Saturday, October 20, 2012

Scott swings vicious slingblade at DEP’s Tampa Office

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 control
There 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.


  1. Correction: Mike Halpin was not at the meeting on October 16 as indicated above. He did attend a meeting the month prior. -Sandspur

  2. How desperate are these people that took these leadership jobs recently, knowing full well what was expected of them and the mindless rational behind those expectations. Mary Yeargan and Brian Armstrong, both got these jobs because a certain lawyer, who's former employee is now the General council to SWFWMD is connected to the Governor. Both Yeargan and Armstrong, know them both (thought I did) had good profesional reputations coming into the job, although neither had much management experience, specifically Armstrong. So these two neophyte senior managers get promoted beypond their experience and capabilities and because they have no experience and are egar to show loyalty to the same idiots that they had no respect for in their previous job (yes you Brian) go and carry out this incredibly unprofessional hatchet job. Hope you like what you're doing because you'll never get a private sector job with that resume. And more likely than not, the same group will toss you out when you don't carry out the next assignment. There is no great way to do this, but their is many better ways where you don't embarass and humiliate people. This is the "modern management style" this governor wanted. Does anyone truly expect those that remain are in any way motivated by a leadership group that at any whim may fire them. Mark these words, the same tea party DH's take take glee in seeing public sector employees run out of government, will be the first to complain about those that remain because they can't keep up with the requirements or expectations for service. I bet you could count on one hand the number of staff left of the 125 that don't wish they had another job opportunity, and two are the director and assistant director.

  3. Sonny, I took the liberty of forwarding this email to others in the consulting world who would be interested.

    Two thoughts come to mind:
    1. EPA should recind the regulatory delegation made to DEP years ago. DEP is not capable any longer of implementing federally mandated resource protection programs.
    2. This type of action on Scott’s part can send voters into the Democratic camp in the upcoming election. The Republican candidates for state office might be interested in knowing how a “fellow Republican” is just reinforcing the image of Republicans as anti-worker.

  4. we should all cast our votes in the next Goveror's race for anyone who can better handle the employees in this State. They all deserve better treatment than this. This and the way they have handled the WM Districts is ridiculou

  5. As usual Sonny, very well done---as you and I have discussed, I fear this agenda is going nationwide if Romney wins----he is a Scott copy if I ever saw one.

  6. Just thought you'd like to see validation of your recap... I shared your words with a my DEP friends who were escorted out of the building. As you can imagine they are still very upset, demoralized, worried, feeling inadequate, shocked and unappreciated. One man told me their health insurance will be covered through the end of Nov, after which he can pay at almost $600 per month. He also said it was quite clear the 'carrot' of 1 month insurance would require their 'cooperation'. The words were not directly said, but the message was loud & clear. Perhaps Dec 1st will lend a voice to this good people.

  7. So far, it looks like three people have disagreed with what you've said here. My bet would be that they are Rick Scott, Herschel Vinyard and Jeff littlejohn. Any takers?

  8. I keep hearing all these things about Rick Scott and have to wonder how this guy got into office in the first place. Im interested to know what other budget cuts he is performing in the environmental field. Very unsettling.
    Taylor Beardsley

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. I have no sympathy for what the Scott administration is doing, but your words about tarring, feathering, etc. are way out of line.

    1. I respect your views but understand this. What Rick Scott, Herschel Vinyard and Jeff Littlejohn are doing to Florida is far more out of line. Words are just words. What these people are doing is real destruction to hundreds of individuals’ sense of self worth, careers, families and the state of Florida. They need to be held accountable just as you are holding me accountable. What have you done to let your views toward the “Scott administration” be known? You can tell me more convincingly that I’m out of line when you tell Rick Scott and his henchmen they’re out of line. Frankly, the Tallahassee I have come to know is all about making money by catering to the extant politic powers at hand. There is no right or wrong. The lawyer’s responsibility as an advocate has become an excuse for the abdication of truth and what’s right and moral. It’s all about who’s got the mojo and how to play influence. Are you one of those? Or are you willing to be heard on the side of “no sympathy”? -Sandspur

  11. I completely agree that the way this was handled is barbaric and unjustifiable. Thank you for writing the article.

    I’d like to see it in the news so that the rest of the offices are treated more professionally.

