This letter is in response to your "Deep Trouble" article by Jennifer Strom that ran on Jan. 15, 2003. As the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Divers Alert Network, DAN, I am deeply troubled by some aspects of the article, and would like to try to set the record straight.
I found the article to be well-researched and basically accurate concerning the myriad of events during a period of turmoil that DAN has recently experienced. The article appears to be drawn primarily from court documents of a lawsuit initiated by Dr. Peter Bennett, DAN's founder and president throughout the organization's 23-year life, and three of his DAN colleagues, against five members of DAN's Board of Directors. The article reports on the details of the case and is embellished with interviews, but it does not make nearly clear enough that most of the accusations are not substantiated and may not be true.
Of much greater concern, however, is the "packaging" of the article. Although the allegations are unsubstantiated, the first page lead-in and the Up Front editorial page both behave as if the article was the gospel truth, and that is just not so. The implications that Dr. Bennett and allies were "helping themselves" are incorrect and blatantly unfair to Peter Bennett, and are damaging to DAN. It is absurd to compare the situation at DAN to the events at Enron and WorldCom. Rest assured that DAN's finances and such matters as the employees' retirement benefits are intact and working as they ought to.
I take issue also with the implication that Dr. Bennett will float down on a "golden parachute." Any retirement that may go to him is well deserved, appropriate, and has been thoroughly studied by the board and DAN management; the size of it or even whether or not he gets any retirement benefits is an internal personnel matter that is not and should not be public knowledge; this information is being maintained confidential by the parties involved as is customary in virtually all comparable situations. No money donated to DAN is involved here.
For the record, DAN's for-profit subsidiaries are, like DAN, fully regulated and audited and there is DAN Board oversight of all their Board actions. Although one component is offshore, all U.S. federal taxes on this business are paid on a timely basis. In addition, revenue from DAN's insurance component pays for ongoing research in diving medicine and other services to divers, integral components of DAN's mission. DAN's insurance for divers continues to be an attractive benefit of DAN membership, and it will continue to be available without disruption.
During the time it took to read the article, it is probable that somewhere in the world a diver was receiving emergency medical assistance--perhaps lifesaving--because of DAN. As your article affirms, DAN would most likely not exist as a global resource without the work of Dr. Peter Bennett over many, many years. It is very easy to criticize the style of entrepreneurs, for they are high profile persons determined to achieve success through their efforts and their passions. It therefore behooves us to honor the works and legacy of Bennett with at least the same vigor as we might use to criticize his style.
R.W. Bill Hamilton, Chairman, DAN Board of Directors
Equal playing field
Mr. Gomez-Palacio's article, "North Carolina's Mexican Future," states: "Hard-working immigrants ... are being forced to operate in a shadow economy full of false identities, cash transactions ... and lots of uncertainty." One of the "major pending issues" that we all must focus on includes the willingness of North Carolinians, and all Americans, to accept Mexican immigrants as equal participants within their economy.
Too many Mexicans die trying to cross a heavily militarized border to get to America and immediately find work to support themselves and their families. Thousand of miles away from their homes, Latinos lack familial support; face discrimination in the workplace; are injured without workers' compensation insurance (or any health insurance); work strenuous jobs for months without being paid; and, sometimes, continue working those jobs, fearing detainment by INS.
Migrant workers who legally enter the United States economy under "guestworker programs," are explicitly excluded from U.S. labor laws such as the National Labor Relations Act and the Agricultural Worker Protection Act. North Carolina "guest" farmworkers break their backs to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to our plates, and, yet, are not allowed to sue for serious violations of OSHA housing and field sanitations standards. Unsurprisingly, the issues this "voiceless" population face are often inadequately addressed by state labor agencies. Furthermore, U.S. employers who continue to hire undocumented immigrants "under the table," without any penalization, also deserve blame for that "shadow economy" with "lots of uncertainty."
Mexicans simply cannot prosper fairly without full access to the advantages and protections of our economy. Mr. Gomez-Palacio asks, "Will Mexicans remain at the bottom of the economic pyramid in places like North Carolina ... ?" My answer is most Mexicans don't want to remain at the bottom, but, true economic equality can only exist when all are on the same level.
Lisa Guerra, Raleigh