The Raleigh News & Observer probably has another journalism award in its pocket for its expose of the financial shenanigans of Dana Cope, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina. Cope resigned yesterday, just days after the N&O on Sunday thoroughly examined the questionable spending of SEANC money: bogus invoices, dubious no-bid contracts with a company that had done work for Cope personally, senseless union payments for Cope's flying lessons and so on. The Wake County district attorney has asked the SBI to look into the mess.
Cope took no questions at his news conference, though he did admit that "I have blurred the line between my personal life and my professional life.” From the N&O's account, there seemed to be no line at all between SEANC finances and Cope's.
But there is more to this story than one man's lofty ambitions and his confusion over the extent of his power. Sunday's article detailed how Cope had gotten rid of two executive board members who had questioned his spending. He had the power to do that. He also had the power to spend SEANC money however he saw fit. His actions were above questioning. He could do pretty much whatever he wanted, including picking fights with powerful state legislators, to the detriment of the SEANC and its members.
Cope is gone, but SEANC has much housecleaning to do. It must start with replacing the board of directors who were led astray by Cope and who obediently followed his bidding. Secondly, the new board must redefine the post of executive director. The union exec should follow the directions of the Board of Directors, not vice versa. The board should set policy and require the executive to carry it out. The executive should not be allowed to spend any money without the permission of the board, either in the form of a budgeted line item or a vote of the board for exceptional expenses. All contracts should be subject to competitive bidding. Credit card purchases should be audited and justified.
It's easy to blame Cope for his alleged excesses, but the real fault lies with the Board of Directors and union members themselves. They failed to rein in their employee and allowed him to conflate union interests with personal interests.
After cleaning up its finances, SEANC must work to restore the respect and trust of legislators, relationships strained if not broken by Cope's aggressive and abrasive style.