Guild’s Leadership in Disarray from Tainted Election

The Screen Actors Guild is in disarray. SAG’s elections committee astounded Hollywood on Jan. 7 by setting aside Melissa Gilbert’s Nov. 2 victory as SAG president, along with wins by Elliott Gould for secretary and Kent McCord for treasurer. The five-member committee, headed by Fred Savage, set a rerun and blasted SAG staff and Sequoia Voting Systems, which conducted the election which was tainted by misconduct that may have affected the outcome.   The two main reasons put forth by the committee in their decision was the deletion from the ballot package sent to New York branch members of a member signature line and instructions to sign the return ballot envelope which violated the SAG constitution  as well as two extra days allotted to New York branch voters to return their ballots.

“We have a serious concern about the short-term and long-term integrity of SAG’s election process,” the panel wrote. “The committee has unanimously concluded that the manner in which the election of the three top officers was conducted falls far short of measuring up to the standards of a fair and level playing field, which is the cornerstone of the democratic process our members and candidates are entitled to receive.”

However, adding to SAG’s bitter internal feuding, SAG staff threw gasoline on the fire by claiming Gilbert, Gould and McCord should remain in their slots until the rerunning of the election is concluded Apr. 10. The reasons: “To avoid the undesirable consequence of a void in leadership” and the need to be “consistent” with federal law, even though the election had been invalidated.

When Gilbert opened a National Executive Committee meeting the next day, several committee members asserted she no longer had the authority to serve and suggested that First Vice-President Mike Farrell or ex-president William Daniels be installed as acting president. But SAG attorneys insisted the committee could not toss Gilbert, Gould, and McCord out.

That position perplexed and angered several elected leaders and candidates, most notably Eugene Boggs, who finished third in the presidential voting behind Gilbert (45%) and Valerie Harper (39%). Boggs, a law professor who had already accused staff of showing a clear preference for Gilbert, insists SAG’s attorneys have erred, since federal labor law only applies when a union does not resolve an election internally. “SAG’s election committee has reached a final decision, so this election is over and can’t be challenged any longer,” Boggs declared. “Melissa Gilbert cannot legally serve as president; her doing so is putting SAG in legal jeopardy for any actions it takes.”

Boggs started to make good on his promise to try ousting Gilbert, Gould and McCord. He brought up a motion to remove the trio at the Jan. 28 nat’l board meeting, citing language in the SAG constitution providing two options: if the president’s office is vacant, the First Vice-President should be installed as acting president; or the national board can elect a president, secretary and treasurer to fill the vacancies for the balance of the term. “The only way Melissa could legally become president before April 10 is if the national board decides to elect her at a meeting before then,” he says.

Boggs, who has not decided if he will go through the rerun, offers the following scenario: If she remains in office, Gilbert will have a huge advantage during the upcoming campaign, which could lead to the rerun election also being invalidated, either by SAG or the Dep’t of Labor.

Additionally, on Jan. 11, SAG member Paul Petersen launched a letter-writing campaign calling for SAG national executive director-CEO Bob Pisano and current president Melissa Gilbert to hold a special hearing looking into the validity of last week’s decision, which Petersen contends should be null and voided. In his letter, Petersen cited eight separate charges against the committee, with the central tenet being that the five person committee acted outside its jurisdictional authority in determining that the national election be re-run. [Variety, Hollywood Reporter 1/14/02]