It has been a rough week for the Broward Teachers Union. Local media has been all over the story that the Florida Elections Commission and the Broward State Attorney’s Office have launched investigations of Union President Pat Santeramo. The Teacher’s Union chief is being accused of using union dues to reimburse people for political contributions and receiving overpayment for the past seven years.
Members of the union’s executive board also are reportedly calling for his removal, saying that he falsified budget reports and failed to report a $3.8 million budget shortfall.
Adding to their woes is dismal handling of the situation from a PR perspective. The Union and Mr. Santeramo himself have failed to put forward any kind of narrative to clearly express their positions and give their side of the story.
A column by the Sun Sentinel’s Michael Mayo on Thursday revealed just how little thought has been put into trying to effectively manage this turbulent time. The enterprising reporter Mayo actually succeeded in getting Santeramo on the phone, but the embattled Union leader declined to comment on the investigations, referred questions to his attorney and when asked if he had anything in general he wanted to say to defend himself answered: “Not at this point.”
Why would Santeramo get on the phone with a reporter if he had nothing to say—especially to a respected, seasoned journalist whose columns carry a lot of weight? How is it possible that Santeramo was totally unprepared to say anything at all to defend himself? Why aren’t he and his legal team doing anything more effective to respond publicly even though they would obviously want to be careful not to run afoul of their legal strategy or jeopardize their case?
These questions cry out for an answer. In the meantime, the apparent lack of a PR strategy seems stunningly clear. An important lesson from these latest events is this: If you are under fire in the press and unwilling to give your side of the story, then you leave the public with no choice but to accept whatever is being said about you. And if you aren’t even willing to say anything at all, then it leaves the impression (well-earned or otherwise) that you have plenty to hide.