In my 50-plus years of being a working bloke just trying to keep grits on the table, I have never heard of anything like what happened in Tampa this week at DEP’s southwest district office.Everyone knows about the deep recession we’re in and the impact it has had on us all. In the private sector, jobs have been lost by the millions, incomes have been cut, businesses have been lost, entire industries have had to shrink and the country itself is on the economic ropes.
I don’t know anyone who believes that government should hold some kind of exception to the need to reduce its cost and size to reflect the reduced demand for public services. So when there is a quest to reduce the size and cost of the regulatory functions of the water management districts and Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, most reasonable people, rightly, would not object.It is only when we see that quest being executed in ways that are not reasonable or appropriate that we need to stand up. My last post was out of concern that the water management districts have been cut too deeply. Today’s is about the vicious and hurtful way Scott and his minions carried out the firing of 25 hapless staffers at DEP’s Tampa office this week.
It was not the fact that Scott determined the staff and budgets of DEP’s district offices needed to be reduced; it’s how they did it. Herding approximately 150 staffers into a hastily called and otherwise unannounced 15-minute meeting, and telling them all to go back to their offices and pack their personal belongings because 25 of them were going to be fired the next day? What in the world are they smoking in T-Town?
Whoever came up with this strategy ought to be tarred and feathered and rode the length of Apalachee Parkway on a rail.I hear the whole thing went down something like this. After Scott successfully purchased the governor’s seat for over $70 million of his own dollars, he determined all of state government should be structured such that no manager should have responsibility for less than seven people. This was the stricture Herschel Vinyard told his henchman, Jeff Littlejohn, to apply as he restructured the department’s regional district offices. So Littlejohn, with Vinyard’s obvious blessing, hatched a plan for realigning supervisory roles and responsibilities starting at the Tampa district office and getting rid of 39 employees of that office’s 150 or so employees. (Note: Since 14 of those positions were unfilled, the number of on-staff employees to be fired was actually 25.)
Never mind that none of these Tallahassee geniuses ever had any experience at managing a governmental regulatory agency. The plan was to cross-train everybody so anyone could do anyone else’s job. Sounds reasonable until one begins to realize just how technical and complex these jobs can be.History suggests trying to make the offices more efficient in this way will only insure unfortunate businesses and industries having to get permits will have to deal with staffers who are not familiar with all they need to be in order to do their job competently. This makes for confusion, misdirection, and added expense for the applicant. We know this because, as some might recall, it was tried back in the 1980’s. But never mind any of that.
Here’s what I’m hearing took place. Over the last few weeks and months, there were a series of emails and verbal messages to the staff intended to prepare them for what everyone pretty much expected anyway, i.e., a reasonable realignment and restructuring but little or no direct references to any reduction in force. It was signaled all would be done by November 1.Then last Tuesday, October 16, at 5:27 p.m., Tampa district director Mary Yeargan, announced to the general staff population via email that a meeting would be held the next morning at 9:00 a.m. All field personnel were called in and everyone was mandated to be there.
The meeting was called on such short notice that an administrative hearing which had been scheduled for months had to be canceled (or delayed or moved?) so all the district’s employees could be seated in the only auditorium large enough to hold them all. And for the same reasons, the meeting was rushed.During that 15 minute meeting, 150 or so employees, many of whom were career people who had worked in public service for decades, were told they were to go back to their offices, clear out all their personal belongings, put it into a box and … apparently … just go and stick it in a corner somewhere, and take it home with them after work. Unbelievably, they were expected to go back to work for the rest of the day and do their jobs as if all was normal.
They were also told that when they came back in the next morning, Thursday, 25 of them would be fired.This meeting occurred at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. One can only imagine how an organizational staff “family” of some 150 persons must have felt that night not knowing who, “if not me,” would be without jobs and incomes the next day.
Then on Thursday morning after the 25 expulsions, the remaining survivors, presumably, were to go back to their cars, retrieve the box of personal belongings they had removed the day before, forget what had just happened and become much more efficient model employees of Rick Scott, Herschel Vinyard, and Jeff Littlejohn’s new order of good Florida government.When Thursday morning arrived, I’ve heard the procedure went something like this. Everyone went to their “offices,” actually just cubicles in most cases, and waited to be tapped on the shoulder. The newly named managers grimly strolled about asking the unfortunates to follow them to a real office (with four walls) where, one by one, 25 of them were given a folder of information, about who-knows-what, and reminded that:
- They were fired
- They could not return to their cubicles, computers, etc.
- They had to leave immediately
- They could not stop to say good bye to anyone
- They would be escorted out the front door
- Arrangements would be made for them to come back into the office at night to pack up any remaining personal items.
- Officers would be on site to keep matters under controlThere were reports of both men and women crying in the halls; some because they had just received the word … some because they had just given the word.
The outrageous, incompetent, viciousness with which this near-fascist approach to management of real human beings in an American workplace simply cannot be ignored by other responsible, elected leaders … if there are any around. Someone with authority (other than some retired blogger guy) has to speak up for the thousands of public employees who are being relentlessly attacked by the persons responsible for it all, i.e., Rick Scott, his henchmen Herschel Vinyard, Jeff Littlejohn, and others. Every one of them needs to be held personally accountable somehow for how they are treating real human beings this way. Even animals housed at Hernando County’s animal services are treated better than the way Herschel Vinyard treated the DEP staff in Tampa this week. There, hapless discarded animals simply get euthanized.