The American Federation of Teachers yesterday assumed control of the Washington Teachers' Union, dismissing the local leadership and appointing its own administrator as a result of the alleged theft of more than $5 million in local union money.
The action came during a closed-door meeting of the parent union's governing board in Hollywood, Fla., union officials said. This is the first time since the AFT was founded in 1916 that it has ousted the leadership of a local union and appointed an administrator to run day-to-day operations.
The parent union's governing board unanimously appointed George C. Springer, the former head of its 20,000-member state affiliate in Connecticut and most recently the Northeast regional director for the parent union. Springer was attending the union meeting in Florida and was unavailable for comment, a spokesman said.
In Washington, questions about the teachers union scandal again dominated the weekly news briefing by Mayor Anthony A. Williams. The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance is investigating whether the Washington Teachers' Union paid for catering at two of the mayor's political fundraisers and whether his campaign failed to report the payments as contributions. The events were hosted by Curtis Lewis, a former teachers union lawyer.
"If the allegations are true, that the Washington Teachers' Union secretly paid for costs associated with the Curtis Lewis fundraisers or any other campaign event, then my campaign will return the money to the union," Williams (D) said.
Williams later drafted a letter requesting that the city's inspector general audit the finances of the HIV/AIDS services office, the workplace of two figures from the union scandal, Michael Martin and Errol Alderman. Mayoral spokesman Tony Bullock declined to comment on whether the request for an audit was related to their employment in that office.
Martin and Alderman are alleged in an FBI affidavit and an audit by the AFT to have received improper payments from the D.C. union through a business they ran called Expressions Unlimited.
Martin, operations manager for the HIV/AIDS office, said he had no idea why the mayor requested the investigation. Alderman, a data management and information systems specialist in the office, declined to comment.
Ronald Lewis, deputy director of the D.C. Health Department and head of the HIV/AIDS office, said last night that he welcomed the inspector general's review, which he described as routine. "We've done nothing wrong," he said.
Yesterday's AFT action removed from power the D.C. union's interim president, Esther S. Hankerson, along with its 21-member governing board. Hankerson, who said she was unaware of money being misspent, had served as general vice president under Barbara A. Bullock, who resigned as president in October. Barbara Bullock is not related to Tony Bullock.
Barbara Bullock, along with two other former union officials -- her assistant, Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, and union treasurer James O. Baxter II -- were accused in an FBI affidavit, filed in federal court last month, of using union funds to buy luxury items. A federal grand jury is investigating, but no criminal charges have been filed. Hemphill is the mother-in-law of Martin.
Several D.C. teachers who are represented by the 5,000-member Washington Teachers' Union said they do not trust the AFT. They said the parent organization had failed to provide enough oversight during Bullock's tenure.
AFT officials said their constitution gives them limited oversight over local affiliates.
The administratorship will last as long as Springer and the union deem necessary, an AFT spokesman said.
Staff writer Avram Goldstein contributed to this report.