The District's largest public employe union has scheduled an emergency board meeting tonight to attempt resolution of a bitter factional dispute that was dramatized by the June 3 arrest of its acting director on charges that he pulled a gun on one of the union's local presidents.
The arrest of James M. Leak, acting director of Council 20 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, follows a turbulent period for the council, which represents more than 12,000 D.C. government workers in 15 agencies as well as employes in some other institutions.
Tonight's meeting, called by AFSCME's national leaders, comes as the presidency, directorship and staff positions of the council are being hotly contested following a disputed election on April 30.
Leak, 62, is charged with assaulting Herman Lawton, 34, president of AFSCME Local 2426, which represents 150 workers at the D.C. chapter of the American Red Cross. Lawton ran unsuccessfully for the council presidency and has appealed the election results. He also has applied for Leak's job as director of the 19-local council, according to union sources.
The meeting tonight was called by AFSCME's international president, Gerald W. McEntee, in an effort to resolve "some disagreements among the leadership of the council," said Tom King, the union's national director of field services.
"All the people involved are interested in building a strong, effective union. We just need to resolve some problems, and I am confident that can occur," King said.
King said part of the problem stems from differences of opinion about whether the larger locals in the council should have greater clout in council affairs. He declined to elaborate, saying, "We don't care to discuss our issues in the public press."
One of the 19 local presidents said the council's problem arose because "You have a group of people within the council who have forgotten what unions are about" and instead are more concerned with personal ambitions.
Leak faces trial Aug. 1 in Superior Court on misdemeanor charges of simple assault and possession of a prohibited weapon in connection with the alleged assault on Lawton. Leak has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In a complaint to police, Lawton said he was meeting with Leak at the council's office, at 1025 Vermont Ave. NW, at 7 p.m. on June 1 when Leak allegedly pulled a holstered handgun from his desk drawer, pointed the gun at Lawton and threatened his life. Lawton said he left the office and was not injured.
Leak declined comment. His lawyer, Thomas Guidoboni, said, "Mr. Leak will be vindicated."
No disciplinary action is contemplated against Leak, King said. "The arrest, as far as we are concerned, is an individual matter that has to run its course," he said.
Lawton's lawyer, Samuel Flanagan, said that the two men were discussing "union business" at the time of the alleged incident. Flanagan said he is preparing to file a lawsuit against Leak stemming from the incident.
Lawton was defeated April 30 by Clara Webb, a D.C. public schools employe, in the election for the council presidency. Lawton appealed the outcome to AFSCME national leaders, claiming he lost because votes were improperly weighted among the 19 locals, according to union sources.
Lawton, sources said, has also applied to succeed Leak, who was named acting director of Council 20 last year. Leak replaced Geraldine Boykin, who now fills a political organizing job at AFSCME's national headquarters. Boykin yesterday declined to discuss council matters.
Lawton said yesterday, "I am under a lot of stress" and said he did not want to discuss the disputed election or the incident with Leak.