Happy post-Tallahassee Monday! Let’s get into it.
One of these three things is true:
1. Former Crystal River City Manager Doug Baber was the worst boss imaginable who belittled and bullied underlings behind closed doors while presenting a smiling face to the public.
2. Crystal River city workers are spoiled to the point that any forceful direction from a new boss unaccustomed to the way we do things around here is met with cries of mistreatment.
3. All of the above, none of the above, or a mix of the above.
I can’t help but be fascinated by the Crystal River City Manager saga. For a city that, in the last 15 years, has really sought to shore up its public image, this is just a stubbed toe no one saw coming.
To recap: Baber, who came to Crystal River from Mexico Beach, resigned last week after just six months on the job. His resignation letter stated he had to move back because he couldn’t sell his home in Panama City, an excuse virtually no one outside the Baber household believed.
The city sent him on his way with a $35,000 “consultant” contract good for six months of emails and phone calls.
The mutually agreed upon separation agreement calls for both parties to say nothing but nice things about one another. That agreement, however, doesn’t cover public records, and when the City Council accepted the deal last week, the mayor and attorney strongly hinted that the answers to this mystery were in emails if I simply requested them.
So I did. Some highlights:
— During four days over a long holiday weekend, eight city department heads or higher-ups sent written statements to the city attorney and/or Mayor Joe Meek with detailed complaints about Baber. Intimidation, questionable accounting decisions, bullying, skewering bids to favor certain businesses, threatening long-time employees with their jobs, and on it went.
I’ll return to these statements in a moment.
— Baber, for his part, sent a scathing rebuttal to the mayor and City Council defending his management style.
“We are at a critical point in the history of the City of Crystal River,” writes the man who’s lived here not quite two seasons. “More has been achieved in the past six months than years prior. I fear if this group of disgruntled and underachieving directors are successful in decapitating the City’s professional leadership that the city will be set on a path for another lost decade.”
He then attached a blow-by-blow chart of each accusation leveled against him and his response. Not surprisingly, Baber is totally innocent.
Let me first address the employees’ statements.
What struck me right off the bat is they were all written within a very short time frame — over Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday weekend, Jan. 13-16. I’ve read enough County Commission emails to see an orchestrated effort to sway opinion, and this clearly was an orchestrated effort to sway someone’s opinion.
One worker had apparently already resigned after complaining about Baber, but the resignation wasn’t enough. To his boss Troy Slattery, the public works director and now interim city manager, the worker wrote:
“I feel compelled to expand on my resignation. I have not been asked to write this or been coerced in any way. These are my own thoughts/observations.”
Um. OK. Sure.
Are these legitimate beefs? Some seemed like petty inside baseball stuff, but allegations of rigging bids or skimming from department budgets should be investigated.
Baber definitely had the heavy-handed approach, repeatedly telling workers who had been there for years to seek employment elsewhere if they didn’t like the pace.
As for Baber, his response to the city council members had to make their heads explode. Referring to loyal department directors as “disgruntled and underachieving” was way over the top, and likely sealed his fate.
Some people have what I call earned arrogance. Yeah, they’re arrogant, but look at that track record of success. Doug Baber is arrogant and has no track record of success. It’s not like he was brought in to rescue a dying city. I’m not sure what he’s bragging about.
I promise not to devote a ton of time to this. It’s not like we’re talking about IV 4. But I do have additional questions for the city, and we’ll see where that goes.
Have an awesome week, friends.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.