Dana Cope, the indicted former executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, was a combative and politically active leader who cast himself as a champion of state workers, active and retired. He surrounded himself with loyalists, who stood by him even after The News & Observer reported Cope’s curious use of organization funds for his personal expenses, trips and other expenditures. Some of them even tried to talk The N&O out of publishing those reports, which ultimately led to investigations that produced felony charges (obtaining property by false pretenses) and possible jail time if Cope is convicted.
Now, one of Cope’s closest allies, Ross Hailey, a retired state employee, has been elected president of the organization. He was chosen over Art Anthony, whose brave whistle-blowing helped unearth the problems with Cope. The election, with fewer than 1,000 members voting (it represents 53,000 active and retired people), took place in Greensboro. It’s simply evidence that the same insiders who ran the group under Cope will remain in charge. One new first vice president, Stanley Drewery, even criticized the whistle-blowers in his acceptance speech.
Hailey was the SEANC board member tasked with investigating allegations against Cope. His conclusion was a rejection of all those allegations, as SEANC officials continued to defend the director. Then came indictments. Hailey tried to downplay his support of Cope, but too many of SEANC’s leaders have continued to blame news reports for the problems. Doubtless that will continue.
But SEANC is facing some serious challenges. The Cope issue has seriously damaged the organization’s credibility. The scandal at SEANC and the stubborn refusal of leaders to acknowledge its wide-ranging potential consequences are also likely to result in some members leaving the organization and others not joining.