Members of the South Florida Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists hardly knew what hit them.
On November 19, student adviser Michael Koretzky of Florida Atlantic University's student paper, The University Press, led four of his students along with a merry band of admirers to the wine bar Hollywood Vine. That's where the meeting for the local chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists was holding its elections for board and president.
Koretzky managed to oust current SPJ president Julie Kay (read Kay's response here), and he may or may not be taking up her post as president when the dust settles. (Koretzky resigned this morning, click here)
Koretzky had been on the SPJ board a couple of years ago and he was fed up with business as usual. "They've violated the bylaws -- they didn't even hold an election last year," he says. "They put one woman on the board who had never been an SPJ member, another violation. They don't do any programming. But they do eat a lot of food."
"For years," Koretzky says, the local chapter has put more energy into "eating and drinking expensive dinners, bought with funds from the chapter's budget, than they have into doing any real work. They were holding their board meetings at the Westin."
Koretzky staged what some insiders are calling "a coup," stealing the election from current President Julie Kay. Supporters of the bearded brawler -- whose resume includes the editorship of many of South Florida's most radical weeklies over the years, including Ice and Free Press -- voted 19 to 13 to oust Kay and some of her fellow board members.
Only problem is: It's not clear if students are allowed to vote in SPJ elections. Students can be full SPJ members if there are no local student chapters. That's the case in South Florida, but the rules about voting are murky.
Shortly after the contested election, Kay sent this email to chapter members, advising them that a formal complaint had been filed with Kevin Z. Smith, national SPJ president:
We and the national organization have received numerous letters of complaint from members concerned about whether our bylaws were properly followed and whether a fair and open election was held. They also requested the national review.
That's fine with Koretzky. "There was a printed register at the entrance table. Everybody who voted signed it. Our bylaws state that candidates can be nominated from the floor. Thirty-four ballots were handed out. Thirty-four ballots came back. The votes were verified. Even discounting the four students, we still would have won. How is that suddenly more irresponsible than holding no election at all, like they did last year?"
After the votes were tallied, some board members worried that Koretzky planned to raid the chapter's 80K budget for student programs. "Oh no, they've discovered my evil plan!" Koretzky responds. "I'm actually going to spend some money on programming instead of cocktails, instead of unused airline tickets to conferences. They see right through me!"
SPJ's national headquarters has gotten hold of records of exultant tweets students and supporters sent out from the election on November 19. "Good for them," Koretzky says. "It's a sign of the changing face of media. They'll have tweets to use against me in the SPJ court of law."