- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." Forgive me, I just couldn't let that one pass. A foreboding spider's web is the image that comes to mind as you look closely at those caught up in the Washington Teachers Union's scandalous net. The silky-yet-sticky tracks of the tangled threads extend everywhere in an interlocking pattern, but they all serve the same purpose, leading to the same destination destruction.
Who's to say who, if any, will survive? If you give half an ear to the buzz on the block, everybody's going to jail.
Of course, we must remember that in this country people are innocent until proven guilty, though that rarely counts in the court of public opinion.
By now, all have heard of the raids on the homes of the union officials, including former President Barbara Bullock and her executive assistant, Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, both of whom appear to have treated themselves to a few trinkets and treasures worth $2 million and mounting.
Seems from the silly stuff carted out of their homes by FBI agents during the Christmas holidays that the whole crew was living in the lap of luxury at the expense of the city's underpaid, overworked and underappreciated teachers.
"What the problem is?" as comedian Martin Lawrence might ask. Hey, it's tough and tiring work getting a mayoral administration in your hip pocket and a political party under your belt. Who can blame a gal for treating herself to a $13,000 television so she can kick back to watch the Home Shopping Network after all that spinning and weaving? Doesn't every gal deserve a "little somethin'-somethin'" from her must-have list, including a fur coat, several wild and woolly wigs for those perpetual bad hair days and, clutch the pearls, silverware from Tiffany's?
Something wrapped in a Tiffany blue box with a white ribbon, I must admit, makes my heart flutter, too.
After all, one must keep up one's appearances in this fickle town where you're nothing if your mail doesn't arrive at the right ZIP code, if you don't drive the right foreign import, and if you don't own the right "creative Afrocentric attire," including at least one authentic Kinte cloth cloak, hence the fortune spent at a Baltimore boutique.
Faux furs and prints just will not do. You can't just show up to lobby for your folks and your funds in any ol' rag off the rack. And, you know the Sistas will talk about you something awful and you'll jeopardize your coveted membership if you don't serve tea to the ladies from the Links, the Girlfriends, the AKAs or the Coalition of 100 Black Women using only the best inherited bone china and a $57,000 silver tea set.
For all your troubles, you can slap yourself on the back and say that you deserve credit for getting an undeserving mayor re-elected who, in turn, has helped the teachers get the biggest pay raise they've pocketed in years. Never mind that someone now has the audacity to suggest that contracts were steered to help even more of your cronies, even though somehow the funds could not be found to pay the rent, the pension contributions or the national dues.
Oops. I forgot. Things can slip your mind so easily when you only have time to shop 'til you drop.
Yes, folks are having a great time making light of, and laughing about, the unfolding teachers union scandal. Many of the statements, particularly with regard to Miss Bullock, are most unkind. But often we laugh when we want to cry.
This scandal, however, is nothing to play with. And investigators must keep unraveling the web no matter where the intertwining lines may lead.
Clearly, there is enough blame to go around.
Start with the executive board of the union, that must have been wearing blinders. The parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, also was remiss in its oversight duties. The larger question now is who will ensure that D.C. teachers are reimbursed for overpayment of their local dues? The teachers themselves are not without unclean hands. Based on reports by The Washington Times' Brian DeBose, the union hasn't been able to muster up a quorum at a single monthly meeting in years. That means fewer than 100 teachers out of 2,300 active members and 2,384 inactive or retired members didn't bother to make their issues known until it was too late.
D.C. teachers should have made it their business, because it is, to attend monthly meetings and demand documented financial reports from their leadership, which, Mr. DeBose reports, also have not been forthcoming. As for the political activities of the union, I always have been troubled by what appeared to be an unholy alliance forming among union executives, the fledging campaigns and Cabinets of administrations of both D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the D.C. Democratic State Committee.
Mrs. Hemphill has had a hand and a leadership role in all three organizations. It shouldn't be lost on anyone that she was a key witness during hearings in the summer about the scandal surrounding the mayor's petitions, which she signed and submitted.
Some of us predicted even then that much more was untold. The question on most minds is just how much, if any, money or in-kind contributions from the union was used to finance the mayor's campaigns and political activities? You would think that after all his ethical lapses, Mr. Williams' lawyers would do their best to protect him from any potential conflicts. The mayor, always asleep at the wheel, has never been good at surrounding himself with people who can follow a straight and narrow path. But he'd better find himself a good general counsel once and for all, and fill the vacancy at the top of the Corporation Counsel's Office posthaste with someone who knows something about ethics, and actually may have read the D.C. Code.
No, as he rightly states, Mr. Williams does not run the teachers union. But this latest swipe with their questionable executives represents more than mere "consequences" from "going through a debris field of something, of explosions that happened in the past."
Stay tuned. The web widens.


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