Trouble on the Iowa

  • 10/02/2014
  • Reporters Desk

By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

That the USS Iowa is open for the third consecutive year in the Los Angeles Harbor is a victory in itself.

The floating museum exceeded the Port of Los Angeles’ expectations of 188,000 visitors per year in its first two years, drawing more than 200,000 visitors each year. In 2013, it topped out at 244,000.

This year, the downtown plaza watercut opened just ahead of the festival of TallShips lead by a giant rubber duck. That  festival drew more than 270,000 visitors during the last three weeks of this summer.

However, this year’s numbers for the battleship museum are down from the first two years. Despite the summer activity on the waterfront those numbers are still within the expectations of Jonathan Williams, the Pacific Battleship Center’s president and CEO.

“We are going into our third full year of operations and as expected we are slightly down on year two,” Williams replied in an email correspondence to Random Lengths. “I estimate we will see approximately plus or minus 200,000 [visitors] in year three, which is still above the original market study projections. As mentioned, we have seen a big uptick in group sales and event inquiries the past month, so it is possible that we are plateauing earlier than expected.”

Even so, the Pacific Battleship Center, the caretaker organization of the historic battleship, is looking forward to new initiatives to draw more tourists. The battleship museum recently completed the ship’s installation of the sewage system and in November, they will launch its sleep aboard program.

Yet, with all of this promising news of progress, there appears to be trouble beneath the surface. In September, a former employee at the Pacific Battleship Center drew attention to allegations of labor abuses, environmental safety violations and management issues of the executive staff.

Former vice president of development and Communication for the Pacific Battleship Center, Patrick Salazar, submitted a detailed report to the Port of Los Angeles and the nonprofit’s audit committee Chairwoman Vanessa Lewis. Random Lengths News obtained copies of this correspondence. The report included statements from other paid staff and former volunteers.

Pacific Battleship Center board of directors member, Douglas Herman, describes Salazar as a disgruntled former employee attempting to extort money from the organization. Herman  wouldn’t go into details about the circumstances of Salazar’s termination, saying only that there were two independent investigations conducted by the organization’s employer insurance companies that found that Salazar’s claims were based on hearsay and that there was no evidence to substantiate his claims.

Salazar, who has 25 years of experience in the nonprofit sector developing donor lists, was brought on board as a paid consultant the same month that vice president of donor outreach, Robert Kent, left the organization in April 2013. The following month, he became a paid staff member after he was named Vice President of Development and communications. Salazar contends that his termination was the result of an extensive review in which senior management decided to reduce one full time position to part time and eliminated Salazar’s position altogether.

In Salazar’s estimation, he raised a half million dollars in the 16 months he was with the Battleship Center. To him, it made no sense to fire a staff member who was bringing in the money. Salazar believes he was wrongly terminated, and their refusal to give him a severance package was a slap in the face considering his contributions to the organization.

This is not the first time Salazar has left a nonprofit organization. Between 2008 and 2009, Salazar served as the Vice President of development for the Parents Television Council. The organization was reputed for holding advertisers accountable for television content the organization finds indecent. At the time, Salazar said he witnessed a number of unethical fundraising practices. The organization said they fired him. He said he resigned and attempted to get a severance package on par with the industry standard.

Salazar believes he was fired for raising difficult questions about wage theft, labor law violations and environmental compliance issues too often while he was a staff member.

Salazar says he is not looking to get the battleship’s lease revoked, but he saw enough dysfunction within the organization to become a whistleblower.

“I just want the ship to survive and to serve the community, Salazar said. “In my opinion, as of now, this is not possible with Jonathan [Williams] at the helm.”

When asked about the allegations, the Port of Los Angeles director of media relations confirmed that they received Salazar’s documents and are looking into the issues raised to make sure that the tenant is in compliance with all aspects of the lease.

 

Alleged Mismanagement of Funds

Random Lengths obtained a copy of the  email from Battleship Center President Jonathan Williams and vice president of operations Michael Getscher in which they announced that following an extensive review they would undergo major cost-cutting to make up for the lack of revenue from the off-season.

