In the Room Where it Happened: PRSA and the Case of the “Missing” Fellows

PRSA's College of Fellows is in trouble, with one-third of its members M.I.A. But given years of such bad history, who can blame defectors?

It’s not a Broadway musical.

Nor is it a revival of a “Nancy Drew” or “Hardy Boys” mystery series…

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) apparently has “lost” 198 of its 541 living College of Fellows (COF) members, but leaders can’t figure out why.

Interestingly, I’m one of the “missing,” at least as per the COF’s own “once a Fellow, always a Fellow” moniker.

Meanwhile, PRSA, Inc., Headquarters apparently doesn’t believe such inclusiveness applies to every inducted person of the COF, at least not if her name is “Mary Beth West.” But maybe such inconsistencies are part of the problem for PRSA, Inc., as well as for the COF.

Their leaders don’t really want to admit to the methods of their own resulting failures, given that documented cover-ups in the Age of Disinformation are rather frowned upon in legitimately ethical PR professional circles.

PRSA, Inc., long ago forfeited its own membership card within such polite company, opting instead for “Get Out of Jail Free,” which arguably is becoming a plea of increasing necessity.

The posting was “A Message from (PRSA College of Fellows) Chair, Philip Poole, APR, Fellow PRSA.”

Mr. Poole’s message documents that PRSA’s College of Fellows (COF) – which brands itself as “the gold standard for public relations professionals” – is missing more than ONE-THIRD (36%) of its living membership, due to 198 living Fellows opting out of being dues-paying PRSA members anymore:

Naturally, I find this stunning statistic newsworthy, as well as Mr. Poole’s brand-promise, of sorts, that states, “Remember, once a Fellow always a Fellow, regardless of professional status.”

What does he mean by “professional status”? Does this mean that a Fellow is allowed to become “unprofessional” and still be a Fellow? Because if that’s the case, then it sure explains a lot to me, in my dealings with many of these people over many years (although I hasten to add that there are also many COF members who I know are very good, honest people and fine professionals who do not deserve criticism for others’ actions).

Does this “always a Fellow” rule apply to the case of Mary Beth West, APR, Fellow PRSA? (That’s me, by the way).

PRSA purposely made this false, highly unethical, intentionally misleading, unannounced website deletion in 2021, as part of its illegally retaliatory and dehumanizing “degradation ceremony” of me early that year, because I had uncovered and reported major incidents of PRSA leadership’s unethical misconduct, from 2017-2020. PRSA’s misconduct also included years of unexplained financial discrepancies into the millions of member dollars, on top of noncompliant reporting failures in PRSA’s so-called “audited” financials.

I’ve also discovered that PRSA has even deleted from its online newsroom archive the original news release in 2017 announcing the new class of COF inductees… I presume because I was listed:

I was indeed inducted into the PRSA College of Fellows in 2017, the very year in which I began observing serious ethics misconduct, starting with decisions and communications by PRSA’s then-National Chair.

I later reported the problems to PRSA’s College of Fellows leadership, hoping for solidarity and cooperation to ask PRSA National to cease the misconduct.

However, it became clear that, as a group, too many of those with the COF wanted to be appointed in the future to other high-profile posts or chairmanships or maybe even to the PRSA Board itself. These folks made it clear: they refused to rock the PRSA National boat.

Naturally, it was deeply disappointing to know that PRSA’s “gold standard” College of Fellows didn’t have my back. For that matter, they didn’t even have the back of PRSA’s Code of Ethics, which, like me, was left twisting in the wind by the COF’s abandonment.

My close colleague, Susan Hart, also was a College of Fellows member.

She battled alongside me in 2017-18 for ethical accountability from PRSA leaders, as well as for PRSA to codify in bylaws that it would operate as a nonpartisan organization on a going-forward basis. Like me, Susan, too, was told her opinions and concerns didn’t matter, to the extent that COF leadership planned to do exactly nothing to help us push for positive change.

In disgust with PRSA — after suffering a great deal of abuse from a bewildering number of pro-leadership Fellows — Susan chose to drop her own 35-year PRSA membership, including her “Fellows” status, in December 2018. (So, Susan is verifiably one of the now-“lost” 198, although I can assure you, she hardly considers herself “lost” from PRSA, or, pretty much anywhere.)

It’s a name that has stuck… again, with justifiable reason.

For all their talk of “Aspiring Higher,” when the chips have really been down in years since 2017, and it really mattered for the COF to do the right thing, the COF’s Board has never risen far above lowest-common-denominator status.

