PRSA tension escalates as Wells Fargo comms execs face new attacks

by | Jul 10, 2018 | Public Relations

Update: This article has been amended to better reflect that the allegations against Wells Fargo execs and others were made by reform leaders Susan Hart and Mary Beth West, not by the Public Relations Society of America or any of its leaders or spokespersons.

In the wake of a fractious reforms-proposal initiative by PRSA members Susan Hart and Mary Beth West, new developments find two previous national org chairs—both employed in comms positions by Wells Fargo—have been accused of PRSA Code of Ethics infractions by Hart and West over a MyPRSA online discussion board letter discrediting and marginalizing the womens’ concerns about the Society’s own Code of Ethics violations within the national leadership structure. It should be noted that although these allegations were made by Hart and West—PRSA and its leaders neither agree with nor support them.

According to Hart and West, Wells Fargo employees and PRSA past national chairs Del Galloway, APR, and Rosanna Fiske, APR, each signed a letter allegedly falsely claimed that “the gist” of recent ethics concerns registered against PRSA leadership are centered on “raw politics.”

Hart and West allege that the group has mischaracterized the proposed PRSA bylaw amendments as “the result of folks disagreeing with Board actions in response to attacks—made by the current administration—that undermine democratic principles, specifically our profession’s support of the First Amendment and its five freedoms: speech, press, religion, assembly and petition—and most specifically, freedom of the press, which is a bedrock of our Constitution and fundamental to our democracy.”

Wells Fargo’s PRSA investment portfolio RFP non-disclosure is itself an ethics breach, say Hart and West

Amid Galloway, Fiske and others discrediting Hart’s and West’s actions (to hold PRSA leadership accountable for 2017 ethics violations) as “hurtful” while celebrating current PRSA leadership as “fine, ethical, hard working professionals,” Galloway and Fiske failed to disclose that their own employer, Wells Fargo, has held the PRSA investment services contract for an undisclosed number of years and—per April and May 2018 PRSA national board meeting minutes—is under review via RFP competition for PRSA’s investment business, according to Hart and West.

Not only does the non-disclosure breach PRSA’s Code of Ethics‘ “Disclosure of Information” and “Conflicts of Interest” provisions, but it may also violate the Code’s lesser-known “Competition,” provision, specific to PRSA’s RFP situation with Wells Fargo and other wealth management service providers, Hart and West have said.

The “Competition” provision states that a PRSA member “shall follow ethical hiring practices designed to respect free and open competition without deliberately undermining a competitor.”

According to the allegations, the timing of Galloway’s and Fiske’s public statement to defend PRSA’s national board amid PRSA leadership’s own ethics controversy calls into question whether the move was intended to “score points” from the sidelines for Wells Fargo in defending its PRSA contract incumbency against RFP competitors also currently being evaluated.

“Only PRSA leadership, Mr. Galloway and Ms. Fiske can answer those questions—since we don’t know the answer—and we hope they will all choose to respond publicly by breaking with PRSA leadership’s current practice to ignore, dodge or dance around ethics questions at hand—all of which are self-inflicted with these kinds of choices and behaviors,” West said, in a news release.

PRSA’s leaders flatly rebuff Hart and West’s allegations that their requests have been ignored: “Over the last 18 months, PRSA volunteer leadership and staff have spent hundreds—if not thousands—of hours reviewing the concerns expressed by Mary Beth West and Susan Hart, and making recommendations to address them. 2018 PRSA Chair Anthony D’Angelo, APR, and PRSA CEO Joseph Truncale met with them in person to discuss their concerns in late 2017. Even with these efforts, PRSA has not been able to satisfy the two members. To imply that PRSA leadership has not been responsive to these members is inaccurate and damaging to the reputations of PRSA volunteers and staff that have engaged with them in good faith,” D’Angelo told Bulldog Reporter via email.

“West and Hart’s proposals have been submitted with the required number of signatures and are now moving through the process required of all bylaw proposals, which has been designed expressly to support the rights of individual members to propose amendments for the Society’s benefit. We welcome discussion on these proposals and recognize that constructive debate helps to advance the Society and the profession.

“While PRSA leadership looks forward to evaluating these proposals and others, we have significant concerns that ongoing communications from Mary Beth West and Susan Hart include public attacks on the character, motives and ethics of individuals who disagree with them. Their treatment of volunteer members through various channels, including news releases to the trade media, is appalling and not in keeping with our professional standards. In fact, their distribution of ‘news’ releases using the PRSA logo in which they simply quote each other’s opinions is obviously misleading; PRSA’s leadership has repeatedly been called upon by members and media outlets to clarify the resulting misperceptions. Mary Beth West and Susan Hart are two of approximately 21,400 PRSA members, and they do not officially represent the organization or speak for all of its members. They are offering opinion pieces or personal statements, not news or official announcements from PRSA, and should identify their offerings as such in order to comply with PRSA’s Code of Ethics,” D’Angelo added.


