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Blindsided: Suddenly and Abruptly!

This article ran in the January/February
print issue of PA TIMES. Email Editor Christine McCrehin at
[email protected] to find out how to subscribe to the paper.

Don Menzel

A city manager’s code of survival requires arithmetic skills embellished by political commonsense—namely, how to count to three when your city commission has five members and rumors are circulating that your head is on the chopping block.
Learning how to count matters but city managers are not always the best mathematicians. One can be blindsided and unceremoniously dumped. Consider the case of the former city manager of Lake Wales, Florida. Tony had been the city manager for eight years and was proud of the achievements he had brought to the community of 12,000. In his words, “I was blindsided. There was no process, no warning, not one commissioner coming to me with a list of concerns and timetables.”

Disturbed and perturbed by this brusque treatment, Tony decided to challenge the commission 3-2 majority and faced the unpleasant prospect of publicly being fired. As he put it, “I was warned early in my city management career that you should not wrestle with a pig—you and the pig end up in the mud, and the pig loves it!” But wrestle he did. His $110,000 salary was on the line along with his reputation. At the public hearing an overflow crowd of 100 people wore green ribbons in support of Tony and many speakers urged the commissioners to give Tony an opportunity to correct any problems. A standing ovation from those attending the meeting erupted when Tony finished his statement by saying “I love Lake Wales, and I want to continue to serve.”

Tony lost the match.

1. Is fairness or lack thereof an ethical issue?
2. Should Tony have challenged the commission majority in the way that he did?
3. Shouldn’t Tony have respected the commission as a democratic body that was fully within its rights to fire him?

Based on a real case: See www.theledger.com/article/20090729/NEWS/907299930 and http://www.theledger.com/article/20090724/NEWS/907249890 accessed 27 September 2009

ASPA member Donald C. Menzel is president of Ethics Management International and a former ASPA president. Email: [email protected]

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