Where was the honor?

Where was the institutional backbone?

Where was the integrity that the College of Fellows proselytized as PRSA religion, for years and years?

I hold in my voluminous PRSA litigation files numerous hours of recorded phone conversations from back in 2017, which PRSA also recorded, including 2017 PRSA Chair-Elect Anthony D’Angelo and then-PRSA CEO Joseph Truncale.

But these recordings also document these men’s unwillingness to actually DO anything about it.

Instead, their non-strategy hinged on waiting it out and suffering through the 2017 Chair finishing her catastrophic term, after which, they blessedly would be done with her, they essentially said.

It was these men’s plan then to pick up and carry on, as if nothing bad had ever occurred in PRSA, despite a hideous litany of new precedents having been dropped like nuclear bombs throughout 2017 into the fabric of the organization.

In 2017-18, my only path to report the misconduct had been to contact the PRSA Board and executive staff directly. That’s what Susan Hart and I did… on many, many occasions.

We even contacted PRSA’s Board of Ethics & Professional Standards (BEPS), thinking they were empowered to help make PRSA’s misconduct stop (and in 2017, BEPS even led us down a primrose path to believe that was the case). But BEPS then itself balked, instead only giving PRSA’s National Board some optional “recommendations” on remediating what already had been made radioactive, which PRSA’s 2017 Chair promptly ignored.

When PRSA finally created through its bylaws what it marketed as a “grievance procedure” – with an actual written policy & procedure not released to members until 2019 – the rules clearly were meticulously crafted (as overseen by College of Fellows members, incidentally — like Governance Committee Co-Chairs Mary Deming Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA and Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA) with one, contrived, unethical purpose in mind:

…To allow PRSA, Inc. national leadership to thwart criticism or any potential investigation of themselves by being able to dismiss valid complaints of leadership misconduct outright as somehow being without “merit,” yet easily place rank-and-file members with little power within the organization in the crosshairs of PRSA’s own organizational retaliation machine.

PRSA, Inc.’s National Board even passed — as per Board meeting minutes in 2019 — a new “policy” to make sure that the identities of both Audit Committee and Grievance Committee members were kept concealed and hidden from member view except to “relevant parties” of PRSA, Inc.’s own selective choosing, since everything they did now “require(d) confidentiality” (Wink!):

PRSA’s bylaws also were amended to give PRSA’s Audit Committee powers “without limitation,” including taking receipt of all member whistleblower complaints to determine whether or not complaints had enough merit actually to be investigated (Wink!):

But if I saw additional violations, I wasn’t going to back down in protesting them. And I didn’t back down, much to PRSA’s anger that they could not intimidate me.

After I began vocally reporting in 2019 and 2020 PRSA’s financial-management discrepancies, unlawful reporting practices, and financial losses (ultimately totaling millions in member dollars), PRSA, Inc. escalated its unlawful retaliation — big-time.

A past Chair of PRSA’s College of Fellows — Deb Radman — telephoned me, quite out-of-the-blue, one evening in December 2020… screaming at and cursing me within about one minute of the conversation, literally.

Ms. Radman told me that if I didn’t go-along-to-get-along in PRSA, stop reporting misconduct, and instead support / “work with” the upcoming 2021 PRSA National Chair, Michelle Olson, that Ms. Radman would make sure I was harmed.

Ms. Radman claimed Ms. Olson wanted to make me a “special counsel” appointed member of the PRSA Board in 2021. It was immediately clear to me that Ms. Olson reasoned she could silence me on a going-forward basis, if she could make me part of the very body I had spent years protesting.

But instead of floating this idea to me herself, Ms. Olson wanted her friend Ms. Radman to do it for her, which confused me and sent up an immediate red-flag.

Ms. Radman then immediately barraged me that night with texts from her cell phone, reiterating her prior verbal threats, saying she would “end it” at my “peril” if I didn’t do what she commanded of me.

She even proclaimed to me that she had “recorded” her earlier phone call to me… with it heavily implied that she possibly might seek to blackmail me in some way, even though I had said nothing compromising of myself during Ms. Radman’s short-lived, abusive, expletive-laden phone call to me:


When I immediately and formally reported this horrific incident in writing to PRSA’s legal counsel, Venable, LLP, PRSA’s attorney dismissed my report outright, in order to deflect for his client while protecting pro-leadership bullies who paid his invoices (with PRSA member dollars, mind you).

