Sue me

Let’s say your boss is doing something that impedes your ability to do your job well. How receptive do you think he or she would be to learning about it from you?

Let’s say your boss is town manager Roger Stancil, and if he didn’t like your critique, or if you were a union member like Kerry Bigelow, Clyde Clark, Chris King and Lee Thompson, he could fire you. You could always turn to the Personnel Appeals Advisory Board, but even if its members backed you unanimously and unequivocally, Stancil doesn’t have to listen, or so he told Town Council members at their June 17 meeting.

Chapel Hill operates as a “council-manager form of government” Stancil announced to council, which means, he said in so many words, that council has no say in how he runs the town.

That’s one interpretation of state law G.S. 106A-146; the UNC School of Government, in a 2007 publication on council-manager form of government takes a different perspective, that the “council has the authority to confer powers and duties on the mayor and manager in addition to those conferred on them by law.” In other words, while state law grants a town manager the power to hire and fire all employees except the town attorney and those elected to public office, the council could, for example, order the manager to consider input from advisory boards.

Stancil did not attend the Personnel Appeals hearings and said that recordings of the hearings were virtually impossible to hear. To that end, he is spending taxpayer money to hire a court reporter for future proceedings that he will, in all likelihood, ignore.

While the Personnel Appeals Board narrowly sided with “Boss” Stancil in firing Bigelow and Clark for not picking up yard waste from private property at the request of the property owner, the board unanimously recommended reinstating Thompson, who was fired for picking up yard waste on private property at the property owner’s request, and King, who was given permission by his supervisor to take a day of sick leave to cover part of his vacation.

When council members asked Stancil what form of redress employees had when he steamrollers over the recommendations of the advisory board, Stancil said, “They can sue. That remedy is available.”

NAACP labor division co-chair Miriam Thompson (no relation to Lee Thompson) petitioned the council to follow up on a number of irregularities in hiring and firing decisions and the personnel grievance process. In response, Stancil said he hired two ombudsmen two years ago (after Bigelow and Clark filed suit). Given that more personnel problems and lawsuits have piled up in the past two years, apparently the ombudsmen are well aware that they serve at Stancil’s pleasure.

Stancil also said he has instituted a “360 review,” in which workers are expected to critique their boss as part of the employee evaluation process.

Cynic that I am, I bet all those bosses get excellent reviews.
– Nancy Oates

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24 Comments

  1. Fred Black

     /  June 24, 2013

    “Chapel Hill operates as a “council-manager form of government” Stancil announced to council, which means, he said in so many words, that council has no say in how he runs the town.”

    Nancy, I strongly recommend that you go back and review the video. Roger never said what you have attributed to him. The discussion on the council-manager form of government was by Attorney Karpinos. Did my eyes and ears deceive me?

    These kinds of factual errors really distract from the effectiveness of your blog.

  2. Don Evans

     /  June 24, 2013

    But Fred, minor distractions aside, how do you feel about Boss Stancil’s flip-flop?

  3. Fred Black

     /  June 24, 2013

    Don, just like your claim that nobody talked about the increased cost to operate the upgraded library, it is not a minor distraction. I think it’s a major thing to claim that the Manager said something that he didn’t say then add some snark to try to make a point. Sorry you don’t see it that way.

  4. Don Evans

     /  June 24, 2013

    Fred

    Nancy and I always try to get the facts straight, and when we don’t, we certainly appreciate folks setting things straight.

    My objection to your post is that you seemed to find a missed attribution more objectionable than the anti-union efforts of our capricious and dictatorial town manager.

  5. Many

     /  June 24, 2013

    Fred,

    The objection is not, and has not been that the library costs were not discussed, The objection was that the cost issues were not resolved and accounted for.

    It must be Monday, your dissembling is showing.

  6. Fred Black

     /  June 24, 2013

    Don,
    It iisn’t just a missed attribution if it is the centerpiece of the post. And tell Many how you severely criticised George C. about not discussing costs; he thinks my comment was about something else.

  7. Fred Black

     /  June 24, 2013

    Don,
    It iisn’t just a missed attribution if it is the centerpiece of the post. And tell Many how you severely criticised George C. about not discussing costs; he thinks my comment was about something else.

  8. Scott Maitland

     /  June 24, 2013

    Really Don? Boss Stancil?

    We pay Mr. Stancil to run the town. If we don’t like how he does it, we can fire him.

    Just like he can fire people that work for the town. Wait….apparently he can’t.

    Bigelow and Clark have never denied the allegations that citizens made against them for “threatening behavior.” Why is their union membership the issue and not their “threatening behavior?” Especially when it seems clear to me that their joining of the union corresponded in time with the allegations against them.