“Like most museum operations,” the email read, “the summer on-season attendance revenue helps cover the shortfall during the off-season.  While our revenues exceed our expenses during the summer, we have not seen a large infusion of on-season revenue to sustain the off-season short fall.”

Salazar, who says he was privy to information he received from upper management staff such Williams and Dave Canfield, former Vice President of Security, learned that certain board members were getting paid travel expenses to go home in Northern California or non-Battleship Center-related work.

Salazar began reaching out to the board’s audit Chairwoman Lewis about his concerns in September:

 

 

  • Why did Getscher and Williams take two trips for a week a piece to Hawaii to go to the U.S.S. Missouri as a fact finding mission and come back with just tourist pictures? What couldn’t you get in two days on one trip? I’m sure there was a report. Just doubt the veracity of any of it since none of it trickled down to us to help us get the ship in better shape physically, financially or long term actuality based upon the other ship’s results. We paid for this. What a waste.
  • Why did Williams and some board members go to Hawaii at company cost to see how the overnight program worked? Really? And we paid to send a service animal too that was being trained. I do not understand this. Both could have been done online.
  • Sending Pawloski [Dan Pawloski is the former Vice President of Operations at the Pacific Battleship Center] to the U.S.S. Missouri to investigate their CHT system [Collection, Holding and Transfer system for waste on a ship]. Why was this necessary after we sent our “Chief Engineer” there twice? Sent Getscher to the U.S.S. New Jersey also. Why is there not a file on all of their CHT systems? What a waste.

 

 

Salazar alleges that there is a “severe discrepancy in corporate officer pay, time and job performance. Salazar poses some serious questions.

“Why do they act like it is a 40-hour work week? What are the standards to ensure that [the Pacific Battle Center’s] money’s worth? Why does Getscher get to not do as required and still get to keep his full pay when every manager there has taken pay cuts and time off to help the company and the ship? What happened to all the money for the overnight programs? How much was really given out? And why are we hinging our entire economic life on the overnight programs?” Salazar asked.

It must be noted that in the email announcing Salazar’s termination, Williams and Getscher were fully expecting that the  on board overnight program would be enough to fill the revenue hole left by the off season.

Salazar forwarded a list of Pacific Battle Center vendors that were paid between 2008 and 2014. On that list, board President Jeff Lamberti and board Secretary Rebecca Beach were paid $17,037.82 and $102,146.07, respectively. The document does not reflect when those monies were paid or for what services those monies were paid. But generally, board members of a nonprofit organization are not paid positions.

These two board members are important for another reason. Lamberti, who is gaming commissioner in the State of Iowa recently came under scrutiny for his votes favoring casinos that donated to the USS Iowa. Beach is Lambert’s business partner with whom he formed Riverside Partners, a political consulting and fundraising firm. Riverside Partners was also listed as one of the USS Iowa’s vendors. Read more about this in the next edition of Random Lengths.

The Pacific Battleship Center released audited financial statements for each year they have been in operation. Indeed, the Battleship Center earned $8.2 million in total revenues in 2012. A year later, total revenues were about half of 2012 totals. This decline was due primarily to the $5 million drop in contributions to the floating museum. There was a moderate increase from the ship’s revenue from admissions, but not nearly enough to make up the shortfall from the previous year.

As for the overnight program, the Battleship Center received a $250,000
grant to launch it.

Salazar believes that the executive staff is cooking the books to hide expenses being paid to outside consultants and travel expenses of board members and staff to
travel home and back. What happens next remains to be seen. In any case, the
issues brought to light by these whistleblowers raise important questions about Pacific Battleship’s Centers board members.

 

 Hostile Work Environment

Salazar and others both spoke of a hostile work environment. The degradation of the work environment  was due, in large part, to firings of staff that were perceived as unjust, labor violations and pay disputes. There also was the professional faux pas such as executive staff attempting to force volunteers and staff alike to wear naval uniforms and salute each other as if they were in the Navy, even though none of them had ever served in the armed services. In fact, there’s currently only one board member who served in the military.

