Note: This story is the culmination
of a series of investigative reports over the course of months
written with fellow Review-Journal staff writer Lisa Kim Bach.
Jan. 22, 1998
Teachers union director resigns,
Stephen Confer quits amid
controversy from news stories of missing funds in a previous
By Steve Friess
Local teachers union Executive Director Stephen
Confer resigned Wednesday and blamed his departure on news accounts
of his questionable history with an Indiana union.
Sue Strand, president of the Clark County Classroom
Teachers Association, announced Confer's exit in a news release
and blamed "tabloid news reporting" for his downfall. She vowed
a return of the union's focus to protracted contract talks with
the Clark County School District, which have stalled while the
leadership handled the Confer controversy.
No one from the union would reveal the terms
of Confer's departure or the status of the remaining 10 months
of his contract. If paid to him, that would total about $100,000
in salary and benefits.
Confer had been on paid administrative leave
since news broke last month that he emptied more than $53,000
from the bank account of an Indiana union while in his previous
job in Fort Wayne.
Shortly after Confer took the helm of the 9,900-member
Clark County union in November 1996, Indiana officials launched
an internal investigation that found Confer wrote $45,316.73
in union checks to himself. Documents obtained by the Review-Journal
detailed the missing funds as reported to an insurance company
by the Indiana union, including $7,803.13 in personal charges
on an American Express account.
Confer said last month that he spent the money
on a covert investigation of officials in a sister union but
that nobody from his former union would acknowledge he had been
ordered to do so. He also said he used his retirement savings
to reimburse the union and to spare both sides further embarrassment,
despite his innocence.
Confer, reached at home Wednesday, said, "I
have nothing to say at all." He has made no public comments
since Dec. 19 and referred questions to his Las Vegas attorney,
James Smith. Smith refused comment and hung up on reporters.
He said he was too busy Wednesday to discuss Confer's case.
The four-paragraph news release Wednesday said,
"In his resignation letter, Confer noted that the series of
negative articles in the Las Vegas Review-Journal would continually
shadow his performance of duties as an executive director."
Strand also blamed the media, as she has done
repeatedly in the past month, and accused reporters of conspiring
with the school district to embarrass the union amid tense labor
talks. The first report of Confer's history was published two
days after Strand and Confer declared that negotiations were
at an impasse and that they were seeking binding arbitration.
"Tabloid news reporting is the way I felt this
has happened," Strand explained in an interview Wednesday.
The newspaper "thinks it's newsworthy," she
said. "I don't. The only people who this affects are my members.
The R-J's goal has been to get (Confer) to resign. Now they've
been successful and must be very proud of themselves."
Review-Journal Editor Thomas Mitchell defended
the newspaper's coverage and said "these have been factual stories,
and no one has contradicted a single word in any of them."
"We just told their 9,900 members that this
is what's going on and that there's a potential in there for
legal problems," Mitchell said. "There is no such thing as negative
or positive stories. There's truthful and untruthful.
"These are truthful. They just didn't like the
fact that we told the truth."
One union executive board member, who asked
to remain anonymous, said the association hopes to blame the
media instead of acknowledging Confer's problems.
"We put that in there to deflect attention,
and everyone knows it," one executive board member said. "Inside
the association, the real issue has been whether we want someone
like (Confer) as our chief representative -- which is what the
issue should be."
Strand also said in the release that the members
of Nevada's largest public employees union "have confidence
in CCCTA's leadership team and know that our association continues
to represent, involve and support them."
But that remains somewhat unclear. Several members
have complained in recent weeks, as well as on Wednesday, that
they have not received answers to their questions about the
"I would hope the president of the association
answers hundreds of questions the members have by releasing
all the relevant information," said Bob Broniecki, former union
president. "There are too many questions out in the schools.
We need hard facts and answers quickly."
And another past president, Barbara Belak, said
the media's coverage is welcome.
"It's a good thing," Belak said. "If Mr. Confer
was indeed involved in stealing money, then that is certainly
not the kind of person we wish to see at the helm of the teachers
Most members, regardless of their thoughts on
Strand's handling of the matter, said their top concern is the
effect of the controversy on labor negotiations.
"This came at a real inopportune time, at a
time when some people were trying to make us look as bad as
they can," said Orr Middle School Special Education Facilitator
Paul Feaker. "I question the timing of the whole thing and whatever
agendas are out there by people."
Assistant Superintendent Edward Goldman, the
district's chief negotiator, said the Confer issue has not affected
labor talks. Each side is meeting separately with a federal
mediator this week as would be expected, he said.
"The negotiations are not between Mr. Confer
and the district; they are between the CCCTA and the district,"
Goldman said. "I don't see how that has had any impact on negotiations
at this time."
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