PRSA investment income down in 2018—member dues income also down

The most recent PRSA financial reports cite PRSA’s investments totaling $5.77 million. Investment income (unaudited) for Jan-March 2018 is reported by PRSA at $2,469, compared with last year’s Jan-March 2017 investment income of $173,868—a shocking decline. (Also noted in the Q1 2018 unaudited financials: PRAS dues revenue decline from $1.82 million for Jan-March 2017 to $1.79 million for Jan-March 2018).

PRSA drama escalates as Wells Fargo comms execs attack reform leaders

PRSA drama escalates as Wells Fargo comms execs attack reform leaders

PRSA drama escalates as Wells Fargo comms execs attack reform leaders

Wells Fargo is noted in the Hart/West allegations as not adequately responsive to PRSA Finance Committee “questions and concerns”

Alarmingly, the April 2018 PRSA national board meeting minutes indicated, “Due to the ongoing Wells Fargo investigations, and recent information calling out the Wealth Management Division, the (finance) committee asked for a response from the company to address the issues; the correspondence did not adequately address the questions and concerns.”

PRSA drama escalates as Wells Fargo comms execs attack reform leaders

PRSA drama escalates as Wells Fargo comms execs attack reform leaders

The minutes further note that “the Finance Committee made the recommendation to issue an RFP as part of PRSA’s financial due diligence. As part of Wells Fargo’s annual reporting, the current portfolio manager is scheduled to provide an in-person update at the June PRSA Board meeting.”  Because June 2018 national board meeting minutes have not yet been posted, Hart and West say it is unknown whether Galloway and/or Fiske participated in the in-person Wells Fargo update to the board.

May 2018 national board meeting minutes documented that “(PRSA CFO Philip) Bonaventura has reached out to six investment companies that an RFP will be released and to determine interest in responding. All expressed interest. The RFP will be released in early June with responses due by the end of June for review and acceptance in July. The Investment Committee will review and make a recommendation to the Board for approval. The current investment manager from Wells Fargo is scheduled to make a year to date portfolio performance presentation at the June board meeting.”

Hart and West say Galloway directly rep’ed Wells Fargo to PRSA Board in April 2017

Hart and West indicate that April 2017 meeting minutes last year even cited that during a PRSA national board “investment update,” that “Del Galloway, APR, Fellow PRSA, VP Communications, Wells Fargo (by phone), and Marja Rusch, CFA, Senior Investment Strategist, Wells Fargo Private Bank provided an overview of the Wells Fargo national issue and a PRSA market update, PRSA portfolio review and a summary of investment performance year-to-date.”

The document proves that Galloway himself has been directly engaged with representing Wells Fargo’s business interests and exerting his past PRSA leadership influence with the PRSA board, they assert.

PRSA drama escalates as Wells Fargo comms execs attack reform leaders

“Yet again, we have an instance of PRSA leaders—in this case, now past leaders—who’ve long pontificated about PRSA’s Code of Ethics, including its disclosure of information and conflict of interest provisions, failing to follow through in action,” West said. “Only in this case, the nondisclosures and conflicts go beyond the pale, relative to perceived self-interest and the potential for financial gain. Mr. Galloway and Ms. Fiske should answer questions immediately about whether they received any referral fees, commission income or other personal financial gain directly or indirectly from PRSA’s business with Wells Fargo at any time.”

Galloway, Fiske and others defend PRSA leadership amid documented ethics violations, the allegations claim

Hart pointed to the PRSA national board’s August 2017 decision to delete all national board meeting minutes from both its public-facing website and even the MyPRSA platform for member-only viewing—a decision for which 2017 leadership gave multiple, conflicting excuses in writing to various members, as documented by Hart and West.

Led by Hart, West and others, a protest movement of the board’s unprecedented actions helped restore the meeting minutes governance documents at least to member view—which the PRSA board places now in a difficult-to-locate alcove of the member-only MyPRSA site.

On August 31, 2017, West says she became the target of personal retribution by 2017 PRSA National Chair Jane Dvorak, APR, Fellow PRSA, who participated in a Skype call with West’s local chapter board of the Knoxville, Tennessee-based Volunteer Chapter, in which chapter meeting minutes documented numerous defamatory statements by Dvorak against West, including false information.

When West reported the incident, she alleges that Dvorak ignored the report without responding, and PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards did nothing to reprimand or censure the leader. A three-page BEPS memo issued to the PRSA Executive Committee on Oct. 2, 2017, which allegedly provided “recommendations,” made no mention of the Skype incident nor any guidance about avoiding false information-based defamation of PRSA members who register valid ethics concerns.

“Had we not seen the national board meeting minutes from this year and 2017, this egregious conflict of interest by Wells Fargo’s Mr. Galloway and Ms. Fiske would not have been known,” Hart said. “We are deeply disappointed yet again, but sadly, not surprised at this point.”

West says her attempt to speak directly with Galloway on July 1 was shunned

On July 1, 2018, following the Galloway/Fiske/et al MyPRSA posting, West says she reached out to Galloway privately by e-mail, requesting a “voice-to-voice conversation.”

