Call it a Tale of Two Cities.
In Hollywood, the Screen Actors Guild's staff has mailed out ballots for the new election of national officers, i.e. president, recording secretary, and treasurer. The federal Labor Department has also informed SAG's national office that it is investigating the old election, consummated last November. SAG's national election committee ruled in January that the first election was void due to a staff ballot gaff, and ordered a new one. The guild's national board of directors recently replaced that panel with a new election committee. To add to the turmoil, news eked out this week that the staff may have erred yet again, this time allowing a non-candidate to issue a political statement via a membership-wide e-mail.
In New York, former SAG/NY President Lisa Scarola's attorney has challenged the local guild's election committee which has heard complaints to the SAG/NY balloting. Scarola and her fellow Clean Slate candidates lost out in the November election, and immediately filed petitions both in New York and with SAG's national office on the West Coast. Scarola's attorney has argued that a committee appointed by Scarola last October is the "properly constituted" panel to review the election complaints. The Scarola-appointed committee was overturned by the local board of directors, which appointed a different group.
Out West, newly elected SAG 1st V.P. Mike Farrell, who ran on the slate with Melissa Gilbert--winner of the presidential election in November--wrote an e-mail supporting Gilbert. The missive received distribution over the membership-wide network available only to candidates, according to Variety. SAG wasn't commenting on whether the mailing was legal or not; but the fact that there's a question about the legality could lead to a challenge of the current election.
On the federal investigation, the Labor Department never comments on whether it is, in fact, probing a union issue, but the agency reportedly has responded to a complaint Farrell and four others filed with the agency in January. The complainants, all supporters of Gilbert, challenged the authority of the national elections committee which overturned the election. The federal department will take up the specifics of the complaint in its probe.
Meanwhile, the leading national candidates in the rerun are firing volleys at each other. Farrell's e-mail complained that all five members of the former national election committee, which caused the rerun, were all supporters of Valerie Harper, Gilbert's opponent who lost by some 1,500 votes.
Harper's camp last week issued a statement charging that Richard Masur, former SAG national president, "has been working behind the scenes, attacking SAG presidential candidate Valerie Harper while claiming in public he has nothing to do with Melissa Gilbert's campaign." The statement claimed that Gilbert had "long been mentored by Masur," who was issuing e-mails "which assassinate Harper's character."
Masur later confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that he had sent three e-mails regarding the election. In one he said of Harper that, in his 25 years of knowing her, he had "never thought of her as a leader in any way." He accused her of moving "in perfect lock step with Daniels," meaning former SAG National President William Daniels, who defeated Masur two years ago for the head post.
New York Confidential
In the SAG/NY election battle, Robert N. Felix--the attorney for Scarola and fellow Clean Slate member Charles Gemmill--last month wrote Robert Pisano, the guild's national executive director-chief executive officer, a letter "demanding that the union convene the properly constituted NY elections committee immediately."
Felix's Jan. 9 correspondence stated, "In accordance with the New York rules of procedure, the following individuals were duly appointed by President Lisa Scarola during the NY board meeting of Mon., Oct. 22, 2001: Fransico Cali, Virginia Forst, Randy Fraiser, Alice Liu, and Lou Torres.
"If an improperly selected election committee is allowed to preside over and decide the serious election challenges my clients and others have raised, SAG will not only be in violation of its rules but will be compromising the integrity of the post-election process."
Scarola has argued that the SAG/NY rules of procedure specifically state that the local president will appoint the election committee.
Pisano didn't respond to Felix, but David Alter, SAG/NY's attorney, did. In a Jan. 14 letter, Alter said, "The NY board acted within the scope of its constitutional authority and did not violate the NY rules of procedure."
Alter noted that SAG/NY memoranda and board minutes "show that a consistent pattern and practice has been for the NY board to approve appointees to the election committee. The NY board acted within the scope of its authority in its appointment of the current NY election committee. Accordingly, such committee will continue its review of all challenges to the NY branch election of 2001."
Unlike the national election committee, which issued a public report of its findings in the national election, the SAG/NY board has acted in private, presenting no public information on its actions.