Saturday, May 19, 2007

Leaving Monroe County Technical Services

EX Director, Technical Services, Monroe County BOCC

Warning - this blog is, in its entirety, my opinion. If you want facts, these opinions might point you in the direction of truth, but that's up to you!

I just completed my first day as the ex-director of technical services for the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners in Key West, Florida. That is sort of like the Chief Information Officer. I was responsible for Information Technology, Telephone Communications, the Public Information Office and Monroe County Television, the local government channel.

I've never been treated so shabbily in my life.

So why blog about it?

In Florida, government operates under what is commonly called "open government" or "sunshine." In Monroe County, the culture seems to mean "never put anything in writing that you don't want in the newspaper." There is a lot of talking about ways to do things and opinions expressed that make the public record look sort of stupid in the light of sunshine.

There are a lot of memo's that travel around in brown envelopes as communication. There is a full time courier to cart these things around buildings. I haven't seen that in 20 years, but came to realize that a lot of these messages weren't being captured for the public record. I was tasked to "make us paperless" by Mr. Willi when I was hired and proceeded to set an example by using electronic communication almost all the time.

I expected to "go on the record" for most of what I did and have done so for the most part. My email has recorded many of my opinions and recommendations. I have always thought that this provides a good record of action in a public or private organization and, if you're honest, a good record in the event of litigation.

One of the first projects I undertook in this position was to install an email archiving system. Emails should all be there from sometime last summer.

When I started sending emails, I noticed that some people wouldn't reply. They would call or even call a third party to relay a message. My boss, Tom Willi, particularly would not reply. When I asked him about if he read a particular email during one of our infrequent meetings, he told me to assume that he reads his email.

A typical message circuit would be that I would email Tom and he would reply verbally through the Deputy Administrator, who then would, most likely, call a supervisor in my department who she went to high school with. So, more often than not, I was getting direction from a supervisor in my department. Sometimes Tom would give the message directly to this supervisor - never directly to me. Is that just weird or is it by design? I honestly don't know. I suspect that this convoluted message route is at the heart of Mr. Willi's "management style" issue with me. I expect straightforward communication and don't like playing "telephone".

So, this blog is to bring my opinions to light. These are just my opinions. If you want the truth, feel free to contact Monroe County and ask for emails or any supporting documents for anything I refer to in this blog. Likely, you can examine documents, like emails I sent that were never answered, personally.

Suggestions for public requests: 1. All messages sent from Mickey Baker that includes Tom Willi as a recipient, either in the "To:" field or the "CC:" field. 2. All messages sent from Tom Willi to Mickey Baker.

I'm not happy about raising issues and having them ignored. The taxpayers deserve better.
My ex-coworkers and ex-employees deserve better.

Tom, if you're reading this, you know this is true. Communication and culture starts at the top.

Performance and Firing

I did the job for 4 days short of a year, and, in my own opinion, which I believe is defensible given the record, did a great job. My employees love me - with a couple of notable exceptions. I provided new services for citizens, stabilized and upgraded a scattered and failing information technology environment and improved (but did not fix) the abysmal license compliance situation - all on a budget that, for the first year, didn't even include my own salary.

My boss, the County Administrator, Mr. Tom Willi, called me from 150 miles away where he was attending a convention and gave me no other reason than, "it's not working out" and "management style" with absolutely no specificity when pressed.

Other than Division Director and County Commission meetings (large, once per month meetings) we met maybe a half dozen times over the course of the year. Mr. Willi has no specific schedule for Division Directors and required an appointment, which I did seek (and was granted) several times.

In fairness, I was out Tuesday (a rare occurrence for me) for a surgical procedure and he had a County Commission meeting on Wednesday in Key Largo - I did not travel there, but was in the office in Key West, most of the day after my procedure. I had no warning, coaching or any comment from Mr. Willi other than a December 21, 2006, performance evaluation, where he depreciated his "below expectations" evaluation in the "managing people" category, and told me that I was a "victim of mother hen syndrome", told me I was "doing a great job" and to "keep it up". Of course, he and I were the only people in the room, but the evaluation is part of the public record.

