- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Officials of the parent organization for the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) are considering a takeover of the local that could occur as early as next week.
"We are pursuing a forced administration action for the WTU, but there are several constitutional procedures that need to take place before that can happen," said Alex Wohl, spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). "Our executive council will have their regular meeting next week and, presuming this all moves forward, we will see something by then."
More than 150 members of the 5,000-strong local union passed a vote of no confidence in the executive board in an unsanctioned meeting Monday night. The union members also voted to oust all 21 members of the executive board.
George Parker, a teacher at Eliot Junior High School and a meeting organizer, said the members will introduce formal motions at the Jan. 27 monthly meeting and have begun collecting 800 petition signatures to start the ouster process.
The unsanctioned vote came three days after the board turned down a request by more than 250 teachers for an official meeting.
The members decided to hold the meeting to discuss the local's growing scandal since the AFT began auditing the local's books last summer and found that members had been overcharged $800,000 in dues and that more than $2 million had been misappropriated.
The FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies are investigating former union President Barbara A. Bullock, her assistant Gwendolyn M. Hemphill and former Treasurer James O. Baxter II. The three were named in a federal affidavit last month that was used to search their homes and those of others.
Miss Bullock and Mrs. Hemphill resigned in September under pressure from the board; Mr. Baxter was suspended.
No charges have been filed in the investigation, and the three former officials have denied any wrongdoing.
Mr. Wohl said most of the overpaid dues was sent to the AFT to cover the local's back dues since June.
A source close to the investigation said the check written to the AFT was for $700,000, although Mr. Wohl could not confirm that amount.
Mr. Wohl said that, when the overpayments were discovered in July, current WTU President Esther S. Hankerson who was the local's general vice president at that time asked the AFT to audit the teachers union.
"We asked [the WTU] to repay the money to the members and were told by a union official that the money could not be paid back," Mr. Wohl said.
The AFT recently secured a $250,000 loan for the local to repay the dues to members, but the loan must be paid back by the WTU. Several teachers who contacted The Washington Times questioned why the AFT would not pay back the money.
Mr. Wohl said: "When there is fraud, there will be money taken. Because we are not sure how much was taken, we took out the loan to ensure that the members were made whole."
To take over the local, the AFT would first need to have the current top local officers establish cause for the action, Mr. Wohl said. The AFT then would set up a committee to examine evidence, and later make recommendations to the 40 members of the AFT's executive council.
"Most of the evidence that will be used to prove that case will come from the FBI affidavit and the forensic audit, which should be completed sometime this month," he said.
If the takeover is successful, the AFT could remain the titular head of the union for as long as 18 months.


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