The West Michigan chapter board of the PR Society of America tonight takes up our complaint that a “Flash Mob” headed by chapter director and Assembly delegate Derek DeVries improperly harassed us while we were reporting on the Assembly Oct. 16 at the Washington Hilton.

Chapter response to us thus far is a near total stonewall.

About 20 delegates gave us pens which we later learned meant we were as “loony” as schizoid John Nash as portrayed in “A Beautiful Mind.”
We only reached one of the 15 West Michigan directors by phone and all 15 ignored e-mails in which we offered to present our side.
This is justice “PRSA-style” which we’re used to from the national board.

Robin Luymes
We did talk to chapter president Robin Luymes who told us there was no need to contact any of the other directors. He also said the board would take up our complaint tonight.

We’re Barred from Own Trial

Ignored was an e-mail to Luymes asking that we be teleconferenced into the board meeting so we could represent ourselves.

We’re being tried “in absentia” and one of the jurors is none other than DeVries, communications technology manager at Grand Rapids Community College, who has continued to regard us as a ripe target for ridicule.

His blog initially said were inaccurate (as usual) in describing the “Flash Mob” and we were a “legendary curmudgeon,” “occasionally misguided,” and like Nash, we have trouble “matching our version of reality with the version experienced by others.”

In a later blog, he says we have “gone off the deep end” in criticizing him.

We asked DeVries how could we know the motives of the pen-gifters when they all ran away except for one who said we had been picked for a “flash mob.”

DeVries explained on his blog that we are a familiar conference attendee (having attended 40 of them) and that attendees should give us their pens throughout the conference whenever they met us in a hallway.

In other words, we were to be subjected to conference-long ridicule and harassment.

Luymes recently joined 14,500-student Davenport University as executive director of communications. He also maintains his own firm, Luymes PR.

He was in the firm for a year after leaving Amway, where he was PR manager.

'Flash Mob' Part of a Pattern

DeVries and others are now trying to palm off the incident as a harmless prank that the national board knew nothing about and was just something cooked up by a “bunch of (delegate) goofballs” trying to “liven up” the Assembly and conference.

The 20 or so delegates, their watches synchronized, marched up to us exactly at 2:45 p.m. and started giving us their hotel pens. They barged into the middle of an interview we were trying to conduct with Art Stevens, chief spokesperson for the Committee for a Democratic PRSA, which had just suffered a stunning loss at the hands of the mostly APR-delegates.

Despite five months of work including collecting 450 signatures (305 of them publicly available), and tens of thousands of words posted on a Society e-group arguing the issue, the Committee lost big.

The 173-104 vote against letting non-APRs on the board was 81 short of the needed two-thirds majority. Only two chapters ever publicly supported the proposal—New York and Los Angeles.

Stevens, following the “flash mob” interruption, said the APR rule was the Society’s “Berlin Wall” that had to come down.

Other Harassments Took Place

The thoughtless and rude interruption of an interview by delegates who ran away might easily have been forgotten but it was part of a pattern of harassment of us that day.

For the first time in Assembly history, photographs and recording were banned. VP-PR Arthur Yann said in writing that we were not even to take a picture of the Assembly before it began. Failure to obey any of his rules would result in our being permanently banned from Assemblies, he wrote.

We needed help in note-taking since our son John was denied “credentials” on the ground he sells ads (which we also do).

A free-lance reporter helped us in the morning but could not stay for the afternoon session during which the meaning of PR was discussed for three hours.

Journalist groups are opposed to “credentialing” reporters since this can be a device for eliminating critics.

There are occasions when there are so many reporters that “pool” reporters must be chosen but the Assembly was not one of these. John O’Dwyer would only have been the third reporter in the room and barring him constituted interference with journalistic coverage.

The International News Safety Institute, Brussels, says “The exercise of journalism and journalist freedom is not made dependent on accreditation.”

Should there be an accreditation, it should be “normally granted,” it says.

Journalist groups uniformly rap any interference with news coverage, which the ban on recording certainly did.

While waiting to be picked up in front of the hotel, a man identified later as an Assembly delegate by Yann, came up and shouted a string of obscenities to us in front of a hotel doorman.

We were accused of “kissing” Marisa Vallbona who had just been elected to the board. We tried to explain to the assailant that Vallbona had known us for many years and had traded 48 e-mails with us in the past two months (23 from her to us). We thought she was still our friend when we lightly embraced her when she passed in front of us at the hotel.

This verbal assault was a crime and not the first one committed against us during or after an Assembly. In 2003, an entire day of notes was stolen from our conference bag when we turned our back. The notes were about a heated debate on removing the APR requirement for delegates. The bylaw was defeated that year but passed in 2004 by six votes.

Another crime that the Society committed against us was the sale of at least 50,000 copies of our articles without out permission from 1980-1994. The “info pack” business was immediately closed when we outed it.

'Jurors' of West Michigan Listed

Here are the “jurors,” except for Luymes and DeVries who have already been named, who will take up our case (sans us) tonight:

--Kristin Mooney, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
--Andrea Clark, Amway Corp.
--Susan Huls, Herman Miller
--Latricia Trice, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce
--Brian Burch, Lambert Edwards ($5.7M PR firm)
--Rick Jensen, news manager, Davenport University
--Roberta King, Grand Rapids Community Foundation
--Nick Wasmiller, Seyferth & Assocs.
--Kate Washburn, Wondergem Consulting
--Juanita Vorel, Priority Health
--Lindsey Rodarmer, Bronson Healthcare Group
--Kate Woodruff, Kate Woodruff Communications
--Molly Klimas, Intent PR

APR directors are Luymes, Clark, Woodruff, King, Klimas and Washburn.