By Larry Landaker, Publisher, PEC Truthwatch
James Oakley surely believes he is a clever man, perhaps too clever by half. Today, an Oakley bombshell that landed in the Austin American Statesman may hold financial implications for PEC.
Readers will recall that last May PEC’s CEO, John Hewa, resigned in protest, alleging that he and other employees were retaliated against by board members for objecting to Mr. Oakley’s now-infamous “time for a tree and a rope” Facebook comments. Those were serious charges. In the face of Mr. Hewa’s accusations and, according to an article in the Austin American Statesman on July 13, Hewa accepted $1.1 million in separation pay, characterized in the story as “leave quietly” money.
As far as anyone knows, Mr. Hewa has gone quietly. He must have been surprised to see the amount of his separation pay published in the newspaper. There was, presumably, a customary confidentiality agreement to which he has apparently adhered. Such an agreement would typically bind the parties to silence about the deal. Any breach of such an agreement can open the parties to litigation and such litigation would expose the co-op to further financial risk. While it appears certain that Mr. Hewa has not breached the confidentiality agreement, it is less clear about PEC.
Apparently stung by accusations that he, Mr. Oakley, led the retaliation efforts against Mr. Hewa, Oakley apparently reached out to the Austin American Statesman yesterday in an effort to plant a different spin on the story. According to the Statesman, Oakley implied that “other factors” were at play in Hewa’s exit. Unprompted by Statesman reporter, Bob Sechler, Oakley blurted out the following:
“I am not authorized to comment on the performance of former CEO John Hewa. He then declined to elaborate saying, “It’s up to the reader to imply what they want” from the comment. Wow. Very clever. Just as the famous rhetorical question goes, “when did you stop beating your wife?”
Oakley’s carefully crafted quote amounted to nothing more than a loaded comment, a rhetorical device meant to draw the reader toward an intended conclusion–in this case that Mr. Hewa left the cooperative under a cloud of questionable performance. Mr. Oakley’s sophistry permits him to walk away and deny that he meant any such thing. So he thinks. Perhaps it is up to Mr. Hewa and his attorneys to imply what they want.
During Mr. Hewa’s tenure on the board, PEC’s performance was measured by a “best practices” list of performance metrics. Under Mr. Hewa’s tenure, those metrics consistently showed PEC performance improving, growing, exceeding, etc. in nearly every category. Those are immutable facts. PEC, under John Hewa, excelled. The result was reduced debt, lower rates and better service for the members. During this period, one could hear Mr. Oakley speak in praise of Mr. Hewa, publicly and behind the scenes.
Mr. Hewa considers his high professional and personal reputation to be sacrosanct. With no apparent impulse control, Mr. Oakley chose today to publicly impugn Mr. Hewa’s reputation.
Hewa never wanted a fight with Mr. Oakley or PEC. He was, in fact its leader and he shared with some that he could imagine retiring there. He hoped to continue to build PEC into a better, stronger cooperative. He never imagined that an elected cooperative board member would utter such words but when Mr. Oakley did, Mr. Hewa attempted to separate those words from the values of PEC and defend the African American employees who rose to speak in righteous protest.
Everyone–members, John Hewa, the tattered reputation of the board, the long-suffering employees–all have paid a big price for those 7 words.