    Imagine the hell Mr. Stancil would pay for not having fired these gentlemen and some violence had occurred against the citizens?

    Mr. Stancil couldn’t win for losing.

    Don, I am not sure how many people you have lead or managed, but I remember how surprised you were at the amount of taxes and regulations government imposed on new businesses when you and Nancy tried to monetize this blog. I sniff a similar lack of personnel management in your background as well.

    Maybe you should be a little more respectful of the people that have to make real world, hard decisions and can’t spend the majority of their time pontificating for a blog.

    Moreover, maybe you should be more respectful of the people that read this blog before you insert racially charged titles like “Boss” into such a sensitive discussion.

  9. Terri Buckner

     /  June 24, 2013

    Mr. Clark and Mr. Bigelow publicly denied that they threatened any citizen while working for the town, including the 2 anonymous women who made the allegations.

  10. Don Evans

     /  June 24, 2013

    Really, Scott? Really?

    Did you attend the public hearing for Bigelow and Clark? Well, I did, and I was appalled at how it was conducted. The so-called victim wouldn’t appear at the hearing and refused to give her name. Her testimony, such as it was, was given by phone. That’s just a small sample of what was contrived and just plain wrong with the effort against the two men, but there’s more, if you care to look past the party line and read the records.

    Now, Boss Stancil has fired someone who did just the opposite of what Bigelow and Clark did. Where’s the consistency from this hard-pressed town manager? He didn’t even listen to the recording of the hearing and ignored the unanimous opinion of the board that recommended against firing. If that’s not arbitrary, I don’t know what is.

    I’ll reserve the right to question the manager whenever he makes numbskull decisions that will cost the town both legal fees and standing in the community for the manager’s intolerance.

    No, we taxpayers can’t fire Boss Stancil — only the Town Council can do that. So I have no say in his future with the town — I only get to pay the higher taxes his misguided decisions entail.

    As for my leadership qualities, I have managed a staff and made personnel decisions. I know at least to listen to both sides of an issue — unlike Boss Stancil — and I never made an effort to get rid of folks who were trying to unionize.

  11. Many

     /  June 24, 2013

    Scott, First, I freely admit I don’t know all the facts, but I, (I think) like you, support Mr Stancil in a personnel decision that is clearly within his scope of responsibilities. I expect like any experienced manager he is supporting his line managers decision after he is certain they have their facts straight.

    That said, “Boss” is now a racial slur in your mind? Really? C’mon, in this context “Boss” is a term for an unreasonable, full of himself leader. Or maybe a reference to “straw boss’ who has responsibility but no authority? I am certain a racial slur is not what Don meant and I just don’t see the justification for your allegation. I think you also know that’s not what Don meant either, so why say it?

    At the risk of dating myself, I remember when “Boss” was a synonym for “excellent, dude” 🙂

    Isn’t it interesting (it is to me) how underlying meanings change with the experience, times and location? The more the words change with time, the more you encounter different people with different experiences the less underlying meaning you can read into words. Perhaps realizing your own context is not universal is one way we can heal ourselves from within and reduce the power of words when they are used to hurt?

    Anyway. I felt like that needed to be said.

  12. DOM

     /  June 25, 2013

    “Anyway. I felt like that needed to be said.”

    Obviously.

  13. Scott Maitland

     /  June 25, 2013

    Many,

    I disagree. I think Don is using the term pejoratively and intentionally because he likes the racial overtones.

    If you are unaware of the racial overtones inherent in the term “boss” then I think you need to reacquaint yourself with southern history; specifically, field bosses that oversaw the slaves and were called “boss.” Beyond that “Boss Tweed”,”Boss Hague,” and the fictional “Boss Hogg (who was based on Boss Hague)” also introduce corruption into the term. I think Don knew exactly what he meant when he wrote it. Ironically, the term “straw boss” you refer to is typically believed to have been coined in the fields to refer to a slaves who was given authority over other slaves.

    Your lack of historical understanding or knowledge does not diminish the power the term has to Don’s audience (except apparently you.)

    So, let’s go to the horse’s mouth. Don, why did you decide to use the term “boss” instead of Town Manager, Mister, or Roger? Were you unaware of all of that historical baggage? In other words, are you a powerful and effective writer that introduced a racially charged term or a culturally insensitive hack who accidentally added racial fuel to a fire?

    Terry, I have never seen or heard of a public denial by the sanitation two. Neither has the DTH as reported in their article. If we are both wrong, I apologize. However, the crux of the legal claim does not revolved around the truth of the allegations, it revolves around how much disciplinary process the two received.

