Taking a Stand for Ethics and Accountability in PR: Paula Pedene, APR

It’s hard to be in public relations. Constant learning, demanding clients and massive stress take a heavy toll on many of us. Sometimes, just to frost the cupcake, ethical issues come up that deeply test our honesty and integrity. We can either fall like dominoes to offload the pressure, or stand tall and let the shitstorm happen.

Everyone loves to write about the underdog, but not enough people write about the heroes.

Paula Pedene, APR, is a hero worth admiring who upholds Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics standards in every way, and her situation has the Arizona PR community in an uproar. In my opinion, she deserves industry recognition in a major way.

A public affairs officer with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Arizona for 23 years and a veteran herself, Pedene is a whistleblower who outed administration officials in 2011 for misconduct, misused funds, sexual harassment and other allegations. Demoted after giving testimony, Pedene now works in the hospital library, filing books and assisting patients with library needs while putting up with continued retaliation, discrimination, abuse and humiliation.

Not only is the three-time Silver Anvil winner not allowed to continue a PR program counted among the nation’s best, but she’s been forced to hire an attorney to defend herself. For Paula, the cost of doing the right thing has been enormous. The emotional and financial toll are still hitting her heavily almost 18 months later, and the VA is still unsuccessfully trying to substantiate their unethical actions against her.

“I’ve been faced with a long and difficult journey – one that’s been forced on me, not one that I’ve chosen,” said Paula, when I talked to her about the situation. “Through it, I’ve kept my composition and integrity by focusing on the mission VA embraces – that of serving our Nations Veterans.”

“To serve in our military in time of peace and in war is honorable. As Veterans, we believe that our service means something to Americans. We learn about camaraderie and how to help each other. When we lose focus of this, we fail to embody our higher calling. As a Public Affairs Officer who’s also a disabled Veteran (Paula is legally blind), I’ve tried to do the best I can for our patients, our staff and the community.”

“Our public affairs profession, when embraced by leadership, allows us to accomplish a great deal. We can improve employee morale by offering honest and informational exchanges. We can show respect to our stakeholders-like Veterans-by honoring their service to our country. We can broaden our support in the community by giving them cause to understand. Through challenging times such as these, I’ve learned there are also lessons. We learn about resilience, we learn how to overcome difficulties and we discover our true friends.

This doesn’t mean we’re always able to rise to rise above. Sometimes we choose not to, sometimes we physically can’t and other times we just don’t have the strength. But if the majority of our time is spent doing the right thing, then we find success.”

The horrifying truths triggered by her whistleblowing testimony have continued to be explored and revealed by media, and the people who have done this to her are now capturing nation-wide attention.

In the last week, first CNN reported more than 40 veterans deaths may have occurred due to outrageously long wait times for appointments – along with scandalous proof of a secret wait list, double records to hide the truth and shredded evidence – then The Washington Post reported a VA official receiving an almost $10,000 bonus, despite those deaths, and the launch of a long-overdue investigation by the VA Office of Inspector General. Arizona Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake have also called for a Senate investigation of the Phoenix VA scandal. The Arizona Republic continues its ongoing coverage and even the Wall Street Journal has now jumped into the story.

Thanks to Paula coming forward to speak the truth and those who followed her example, departmental wrongdoing continues to come to light and is driving change. By the time investigations are wrapped up, countless lives may be saved. No one deserves this more than our country’s veterans. They deserve our very best and it’s disgraceful that we’ve let them down.

I, for one, hope Paula comes out of this fiasco with a nice, tidy legal settlement to compensate her for living with such a nightmare and taking such a strong stand for ethics and accountability. But even if she doesn’t, she has my complete respect and admiration for standing tall and doing the morally right thing, despite the cost personally and professionally.

Paula is worthy of the respect of our entire industry; she does the public relations profession (and her APR status) proud in every way. When she came to that fork in the road – she took the right way, instead of the easy way.

Please stop by Paula Pedene’s Twitter page and thank her.

What is the PRSA Code of Ethics?

I pledge:

To conduct myself professionally, with truth, accuracy, fairness, and responsibility to the public; To improve my individual competence and advance the knowledge and proficiency of the profession through continuing research and education; And to adhere to the articles of the Member Code of Ethics 2000 for the practice of public relations as adopted by the governing Assembly of the Public Relations Society of America.

I understand and accept that there is a consequence for misconduct, up to and including membership revocation.

And, I understand that those who have been or are sanctioned by a government agency or convicted in a court of law of an action that fails to comply with the Code may be barred from membership or expelled from the Society.

If you have been thinking about earning your APR, now is the time. Since April is APR month, many local chapters are adding impressive rebates to make the process more affordable. Head over to the website of your local chapter and check them out – but hurry, you only have a few days left!

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