Keith Trivitt, who joined PR Society of America last October as associate director of PR after Joe DeRupo left, has faulted columnist Fraser Seitel’s Jan. 17 column (link, sub req'd) on PR ethics as lacking in “thoroughness.”

Seitel failed to acknowledge that the Society has been “speaking out against ethical issues within the profession and within the broader business community for quite some time,” wrote Trivitt, who was previously a PR pro at RLM PR, New York. RLM is headed by Richard Laermer, author of "Full Frontal PR" and other PR books.

Trivitt, who has a B.S. in exercise science from Truman State University (2007) and a Master’s in Sports Management from Illinois State University (2009), posted a letter under the Seitel column that said, “In the future, I’d encourage you to more thoroughly review the Society’s Advocacy News webpage to see where and when we have spoken out against unethical PR practices.”

Seitel Rapped “Toothless” Codes

Seitel had talked about a “sudden outbreak” of stories involving “ethical lapses” of PR firms. As covered, Doug Dowie and John Stodder of Fleishman-Hillard received jail sentences on 2006 charges involving inflated bills; an employee of IR firm Market Street Partners was charged with misuse of insider information; Greenpeace charged Ketchum and Denzenhall Resources with obtaining confidential client information, and PR pro Lanny Davis resigned as spokesman for Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo, who allegedly stole an election.

Both PRSA and the Council of PR Firms were “sadly silent” in response to these cases, wrote Seitel. Both have lofty codes but they are “toothless” if their leaders “refuse to stand up when one of their members violates the standards established,” he added.

PRSA ended enforcement of its code in 2000 and the Council has never undertaken ethics code enforcement.

PRSA -- Spare Us the Lectures

Given the PR Society’s track record of disregard of democratic principles, its secretive Assembly dominated by a small minority of APRs, its 14-year rip-off of authors (link, PDF); its late and substandard financial reporting; its denial of basic rights of members, including their right to have a list of other members in convenient form, and its draconian anti-press policies, it has no right to lecture anyone on ethics.

The press room of PRSA has a link to “finances” but it turns out a member user name and password are needed.

Its 2010 Assembly was an anti-democratic travesty. The APRs, who have had a chokehold on board and officer posts since the 1970s, cut off debate after a half hour on whether non-APRs could be on the board.

The reform itself was defeated overwhelmingly—172-104. One reason is that although the reform was proposed in April 2010, the Society’s Tactics monthly did not report it until September and online Tactics never mentioned it.

The Committee for a Democratic PRSA, which sponsored the reform, was not allowed to e-mail the membership list, a violation of the Society Code that promises the “free flow of information,” the “right of free expression,” and “respect for all opinions.”

We bet 95% of members didn’t even know the Committee existed.

The board backed the 2009 proposal on APR which already had been defeated. There’s nothing ethical about blockage of such important news.

The Society also blocks many of its members from knowing about the five O’Dwyer informational products by refusing to let this company advertise in its media. Members suffer a loss of information. That’s not ethical, either.

Assembly Is Star Chamber

A plea at the Assembly by Michael McDougall of Bausch & Lomb to reveal how delegates would vote on the APR proposal was trounced by a 233-45 margin.

The Assembly is a “Star Chamber.” A few insiders thus have access to this priceless political information which is stored on the electronic voting devices.

There has been only one roll call vote in the ten years electronic voting has been used. Members don’t have the verifiable record of how their delegates voted, which is standard practice in legislatures throughout the U.S.

It’s no wonder that this website only uses “America” once in stories and blogs about the Society—so that Google and other search engines will pick them up.

PRS has turned its back on basic American principles such as democracy, equal rights of all citizens (non-APRs are second class in PRS), fairness, transparency, and open legislatures.

Members of the U.S. Senate and House are known as well as what they say and how each one votes. PRS should follow that example.

Shortly after the Assembly, this reporter was set upon by a delegate screaming obscenities at us. There’s nothing ethical about that either or the refusal, so far, of the Society to investigate an attack on us by a “Flash Mob” of 20 delegates while in the middle of an interview with delegate Art Stevens, who heads the Committee for a Democratic PRS.

Robert’s Rules Trashed

Society leaders, while citing Robert’s Rules as the Assembly’s “parliamentary authority,” did everything to Robert’s except shred a copy on the stage. But when RR suited the Society's purpose, it was followed to the letter.

This happened when members of the Committee for a Democratic PRSA saw that the APR motion would go down to defeat if it came before the Assembly in the same form as in 2009. So about a month before the Assembly, it was proposed that the amendment be amended—a second qualification added to the requirement for board service.

Non-APRs could run if they had Society leadership posts or 20 years in PR posts with higher degrees of responsibility. Parliamentarian Colette Trohan said she would rule “out of order” any such change because it violated “scope of notice.” The board took that advice although one rule in RR is that nothing in it has to be obeyed.

It’s only “advice,” as chair Gary McCormick said Aug. 10, 2010 to the Lexington, Ky., chapter.

Never mind that the APRs were put “on notice” by the Strategic Planning Committee in 1999 that APR should be unconditionally removed throughout the bylaws. APRs have been successfully fighting that ever since.

Among RR rules that the Society is breaking are those that say a board is “subordinate” to an assembly if a group has an assembly; that proxy votes are forbidden; that all articles in a bylaws revision must be placed before an assembly, and that any tabulated votes must be in the minutes.

Advice of Webster’s New World Robert’s is that a revision should not be attempted at a regular annual meeting but only at a series of meetings.

The 2010 Society Assembly voted new bylaws at its regular annual meeting but, under RR, all votes that might have been decided by proxy votes can be challenged indefinitely. There is no statute of limitation on that.