    Don, with respect to the alleger in the hearing, do you not understand the fear of revealing yourself to the people who harassed you? It is not a criminal trial and the 6th amendment rights do not necessarily apply.

    All of the above pales to my next point. Don your posts to this blog have become more and more vitriolic and personally vindictive. You can disagree and you can argue and you can complain but when you resort to verbal theatrics and name calling you are doing a disservice to the quality of this blog.

  14. Don Evans

     /  June 25, 2013

    Scott

    “Boss” as in a corrupt politician. The historical power you attach to the word is from your own perspective.

    C’mon, Scott, Bigelow’s a lay minister. Do you really think he would track down the woman and pay her a visit?

    Bottom line: The charges were trumped up way beyond where they should have been. Bigelow was passed over for a job that a less qualified man was hired for. When he spoke out (Surprise! Here comes the race element: The man who was hired was white!), things started to get rough for him.

    Add in the pro-union activities and the town’s hiring a known union-busting investigative company to get whatever dirt it could find on the two, and it doesn’t take much more brain power to figure it out.

  15. Many

     /  June 25, 2013

    “If you are unaware of the racial overtones inherent in the term “boss” then I think you need to reacquaint yourself with southern history; specifically, field bosses that oversaw the slaves and were called “boss.” ”

    Scott,

    Sorry, I guess I need to bone up on my southern culture, which episodes of the Dukes of Hazard” should i watch? 🙂

    Seriously though….

    As far as I know “Field Boss” is a type of tractor. Perhaps “field boss” is as you say; but I think it is a serious stretch to overload the word “Boss” as racist because of the term “field boss”, don’t you? I cannot find “Boss” in the Oxford or Webster dictionaries with even a minor sub-reference to your definition.

    Jefferson Davis “Boss” Hogg the prototypical gluttonous corrupt southern commissioner was named after the President of the Confederacy, but this guy is fictional. Boss Hogg is supposed to be a comical incarnation of the seven deadly sins (according to Wikipedia). Of course this whole show is racist from a much more racist time when races other than white were portrayed on television in stereotypical, often negative ways. This sad fact was not restricted to the term “Boss” or to this show however, and while not completely gone, is history.

    “Boss Tweed” (Tammany hall) was two century’s ago (early 1800s) and this took place in NYC in the Democratic party. “Boss Hague” is a character from early last century in New Jersey. Neither noted for their racism in an admittedly racist time, neither from the south, both “democrats”, both noted as extremely corrupt and as potentially violent prototypical mob “bosses”.

    I was flipping the channels last night and I ran into a program called “NCIS” where a subordinate repeatedly refers to his obviously military supervisor as “Boss”. Both are white.

    “Big Boss Man” from Elvis Presley (and later the Grateful Dead and Nancy Sinatra) seems to be referencing a “Straw Boss” with no apparent racial overtones.

    “Big Boss Man” the wrestler was costumed as a prison guard. Perhaps a racial under tone might be construed, but nothing I can see that is overt such as a flag.

    I am curious about the source of your assertion and I am looking for some concrete reference to the term “Boss” being used as a racial slur? I have been unable to find one.

    Can you point to one?

  16. Terri Buckner

     /  June 25, 2013

    Scott, you’re right that the process followed by the town in issuing disciplinary action is the crux of the problem and from everything I heard while sitting through the personnel hearings for Mr. Clark and Mr. Bigelow, the town did not follow their own process. I believe the judge who heard the court case most recently agreed with that assessment. If you would like to read my detailed note, in which I tried to stay as neutral as possible, they can be found here:
    http://chapelhillwatch.com/2011/02/07/they-said-he-said/
    The notes from the second meeting can be found in the comments on that thread.

    For what it’s worth, I think Nancy and Don’s use of “boss” is offensive, and I don’t agree with it. But I do think the evidence I heard points to Mr. Clark and Mr. Bigelow losing their jobs due to their whistle blowing that was subsequently covered up through the complaints of customers (even though the woman who testified anonymously was very clear that she did not want them to be fired).

    In Roger’s June 17 presentation to council, referenced in Nancy’s post, it sounds like he and his management staff are working toward resolving many of the management problems and policy inconsistencies raised through the Clark/Bigelow hearings. I can’t see any reason to criticize what Roger presented; in fact, I thought it sounded like a very positive response to an unfortunate situation. What I didn’t hear addressed was whether the safety issues raised by Mr.Clark (his whistleblowing actions) have been corrected.