“He has lost the confidence of many crew members and his willingness to break the law and flaunt PBC policy and procedure is appalling,” Salazar said of Williams.

Salazar alleged that Williams vetoed small pay increases for the hourly employees making $12 an hour and frowned on managers for filing valid mileage expenses, all while using the company credit card for years of his personal travel.

Salazar  and others described the temperament of upper management as mercurial towards their subordinates—particularly towards those they had a dispute with previously.

In one account which took place during the first year of of the USS Iowa’s opening, it was commonplace for managers such as Williams and Pawloski to treat volunteers as if they were a part of a military command.

“Pawloski gave one of his ‘my way or the highway’ speeches, where he told all the volunteers they were here to work and if he needed them to chip paint then that’s what they would do,” said one operations team member, whose identity Random Lengths has chosen to withhold.  “No other options.”

The team member in another account alleges that Williams made similar comments in July 2014:

Jonathan Williams comes in and starts a weeklong campaign onboard ship about how only 20 percent of the people do the work and he was going to get rid of all people with bad attitudes. This was brought about because a volunteer sent him a letter giving him an assessment of his lack of ability and such. Mr. Williams did not take it well and let all know…[He] let all know that if trimming was needed. It would come from management and he would start with all who had bad attitudes.

The operations team member reported in a complaint to the Harbor Department that a number of these volunteers were donating innumerable amount of skilled labor and time. In light of this, the operations team member  noted that many of the volunteers were unhappy with this treatment.

Judging from the email correspondence to Vanessa Lewis, some of the management issues were starting to get resolved by the end of August 2014. In an email dated the first week of September, 2014, the operations team member noted that Williams was more visible aboard the battleship and was taking a positive interest in the volunteers that were serving, saying in one email to executive board member Lewis:

 

  • Jonathan has been much more visible onboard the vessel. He is cultivating relationships with the employees and volunteers. Actually seems to have walked the tour path and let people know what is happening onboard. He is showing a much more favorable attitude at this point. Trying to present an example for a change. This is good.
  • We now have management onboard Saturday and Sunday as their prescribed working days. Good to have someone on board who is authorized to make decisions instead of the ship not having any management onboard Friday to Monday that is there or visible. This is a plus.
  • [There is] Actual involvement in the day-to-day operations of the ship in all areas by management. [Their management is] Still very weak but it’s there and possibly growing, so this is a win. With so few employees it is always a mistake to disappear into offices and never come out.
  • Ship’s attitude is changing for the positive across the board since Dan’s departure. Although I objected to Ken Labruzzi’s hiring, since he was coming from up north as part of the Richmond club. He is doing a good job. [He] knows how to be a manager. Still think it should have been a local hire to cement our relationships here. However, he is doing well.

 

Throughout all the correspondence, the issue of regional preference as suggested by the operation team member’s “Richmond club” comment was rarely mentioned, but the issue seemed to be a deep undercurrent of the strife on the ship.

In his July 25, correspondence with Vanessa Lewis, Patrick Salazar writes that he is convinced that he [Williams] doesn’t respect the law, the ship, veterans, the Los Angeles/San Pedro community (he refers to Pedro as “the ghetto”).

His unwillingness to relocate here reverberates negatively in the community. He has not embraced the region and it has returned the favor. He (publicly) calls the IOWA his “hobby”… while he claims to still run a going concern up North.”

But the management troubles aboard the USS Iowa don’t stop there. Read the next edition to get the story of the cutthroat world of naval ship nonprofit organizations, fundraising from casino gaming corporations and conservative political operatives from Iowa.

 

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One Comment

  • Hillbinkel

    I say fire all at the top. They are costing to much money. Also why is Mr. Williams screaming at those volunteers, they work for Free.

    • 1:35 pm - 02/17/2018

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