IAFF Ethics: The Gold Letter

Piercing the Veil of Ethical Secrecy

Laurence Gold has been retained to assist in the review of the Schaitberger house purchase/conflict of interest.

Mr. Gold:

My name is Eric Lamar and I am a member in good standing of the International Association of Fire Fighters, AFL-CIO.  My membership number is 0293837.  I have been a continuous member for 38 years.

I am writing in that capacity to provide information regarding an ethics matter you are reviewing.  I am also sharing this with the IAFF board to guarantee the highest possible level of transparency; a rare condition in our union.

Another Deal

The original matter, a conflict of interest involving a house purchase between General President Harold Schaitberger and Mr. James Franzoni has been further complicated by the revelation that there was at least one other undisclosed side deal between the two involving $200,000 in goods, creating an additional conflict.

The Cover-up

On May 2, 2014, General President Schaitberger initiated a conference call with the board where he dictated how the house purchase conflict of interest matter would be handled.  He then assigned members to “investigate” the issue.   He did not disclose the secondary transaction to the board.  That call buttressed the assessment they were covering up the incident rather than dealing with it openly.

Mr. Schaitberger should have recused himself and fully disclosed ALL transactions.  The board should have independently determined both the method of inquiry and the members overseeing it.  They did neither.

The IAFF’s Law Firm:  Conflicted 

It was only after the IAFF’s law firm, Woodley and McGillivary, indicated their inability to act as the board’s counsel on the matter because of their own conflict of interest, that outside ethics counsel became involved.

For the first time an outside ethics professional is tasked with analyzing the workings of the IAFF.

It is a landmark, watershed moment.

The Source of Their Conflict

It’s ironic that Woodley and McGillivary’s hiring of Jim Franzoni’s son, the source of their conflict, has led to the apparent breach in the until now impregnable wall of ethical silence at the IAFF.

Had Woodley and McGillivary not hired him despite Harold Schaitberger’s strong urging, a potential conflict in itself, they would perhaps be largely free to advise the IAFF on the house purchase matter and do Mr. Schaitberger’s secretive bidding.

In fact, Schaitberger’s role in the hiring of Franzoni’s son by the IAFF’s law firm is substantive proof of his willingness to take material and significant steps to help out his friend Jim Franzoni at the potential expense of the IAFF.  Harold Schaitberger’s sole interest in attorneys at Woodley and McGillivary should be that they are the best, not that they are the son of a close friend.

Therefore, the question is not whether conflict has happened, but where else has it occurred?

If he would go to such lengths for Jim Franzoni, to what lengths would Mr. Franzoni go for him?

Many Pieces to the Puzzle

Viewing the house transaction as a single, isolated event flies in the face of reality and the facts.  It is a pattern of unethical and unsavory behavior.

Mr. Schaitberger’s unethical and incessant meddling has resulted in his being “hoisted by his own petard” and perhaps for the first time in 14 years he has lost control of an issue as the person investigating this matter falls outside his direct control, a circumstance he must surely rue.

Had the original house deal been referred to an unconflicted ethics officer they surely would have vetoed it as improper given the nature of the relationships.  It clearly fails the “reasonable person/appearance of conflict” standard we should be following.

The Existing (and Worthless) Ethics Policy

The executive board has an existing “Code of Ethical Practices/Conflict of Interest Policy” that while anemic, should have caused Mr. Schaitberger to at the very least disclose the various transactions with Mr. Franzoni under that document’s section five.

He did not.

The fact that there was a conflict of interest regarding the non-disclosure of the house is obvious.  The only question is whether or not impropriety attached to the conflict.

The Financial Corp Conflict

Significantly, the conflict also extends to the IAFF Financial Corporation, (IAFF-FC) where again, the Schaitberger/Franzoni friendship can act as an obvious detriment to the customers of IAFF-FC who are also IAFF members.

Mr. Franzoni derives substantial financial benefit from his relationship with IAFF-FC.  Again, Harold Schaitberger is the chief decision maker in that enterprise thus triggering another obvious conflict of interest.

Mr. Schaitberger’s behavior and actions constitute a glaring conflict of interest across both the IAFF and the IAFF-FC.

The Impropriety of It All

There is obvious impropriety in his (successful) attempt to steer the board in how the matter would be handled.  His plan was only derailed by the inability of inside counsel to act as advisers so that an ethical charade could be perpetuated, a derailment he unwittingly created through a prior conflict.

Buying Off the Board

In addition, Mr. Schaitberger is poised to “carry the water” for a 27% pay increase for the very board that is tasked with investigating his actions.  This represents yet another serious conflict of interest and argues strongly in favor of the board stepping back entirely and handing the entire matter off to an independent authority to both conduct an investigation and to render a report.

Can anyone really think that the board will deny their own pecuniary interest?

The Need for Complete and Total Transparency

The IAFF lacks meaningful and substantive ethical safeguards and this incident amply underscores that fact.  Of course, Mr. Schaitberger’s and the board’s propensity to engage in unethical conduct reinforces the need for clear and unambiguous safeguards.

Chief among those safeguards is complete transparency.

Principles of Ethical Conduct:  Keep it Simple

Perhaps my 22-year firefighting career has led me to rely on tried and true methods and thus I am drawn to existing examples of ethical guidance which work. 5 CFR 2635.101(b), “Principles of Ethical Conduct”,  a federal standard which firefighters would certainly find appropriate, provides a clear and straightforward set of principles which guide and direct ethical behavior.  A resolution based on these simple principles is being introduced at the upcoming 52nd IAFF Convention.  It deserves support by those who care about our union.

Leadership and Ethics:  A Failing Grade at the IAFF

Implicit in ethical leadership is the paramount requirement to set a positive and clear example.  Mr. Schaitberger’s and the board’s conduct in this regard is appalling.  They should be setting the tone and the example not just for IAFF employees, but for the thousands of state, provincial and local union officers who are the key to our union.  They are not. Instead, they engage in cozy and secret business operations where the members are the last consideration rather than the first.

Imagine for a moment if all IAFF officers and employees conducted themselves in the same manner as the current officers and board.  The IAFF would collapse under the sheer weight of gross miss-conduct.

Use This Opportunity

As I mentioned earlier, a series of overlapping conflicts has led to a circumstance where an impartial ethical professional is viewing IAFF governance from an unbiased viewpoint for the first time.

Let’s hope this opportunity is not squandered as the future of the IAFF is at stake.

In the event you feel this direct letter from me is inadmissible for consideration by you, it is my hope that at least one IAFF board member will furnish it to you as part of your deliberations with them so that it may become part of the official record.

Publish the Report

Lastly, I sincerely hope you will implore the leadership to realize they are conflicted on this matter and to engage an independent investigation and to aggressively disclose the results of that investigation rather than bury it, as is their wont.

Thank you.

Respectfully,

 

Eric S. Lamar

Member, IAFF

Cc: IAFF board

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