The PRSA lawyer claimed in a letter on December 8, 2020, to my attorney (excerpt below) that Ms. Radman’s threats to me were not PRSA, Inc.’s problem, since Ms. Radman wasn’t on PRSA’s current National Board or on paid staff and therefore wasn’t an official spokesperson for the organization:

So, essentially, PRSA HQ — through its attorney, and with the approval of 2020 PRSA National Chair Garland Stansell — told me to go jump in the lake and, by default, that any thuggery the PRSA National Board wanted to dispatch upon me accidentally-on-purpose after business hours in order to render abuse and emotional distress upon me was perfectly fine by them, as they had no stated plans or intentions either to punish or even dissuade it.

To this day, her picture appears prominently online as a past chair of the COF. Clearly, she has been protected.

PRSA’s 2021 National Chair, Michelle Olson, made sure of that, in shielding her friend / consigliere, after my formal, written complaint. I later put 2-and-2 together, that Ms. Olson opted to send someone else to make offers to me on her behalf that she didn’t think I could refuse, since doing so was tantamount to a non-monetary bribe.

I guess I should feel lucky that I didn’t wake up one morning with a bloody horse’s head in my bed, although my own attorney did advise me that I might wish to consider a restraining order against Ms. Radman, due to the “perilous” tone of her threats against me.

Ms. Radman later made other attempts to contact me, and, thinking she might later have thought better of her prior threats and ugliness toward me, I agreed to have a new phone conversation with her, under advance terms-and-conditions that we mutually agreed to, to allow the conversation to be audio-recorded. Having my own recording of any conversation with this person was the only way I felt reasonably safe. Plus, by recording it, I could have indisputable evidence later of precisely what her intent was on Michelle Olson’s behalf, in case I misunderstood it earlier during Ms. Radman’s prior rant.

She said that if I agreed never to sue PRSA or take legal action, then Ms. Olson’s offer stood of appointing me to her 2021 PRSA National Board and restoring my reputation in PRSA, which Ms. Olson had played a significant role in trashing through years of her own prior Board involvement.

Some of the excerpts of this conversation included the following quotes from Ms. Radman, which I later committed to paper in reviewing my audio-recordings:

When I later reached out to Ms. Olson directly for explanations about why she sent someone else to have this conversation with me instead of herself, Ms. Olson refused to return a phone call or e-mail, thus proving to me that she knew what she had done in sending an intermediary to do her dirty work for her was gravely wrong, potentially even at odds with legal compliance.

Less than two months later, immediately after new CEO Linda Thomas Brooks was hired, and under the secret maneuverings of additional College of Fellows members – including two staff public relations officers of ethics-embattled Wells Fargo (a company that I also had vocally criticized for its ethics failures in 2016 due to its fake-accounts scandal) – this small, secretive group activated PRSA’s brand-new “grievance procedure.”

Stacking their kangaroo court with numerous Past PRSA Chairs and Fellows whom I earlier had reported in prior years for ethics violations themselves, this small mob declared I was guilty as charged of the “ethics” infraction of harming PRSA’s “reputation.”

For example, they blamed me for this 2020 PRWeek editorial criticizing PRSA, which I had nothing to do with and had no knowledge of until it was published. When I asked the editor of PRWeek-US if he knew the basis of my being accused of being responsible for his own article, he wrote me back:

I provided his statement to PRSA’s kangaroo court, but they said it was “unpersuasive” and that I was guilty of the story’s existence anyway.

Another example:

They blamed me for this incident of corporate trademark infringement (below), committed by Gary McCormick, APR, Fellow PRSA (and 2023 PRSA “Gold Anvil” Awardee), which I had nothing to do with conceptualizing, designing, editing, or paying for.

In fact, I resigned from my decade-long post as co-chair of the Champions for PRSSA, immediately after I discovered this ripped-off graphic had actually been produced by Mr. McCormick through improper channels and not as part of a General Mills-approved template on the open market, which had been my presumption when Mr. McCormick began posting it in social media.

Mr. McCormick even had admitted in 2020 to his role in this situation, in a mea culpa e-mail to then-PRSA National leadership, which someone sent to me later who was made privy to it:

Yet only months later, Mr. McCormick signed his own name to his fellow Fellows’ “grievance” against me in 2021, and, now, flanked by his own cronies and compadres, was singing a very different tune… claiming I was the one who really needed to be punished for the trademark infringement instead of him.

I later found a Google Docs folder online with a bevy of files that I had access to by virtue of my having been a past co-chair of the Champions for PRSSA. Mr. McCormick owned the Google Docs folder, but perhaps through operator-error did not prevent me from seeing it after I reported the trademark-infringement problem.

