Who’s to Blame for Widmer’s Theft?

The officers and board of the Auburn Teachers Association are taking a public beating for allowing the late Sally Jo Widmer unconstrained control of the union’s finances, which she allegedly proceeded to siphon to the tune of $808,000. They shirked their responsibilities, mostly out of deference to, and fear of, Widmer herself. But that’s only part of the story.

The aspect of the crime to which I keep returning is the small size of the ATA. With fewer than 400 members, only a handful of people would have any involvement at all with the local. Even if they had suspicions of Widmer, they would have to assume that the theft was relatively petty. The ATA took in less than $90,000 annually in dues for itself. Since the other officers seem to have received their small stipends, and there are no reports of the union having had its electricity and phones cut off, that leaves a ceiling of about $55,000 that Widmer could have swiped and covered up.

That’s a substantial amount when multiplied by six years, but it’s still less than half of the total amount of money missing. This means the bulk of the theft was from dues money meant to be sent up the line to New York State United Teachers and AFT. If Widmer had it, they didn’t, and why didn’t they say/do something about it?

The worry isn’t that a single local union officer can steal an oversized amount of money. It’s that there could be dozens of local union officers stealing oversized amounts of money and going undetected. That’s an oversight job for the state and national affiliates, not volunteer boards from tiny districts.