I had "Exceeded Expectations" evaluation in technical areas. I had never worked as a manager in the public sector before, so, given attached comments, took the review in stride.

Mr. Willi's Management Style - Communication?

Mr. Willi has been criticized harshly elsewhere for "poor communication." The local newspaper and two of five County Commissioners have called for his resignation. On February 8, 2007, a special meeting was called to evaluate terminating his contract. He was, in my opinion, contrite and promised to "improve communications." His answer has been to hire a consultant and conduct communications workshops with groups striated by management level.

Here's the entire 3 hour meeting if you're really interested, but a Google of "Tom Willi" will get you a good flavor of what the perception is about Tom:

So, I'm left to wonder why I was fired because Mr. Willi won't (or can't) come up with a reason other than the ambiguous "management style" with no details. I find this offensive and just plain bad management. It benefits no one except Mr. Willi.

My Speculation About Why I Was Fired

Yesterday, a reporter with the Key West Citizen (newspaper) called me within 2 hours of Mr. Willi's call. Here's an accurate reflection of what I thought and told the reporter at the time:

I don't know any different than that now. Assuming that Mr. Miller (in the article) is telling the truth, he knew that I was getting fired before I knew. Mr. Miller told me that he is a close personal friend of both the Mayor and Mr. Willi, so this is entirely possible, given Mr. Willi's communication issue. Was Mr. Willi telling his friends that I was fired before he told me?

Taking the Job was My First Mistake

I knew when I took the job that would be the 4th director in about 5 years, so I’m a bit to blame for taking the position without clearer ground rules before beginning. What happened to the other folks is a story in itself... the last guy died, literally, in the office.

Fear Based Culture - Communications

A recent workshop with the Carroll Group with most of the County Division Directors in attendance was held in the first part of May, entitled, "Knowledge Based Leadership." The workshop assigned this group the task of evaluating and addressing what we thought were the most significant communications problems within the County. The group concluded that "communication without fear of retribution" was at the top of the list of problems. Coincidentally or not, I was the only member of the group who did not have the one year career service that would prohibit Mr. Willi from summarily firing me.

Good luck to that group on that topic. Now that the consultant has backed away from the group, the leader is Andrew Trivette, who is up for a huge raise as he gets promoted from "acting" to actual division director. I'm sure Andrew intends to be objective - he is really a good guy - but I don't see how he can be, given reality.

Back to why I might have been fired

I really don't know WHY, I got fired. My best guesses are:
  1. I uncovered some bad decisions that someone made a while back and I had asked for money to fix them in the 2008 budget. It seems likely that I may have touched the “third rail” at some point, criticizing expenditures for technology projects or consultants in place that are, evidently, controversial or worrisome to someone. (Future blog topic.)
  2. I pissed bureaucrats off when I suggested that they might actually change the way they're doing things, like discontinuing brown envelopes in favor of email or eliminating 3 reams of manual telephone bills in favor of an electronic system.
  3. I KNOW that I upset some long term county employees by complaining of workplace behavior and changing responsibilities.
  4. I pissed off this fellow who is a friend of Tom's and the Mayor and he ranted.
  5. County is short-sightedly eliminating payroll - I saved a LOT of money this year, stay tuned I will detail it in a future blog, but a lot of it came from reining in consultants (see item 1)

It is difficult to know what you're doing wrong if your boss doesn't tell you.

More detail later on problematic projects and consultants in place when I arrived...

Mickey Baker


kay said...

Dear Ms. Frederick,
I am very sorry to hear Mr. Mickey Baker, our Technical Services
Division Director will no longer be employed by Monroe County. Mr Baker
was always very helpful in any manner he could when I would have trouble
downloading or trying to open backup views on any of the Agendas.
Several of us had asked if he would try to get County material on HTML
instead of the PDF files and I have noticed our Agendas have both now,
thanks to Mr. Baker. Hopefully others will email and tell you what a
valuable employee of the County he was. May I ask under what
circumstances was he terminated. Who will be replacing him, and how may
this person be contacted.