    I just listened to the agenda item and did not hear Roger state that he runs the town based on the manager-council form of government. I did hear Ralph Karpinos, the town’s attorney say that as a result of that manager-council form of government, the council could not pursue the suggestion made in a citizen’s petition requesting that the Personnel Appeals board make the final decision on personnel appeals.

  17. Don Evans

     /  June 25, 2013

    Is the use of “Boss” more offensive than the town’s actions against Clark and Bigelow? Let’s apply a little perspective here, folks, and get upset at the right provocation.

  18. Scott, I attended all the hearings, was at all the Council meetings where the employees or their supporters spoke to the “threatening” behavior allegations, etc. It was clear that they didn’t agree with that assessment.

    Beyond that, one of the anonymous witnesses said while she found their behavior rude on that occasion she actually wanted her old crew – which included Bigelow – back.

    “Committee members expressed concern that, though Bigelow’s conduct was confrontational, the situation should have been handled with progressive disciplinary action, and that Chapel Hill failed to substantiate that Bigelow’s behavior rose to the level of “threatening and intimidating behavior or detrimental personal conduct.” Members were “unconvinced” that the anonymous “testimony” of one of the female witnesses “corroborated the allegation of threatening and intimidating behavior,” especially because th at witness stated that though she found Bigelow’s behavior “rude and felt he had not done a satisfactory job, she did not want him fired. She just wanted her old crew back, a crew which included Bigelow.”

    Even with their court loss, the two continue to assert that their conduct didn’t rise to “threatening”.

    ” Two sanitation workers – Kerry Bigelow and Clyde Clark – were fired after being accused of being insubordinate in interactions with co-workers and supervisors, and engaged in threatening and intimidating behavior toward members of the public and in interactions with co-workers.

    In one cited incident, a resident reportedly asked the two men to do some extra cleaning because Biden was coming to town to attend a fundraiser at a house on the block.

    The resident told supervisors that the two men became hostile, yelling and getting in her face in response to the request.

    Both men denied the allegation, but eventually were fired after a hearing before the appeals committee, which upheld their firings.”

    Apr. 23rd, 2013
    http://www.heraldsun.com/news/x1686448180/Former-officer-critical-of-town-s-appeals-process

    Whatever the merits of their case, it is clear that the personnel appeals process is broken, that the criteria applied in these cases was out of proportion, that the Town didn’t follow its own policy in managing what it thought was misconduct.

    That the Town was so tardy in bringing forth the charges and that Stancil hired probably the most notorious North Carolina anti-labor consultancy to perform the evaluation further lends credence to their argument of bias and professional mistreatment.

  19. Terri Buckner

     /  June 26, 2013

    “Is the use of “Boss” more offensive than the town’s actions against Clark and Bigelow?”

    It’s not an either/or situation, Don. I find your language offensive, and the town’s action wrong. But the town, to their credit, is taking corrective action with their personnel policies, making sure managers have better training, and providing ombudsman to support staff and managers. Are you willing take your own corrective actions?

  20. Scott Maitland

     /  June 27, 2013

    Terri, Thanks for the concise summary, analysis and call to action for Don.

    Many, I never claimed it to be a racial slur, just that it had severe racial overtones. And perhaps the reason it isn’t in the OED is because the OED was written by white men. A lot of negro spirituals refer to the “boss”, “boss man” “white boss man.”

    Here’s a link to the lyrics of Old Man River
    http://www.stlyrics.com/songs/p/paulrobeson21072/olmanriver552417.html

    I could provide many other examples but you can just google them yourself.

  21. Many

     /  June 27, 2013

    Scott,

    It isn’t in the Urban dictionary either 🙂 http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=boss Warning: those easily offended should not read the Urban Dictionary.

    I think pointing to “overtones” of racism in Don’s statement because of his use of the word “boss” is at best specious and detracts from the real discussion. Why not stick to the subject and make the legitimate statement that the men were fired for cause? Then the discussion of “for cause” can be had rationally.

    If you think these two men were fired because of racism, it certainly was not on Don’s part. I don’t think Don was accusing the Roger Stancil of racism. (perhaps you are?) My reading of Don’s accusation was only that Roger Stancil is overbearing, a union buster, possibly a bad manager (not that any of those accusations are necessarily true, or in that order).

    I take charges of racism seriously. I think false charges do nothing more than help perpetuate and provide cover for the truly racist by giving them something to point at and say “see that accusation was unreasonable”. I hope you see my point.