Google’s automatic labeling function within Google Docs clearly documented that Mr. McCormick had created and then later “restricted access” to his own trademark-infringed files tied to this incident, on August 31, 2020. I took screen-shots of it when I stumbled upon it, for my records:

I sent more than 100 pages of documentation rebutting false complaints and charges registered against me, to the “Grievance Panel.” But none of it mattered.

They claimed that any prior complaints I made previously harming PRSA’s precious “reputation” was an automatic “ethics” infraction on my part — although PRSA’s actual Code of Ethics states nothing of the sort of PRSA being “above the law” or “untouchable” or not subject to any ethical accountability itself.

In fact, they were so hellbent on succeeding in their conviction-in-search-of-evidence sham targeting me, that they brought on a PRSA Board of Ethics & Professional Standards (BEPS) member, Karen Swim, to help adjudicate the “case” against me.

Ms. Swim simultaneously was listed in the “grievance” documents against me as an allegedly “aggrieved” party herself… meaning, PRSA planted a veiled plaintiff inside the jury box by recruiting Ms. Swim to help find against me. And Ms. Swim was fine with that! So, too, apparently was BEPS!

Sound “ethical” in the “conflict of interest” department?

Ms. Kerr — also a past Chair of the College of Fellows, just as Ms. Radman was — served as one of four people on the “Grievance Panel” adjudicating PRSA’s kangaroo court (the other three people being Karen Swim, then-new PRSA CEO Linda Thomas Brooks, and now-2024 PRSA National Chair Joseph Abreu).

Ms. Kerr had been one of many COF Board members who dismissed prior ethics concerns of leadership from 2017-2020, outright.

Ms. Kerr now thought nothing in 2021 of playing her own personal role in this sham — I presume because she knew she would be protected from any accountability later (just as her COF colleague and COF Chair predecessor, Ms. Radman, was being actively protected). After all, Ms. Kerr was a big fan of the 2017 PRSA Chair… and had made her lack of partiality already known, in this “grievance” against me in which Jane Dvorak was also a cited “complainant”:

PRSA, Inc., told me I was now expelled out of not only PRSA but also the College of Fellows (so much for Mr. Poole’s “once a Fellow, always a Fellow” claptrap).

They then secretly deleted my name from PRSA’s website falsely as never having been inducted in PRSA’s College of Fellows.

Deleting my name from the Fellows site is entirely consistent with PRSA, Inc.’s having retroactively altered its own financial statements on more than one occasion – also secretly and unannounced – in order to cover up other facts that it doesn’t want people to know, tied to massive losses of member dollars and the precise sources of those losses.

Back in 2020 when I had tried to force explanations for financial discrepancies on PRSA’s “MyPRSA” member-only intranet discussion board, Philip Poole, APR, Fellow PRSA — who was not COF Chair back then — opted not to acknowledge my urgent concerns about “our” membership association’s finances.

Since he himself apparently didn’t share my financial concerns, he belittled me and trivialized my efforts to demand integrity, admonishing me for using words like “us” and “we” in my own online posts, in my trying to lend voice to all PRSA members’ rights to accurate and timely information about PRSA’s finances:

Folks: This behavioral mindset is the very type of reason why the PR industry struggles with earning c-suite respect.

There I was, back in 2020, ringing alarm bells to my then fellow PRSA members, about highly substantive and even existential matters of PRSA’s financial health, because I genuinely cared about the organization and was sick of seeing it go down the toilet.

Yet certain COF folks like Mr. Poole couldn’t get unwrapped from around “their” own axle, clutching “their” pearls over… pronouns.

Not to be outdone by his own prior remarkable lack of self-awareness, Mr. Poole has now taken it upon himself in recent days to ponder out-loud why almost as many Fellows have voluntarily opted out of current-day PRSA dues-paying membership in 2023-24 as have died over the course of 35 years since the College of Fellows’ founding in 1989.

I gather it hasn’t dawned on Mr. Poole or his COF leadership team to do what competent PR people are supposed to do when they are confounded by a problem of human awareness or behavior: research it for answers. Administer a survey! Hold some focus groups! Gather objective data!

But no.

In COF Land, such solutions are apparent non-starters — particularly if there might be genuine fear of what they will find out or unearth from actually asking “lost” Fellows their opinions or experiences within PRSA or COF.