Galloway allegedly wrote back, “No need to talk. In fact, I’d rather not,” and also stated to West among other comments, “The shrillness and mean-spiritedness of your posts are unproductive.” He stated to West that he is “agnostic” about the Hart/West bylaw proposals, she claims.

Ironically—and in a completely unrelated action that pre-dates Hart’s and West’s documentation of multiple PRSA Code of Ethics infractions by PRSA leadership—West wrote a local Greater Knoxville Business Journal column on Nov. 7, 2016, entitled, “Post-Wells Fargo, Banks Must Fight Crisis of Trust.”  West wrote the column as chair of the Knoxville, Tennessee-based PRSA Volunteer Chapter Senior Practitioners Group.

West discloses that she is an advisory board member in her local community in Maryville, Tennessee, for Memphis-based First Tennessee Bank (http://ir.fhnc.com/) for which she receives a modest stipend to attend monthly advisory meetings with other business leaders.

Hart and West continue to be the subject of an alleged smear campaign by current PRSA leadership, claiming that a specific cadre of past national presidents (those who signed the Galloway / Fiske letter), amid Hart’s and West’s proposed five national PRSA bylaw reforms that seek to enforce a stronger ethical backbone to PRSA’s compliance and accountability function.

Hart and West secured last week—and within nine business days of having been posted online—25 signatures for each of their five bylaw petitions, qualifying the proposals to be added to the Oct. 6, 2018 PRSA National Assembly agenda for a vote. Numerous other PRSA past national presidents who are not in the Galloway/Fiske/Barbour/Nall/Cherenson/Julin/Phair/Lewton Cadre took the leadership initiative to sign the Hart/West bylaw petitions, agreeing that the ethics reforms are in order.

The PRSA Code of Ethics is considered to be the gold standard of professional ethics standards in public relations.

In addition, specific to Galloway’s and Fiske’s actions, the American Bankers Association includes in its Code of Ethics—as the first item on the list—”Conduct my professional affairs in a manner that avoids a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest. If I become a party to a conflict, or the appearance of a conflict is created, I shall inform my supervisor as soon as possible.”

PRSA member call-to-action

Members are encouraged to join Hart and West in distancing themselves and PRSA’s 71-year historic mission from the personalities and decision-making that commit and/or defend actions violating the PRSA Code of Ethics by reasserting the larger membership’s commitment to #PRethics and joining the #TakeBackPRSA movement.

Members can contact their PRSA National Assembly delegate(s) who are set to represent their chapter, section, district and/or professional interest section Oct. 6 in Austin, Texas, to voice their position on the Hart/West bylaw amendment proposals.

Susan Hart can be contacted at susanhartpr@gmail.com and Mary Beth West can be contacted at mb@marybethwest.com.

Review the bylaw petitions proposed by Hart and West here:

Proposal 1:  Rename BEPS; Empower the National Assembly; Establish Ethics Review Task Force

Proposal 2:  Add an Ethics Officer (Ex-Officio) on the PRSA National Board

Proposal 3:  Revert Role of National Board in PRSA Officer Nominations to Pre-2016

Proposal 4:  Add a Voting Ethics Representative on the Nominating Committee

Proposal 5:  Add the Word “Nonpartisan” to PRSA’s Statement of Purpose

  1. View / Download PDF of bylaw here
  2. View / Sign Electronic Petition here

UPDATE: On July 9, the reform leaders said that PRSA National deleted all Hart/West ethics-reform bylaw proposal announcement news from its online MyPRSA member discussion forum, which included no content related to the Wells Fargo issue.

They say PRSA cited in a member notification about the sudden deletions that items being removed that day were “Due to the defamatory nature of recent posts attacking two distinguished past national chairs of PRSA and their employer Wells Fargo.”

According to Hart and West, PRSA also deleted the original post made by Galloway/Fiske, et al., which Hart and West say generated misinformation about their bylaw proposals’ intent. The deleted Galloway/Fiske post also had documented the original nondisclosure of the two PRSA Past Presidents’ Wells Fargo employment status, amid a current PRSA investment services contract RFP review now underway involving Wells Fargo as the incumbent.  A screen shot of the posting, however, was preserved by West prior to PRSA’s deletion of it.

In addition, Hart and West claim PRSA deleted a posting by Hart/West that posed 10 sets of follow-up questions about the PRSA / Wells Fargo relationship, in addition to deletions of separate questions by Hart and West about unresolved 2017 PRSA ethics concerns—which neither PRSA leadership nor PRSA’s Board of Ethics & Professional Standards ever answered, despite leadership’s report that they have “spent hundreds—if not thousands—of hours reviewing the concerns expressed.”

PRSA’s new content-posting rules on the MyPRSA online member forum includes a requirement not to “challenge” others or otherwise face termination as a user of the site.

PRSA drama escalates as Wells Fargo comms execs attack reform leaders

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