  12. As a current SW District employee, this was a very accurate article. However, there are a few things that I will add. In the beginning of what they called a "re-org," they made ALL leadership staff (SES aka managers/supervisors) re-apply for their job. They also allowed a few on the outside apply - friends and such (nepotism, maybe?). When this phase was done, some were offered a similar job but most were left out in the cold. If they weren't re-hired then, they were asked if they would accept a regular full-time job. Some flat-out refused and were let go. This phase was very similar to a draft in a fantasy-football league.

    Another thing to mention is some management that didn't get a job were later (on Thursday) offered a full-time slot, which of course left even less openings for the current full-timers, who were consequently fired. So, not only did 26 (actually 27 - one has not been notified due to being on leave) staff lose their jobs but many were demoted. There were dedicated, hard-working employees who were literally months away from retirement escorted out on Thursday. Some were there 20-30 years, making less than 40K/year and no pay raise in 8-10 years. Talk about dedication.

    We also have to remember this might not be the last of the firings. We have many (maybe 30-40?) OPS positions in the district. For those not familiar, OPS is basically part-time (up to 40 hours w/o benefits). These staff were not even taken into consideration yet and we were told that everything is on the table. I wouldn't be surprised if they axed 15+ OPS jobs. There is even talk of outsourcing many jobs to the private industry which would allow them to do more layoffs.

    On Friday (or Monday?), there were also approx. 41 more layoffs in the Tallahassee offices and probably many in the other districts will experience the same. We were the first district to go through this. I hope they don't have to go through what we had to go through. Just depressing to go into work now.

    currently, it is borderline chaos in there. Nobody knows their new role or responsibilities and we can't do our job. It's bad for business and Florida's environment. Scott has had his scope aimed at the DEP since day 1. He only cares about big business and not the state of Florida. I'm honestly surprised it didn't happen earlier.

  13. I am one of the 25. Our jobs could have been saved if the FDEP would revise the bidding procedures for petroleum cleanup jobs and quit allowing the fox to guard the henhouse. Who in their right mind would ever believe that there can be no collusion when a consultant is allowed to obtain bids from contractors of their own choosing for a remediation project, and not tell their favorite contractor the number to beat? Or worse yet, ask their three favorite contractors to share in a rotation for winning projects and increase the bid numbers! Think about it, the consultant gets a 10% markup on the contractor fees, so the higher the bid the more money the consultant makes. Why is the bidding not a sealed bid process? Why are the foxes allowed to review the contractor bids and choose the winner? Why does the FDEP not receive the bids FIRST? I guess because the Fox's are ALL honest, right? There is no collusion or fraud when it comes to government programs, right?

  14. How the firings occurred in the Tallahassee HQ office is also a matter of discussion. The entire division of Water Resource Management was called into a meeting by the deputy Secretary, who gave a Powerpoint presentation of the "reorganization". During the presentation, firing numbers for the individual sections were given out, and the drinking water administrator - who had two more years left in DROP - was told he was removed in front of the whole division. One fired employee was involved at the time in the Emergency Operations Center for Hurricane Sandy, and was no longer able to access his computer for important emergency operations, since the mindless Nazis locked him out. The Drinking Water Administrator was replaced by a recent hiree of his from the private sector, who managed to cozy up the Deputy Secretary. The hatchet person was another hiree from the private sector only about three months earlier. It is clear the original people who worked for less pay than their private sector counterparts for years because they cared for Florida's degrading environment were replaced, including Secretary Mimi Drew when Scott assumed the throne, for his and his cronies selfish interests.

  15. since this all took place. about 10 people have left the SWD. at least one was fired. one passed away. none the vancies have been filled but they are "adverising" the jobs.