To wit, it also apparently hasn’t dawned on Mr. Poole that 198 very honorable Fellows might possibly be so disgusted and turned-off by what they’ve seen of PRSA’s shenanigans over the past decade, that they can’t stomach PRSA’s clown-car anymore.

I’ll venture to guess that COF has actually lost 198 of their very best-and-brightest leaders… for the express purpose that these good folks have seen PRSA’s truth, and it nauseates them.

So yeah. It’s no wonder COF is feeling the loss, given who’s left behind to steer this inexplicable ship.

What’s more, Mr. Poole should know by now that PRSA’s clown car continues to be driven by a national leadership who posted some $5.4 million in math errors on PRSA’s legally noncompliant balance sheet only months ago, in December 2023.

And if Mr. Poole is ignorant of that fact, then maybe he and the COF Board finally need to wake up from being asleep at the wheel, or otherwise stop willfully participating in being spoon-fed complete lies from PRSA, Inc., which constantly operates in “CYA” mode.

Or, maybe he simply doesn’t care how much member money gets misplaced or unaccounted for, as long as he gets his fancy “chairman” title and a mention on the PRSA website. But I’ll venture to guess that 198 “lost” COF members care. And many of them have probably voted with their feet.

I don’t know Mr. Poole personally — and admittedly, I’m excessively frustrated as well as heartbroken by events since 2017.

While I’m sure Mr. Poole has many nice qualities as a person, I only know the dismissive, disrespectful, and dare I say, sexist, manner that I feel he treated me and my valid concerns, in 2000, as well as what I perceive as the tone-deafness of his “Lost and Found” message now, given the COF’s own veiled behaviors and actions.

In good faith, this member asked for a logical explanation to these obvious and major financial discrepancies in PRSA’s 2023 balance sheet.

This chapter member was actually quite courageous in sticking his neck out and making that phone call, in my view. He certainly demonstrated a level of courage I did not find from the COF across the years in question.

When he spoke directly with PRSA’s CEO Linda Thomas Brooks, she took no responsibility.

Instead, she promptly blamed CFO Philip Bonaventura’s math errors on an innocent, unnamed PRSA graphic designer of the “Year in Review” brochure, in which the errant, noncompliant 11-month balance sheet was published by PRSA without Ms. Thomas Brooks, Mr. Bonaventura, or PRSA’s Treasurer catching the glaring mistakes (plural). Ms. Thomas Brooks thought nothing of throwing an unsuspecting employee (or contractor) under the bus, when in point of fact, the degree and types of math errors (plural) could in no way have been “graphic design” malfunctions, either.

Yet Ms. Thomas Brooks peddled this myth to the chapter member, thinking him none-the-wiser and with no other choice but to take her word for it.

PRSA’s Chief Clown even ended her conversation with this concerned chapter member who had telephoned her, by laughingly, accidentally-on-purpose, calling hima troublemaker” at the end of their phone call.

I presume this man needs to watch his Ps and Qs, or PRSA’s clown car might come after him, next.

And PRSA wonders why it has culture problems!

With this appalling history recounted, all of the clowns at PRSA – and sadly, there are enough of them to make the long-dead P.T. Barnum rise from the grave to PRSA’s three-ring circus with dollar signs in his eyes – may want to re-check their own ethical compliance.

Again, PRSA’s COF includes many terrific people and excellent professionals who have no idea any of this stuff ever happened, as PRSA has turned itself into a pretzel either hiding evidence of it — such as literally hitting the “delete” button as it suits them — or, completely misrepresenting facts to people who’ve ever called Headquarters to inquire.

But how is it supposed to reflect on all Fellows — and all PRSA members, for that matter– that in recent years it’s suddenly deemed business-as-usual for PRSA to rewrite history, tamper with data, delete online records, systemically mislead people, and even threaten people with little power in the organization (whether overtly – “…at your peril!” – or tongue-in-cheek – “…troublemaker… ha-ha”).

In 2017 — the very year PRSA’s National Chair, Jane Dvorak, preached to the world the great evils of “alternative facts” — I, Mary Beth West, was inducted into PRSA’s College of Fellows.

That is a fact, although PRSA now gives license to the likes of Jane Dvorak, APR, Fellow PRSA and her COF tribe to peddle an “alternative” lie that I never was part of the COF “community” at all.

After years and years now of abuse, gaslighting, whisper campaigns, false accusations, and debasement I’ve been subjected to at the hands of PRSA, the COF, Ms. Dvorak and so many others, I am owed at least this much:

The Truth.

Speaking of which…


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