Thank You
Kay Thacker

Sue Heim said...

Your conduct in this Willi induced travesty, as with all the other things I've seen you do, is reserve, thoughtful consideration, and attention to purpose. As to the public's opinion of you, and your job performance, we rate you as excellent.Your professional ethics and efforts, on behalf of your employer, and Monroe County citizens, are evident in the monies you saved ($100k), and problem-solving changes you implemented. You provided invaluable assistance to people in the community who were having problems with the county's web site (PDF files not opening, address links not connecting, incorrect information). And most importantly, you responded to our questions, and suggestions. Thanks to you, the agendas are now available in HTML, as well as PDF. Implementing HTML was a huge help to all of us who review the agenda, and try to participate in the government process. Thanks to you, copies of the meetings are available online. Your professional talents and skills have served this county well., and your absence is definitely the county's loss.

Sadly for us all (and of no resolution for you), your firing is yet another example of Willi's overall incompetence as a decision-maker and as a supervisor. I also wonder if Willi thinks he has accomplished his prized goals of treating the citizens like mushrooms (in the dark, uninformed) and thwarting public's attempt to participate, by your firing. At the very least, the BOCC owes you some sort of response regarding Willi's actions, because, in the end, he answers to them, even if they don't do a good job of keeping track of what he's doing.

I know you already have a lot of support from friends and public citizens. I don't know what you want to happen next. Whatever it is, you've left a good legacy in Monroe.

Anonymous said...

lol I could comment till the cows come home on this. I'm an IT Consultant spending some time in the keys. I read the whole blog. Mickey, you did your job a little TOO good in my opinion. I've been there( very capable but let go for no reason) a few times. Same result as you got. My boss said it's not working out. Meritocracy and cronyism are oil and water. Sorry to hear of this for both you and the citizens of Monroe County.
Send me a reply, I'll fly with ya any time. (Top Gun reference) said...

I hear Kay Thacker has a Meat loaf deficiency. At first I couldn't believe this was true but when you think about it anyone that goes to all the County Commission meetings and disrupts them constantly and also delves into everybody’s business must have some sort of deficiency.

queenconch said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mickey Baker said...

Sorry queenconch, I deleted your post because it had the name of a person heretofore unamed.

I appreciate your comments but could not let the name stand.


MCFired said...

Remember this: in spite of any negative feedback-
Many support you. including myself.
As you said, It’s the County’s Loss!
I wish to add- “and the Monroe County taxpayer is the ultimate victim.”

The Public has been enlightened of this unfortunate injustice- -they need to be better informed of ALL that is happening.
Their moneys are being misappropriated by such unjust terminations.
Little does the Taxpayers know-large amounts of staff’s time (equal to County dollars)has been used evidently in vain on supervisors’ training classes [relating to subordinates] to avoid such unjust occurrences, as this.
It appears that that was a total training waste.

It is known that the cost to replace a terminated employee ranges from 25% up to 100% of that employee’s annual salary.
In addition- benefits, indirect costs and many other expenses [ex: ripple effects] must be considered as part of that total cost $$$$$$$$.
One can view such a financial calulator at the following link:

This is an enormous price tag to the County. Is this their way to try to reduce the current deficit?
It’s funny, that Tom Willi received a “stay of execution” when he was on the firing block. He received a second chance as result of successful solicitation of support letters from County staff. And yet it is totally absurd that others as yourself, don’t receive that same opportunity!
How many other County employees have been fired unjustly since this tiny $5 million dollar deficit came to light?!? Is there a way to find out this information? People should want to know!
We know that you were treated unfairly—How many others have been unjustly, as well?
Can someone post this figure on your blog?

Thank you for ALL your positive [very needed!] accomplishments while working here.
Your termination's a fatal blow to the County staff’s daily service.
Would like to hear from you-