  22. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 28, 2013

    Thanks Many- for restoring sanity to the discussion

    (oh – and my reference is “Boss Hogg -and as in “we live in NC – the Boss Hogg State”)

  23. Ph. Sledge

     /  June 30, 2013

    I am sad to see, as a black man, that most of this conversation is centered around the use of the word “boss”. I didn’t think Don used the word in a negative connotation and the reason I don’t think he did is because I had a front seat to another issue Roger Stancil was involved in some years back. “Over bearing” just begins to cover this man’s behavior and reputation. He lied to my family repeatedly and later lied to the press. I needn’t go into details–I’ve nothing to prove here. But suffice to say that he has been a loose cannon for years and council should reign him in and stop bowing down to him. I’ve often felt that if one man has so much power, his position should be an elected one and not appointed. Why he was ever chosen in the first place is still beyond me and I think it is high time that he goes. What he did to the Sanitation workers is just the tip of the iceberg according to other town employees I’ve known over the years. He is nothing short of a bully.
    Just my opinion–everyone deserves their own.

  24. Many

     /  June 30, 2013

    Ph Sledge.

    I agree. Focus should now be on the performance of the town manager his ability to lead and town policy with regard to it’s employees.

    I do not know Mr. Stancil but I am sure he has a difficult job in a difficult time for the town. I am always a bit suspicious of county or city manger bashing because they are such a easy target. Poor planning and leadership by elected officials is often the “root cause” of manager criticisms. You clearly have had more interactions with Mr. Stancil than I have. I think that the charges you make may be true, however I think there is a more systemic problem with the management organization in the town and part of the problem is an antiquated attitude toward town employees. I think generally policies are rooted in last centuries understandings of good management practices and are in need of a thorough house cleaning.

    A recent Gallup paper “The State of the American Workplace” studies just how much bad management is costing this country. This is a study of corporate managers, but I think the results and recommendations can be easily extended to government. Anyone can download the report here (caution: it is 2.7 MB in size): http://www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/163007/state-american-workplace.aspx

    I encourage people to read “What the Best Do Differently” on page 59, and compare that to where you work. Unless there is open and honest accountability and active engagement by the management with employees, they will be disengaged or worse, detractors. People are not engaged at work unless they understand completely what’s in it for them, and how that meshes with what’s in it for the organization. So called “360 feedback” questionnaires through an impersonal HR survey are meaningless and leading questions promote confirmation bias by management and cynicism from employees.

    Again, not knowing the intimate detail of the situation surrounding the dismissal of these two men, I hesitate to judge, but there are some broad heuristics. One reoccurring theme seems to center on how these two men handled a situation with their customers. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the Gallup study found that “The service worker job category saw a drop in engagement between 2009 and 2012, a period when other categories gained momentum.” (pg 42). What lead up to this complete disconnect with the customers that pay everyone’s salary?

    Another criticism I hear is the town did not follow the established process. If the process was clearly circumvented then that is a serious problem, however in my experience many processes fail because they are broken or were never implementable in the first place. This (in my experience) is particularly true of processes that are intended to be “punitive”, which seems to describe the intent of the “serious incident” process in question.

    Much more emphasis should be put on engaging and encouraging good employees rather than trying to “catch” or “punish” bad employees. When that process fails there should be swift, well understood and equally applied outcomes. It is the towns contention that these two men had a history of “insubordination, and substantiated intimidating behaviors”. Apparently the outcome of such behavior toward customers and co-workers was not communicated clearly and often enough.

    Leaving policy areas open for interpretation or to the mangers discretion is a recipe for the current mess. Hiring outside consultants is a abdication of responsibility and accountability and testimony to a organization that is more interested in covering its mistakes than engaging it employees.

    I do not understand the need or wisdom behind the overly cumbersome and lengthy three stage appeals process. It seems as if the message is that the town makes so many mistakes that they need a three stage appeals process to be fair. An appeals process, by the way whose outcome is controlled by the very person who administers what is being appealed? The only word that comes to mind is “Orwellian”.

    I submit that the town needs to become better at understanding a way to, encourage good employees and change the behavior of employees like these two men through continuous engagement, reasoning, rational discussion and documentation of the outcomes rather than waiting for things to fester and escalate. If that communication and engagement does not produce positive change, then those employees who are unable to act within the boundaries the organization has set should be fired for cause. to do anything else demoralizes the good employees and leads to situations such as this.

    It’s past time we begin to evaluate mangers and leaders on more than just numbers and outcomes and begin to look at the leadership and consensus skills they bring to the workplace daily. We also should recognize that although these skills can be learned, they are currently a rare commodity and need to be developed.

    BTW I am not completely surprised I cannot find a clearly stated town social media policy 🙂 Perhaps there is one, but I don’t see it.

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