officials” were told they couldn’t audit Lee’s expenses; that the only person who could appoint a committee was Lee and that PEF turned a blind eye to the allegations. This could not be further from the truth. Since the allegations were brought to PEF’s attention, we worked with the division to get the 2012-13 audit completed. This included advisement on how to appoint an audit committee and providing all documents necessary to complete the audit.
Ethics charges have been filed against Ms. Lee. The PEF Ethics Committee found that the allegations were substantial, and therefore directed that I form a hearing panel to address these charges.
The Ethics Hearing Panel consists of five Executive Board members appointed by me and approved by the 133 member PEF Executive Board. That panel is scheduled to hear this case in the beginning of November. At the hearing, witnesses will be sworn in, testimony will be taken and evidence received. The hearing panel will issue a written decision that can be appealed to the Executive Board. I have the utmost confidence they will do their duty and I will do mine in enforcing any sanctions imposed.
You should also know that in other situations, where it has been determined after a full and fair investigation that a PEF member improperly used PEF funds and that member did not agree to return those funds to PEF, we brought a civil action to get restitution of PEF funds. In this case if the funds were improperly taken I will, of course, pursue all actions necessary to protect and seek return of our dues money.
It’s obvious this is a politically motivated attack on me by a few individuals who care more about their own political ambition than this union. In addition to causing further upset in the division that is the subject of this inquiry, their actions also potentially damage the public perception of this union that we have worked so hard over the past two years to raise. I will be submitting an editorial to the Times Union to address the inaccuracies that were in this article.
I assure you I will continue to vigorously protect the union from both internal and external threats.