Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Can We Trust the Trust?

I'll go on record as saying I don't currently know all the facts surrounding Carmen Swinehart's termination as Market House manager, but the passionate outpouring of support from vendors, customers, and others leads me to believe she performed her job competently and professionally and treated everyone fairly and respectfully.  Why else would she able to command such loyalty? It also leads me to believe she has been wronged by a member - or members - of the Market House Trust. If, in fact, she was summarily dismissed on the spot as has been described in several accounts, then the termination procedure was blatantly coarse and unprofessional, and suggests that dirty, down-in-the-mud politics might be at work. Such actions, if true, reflect poorly on the entire Trust and overshadow its stated mission with doubt and suspicion. 

At last night's Council meeting, Carmen straightforwardly presented her case and gave a good accounting of herself. Why wasn't anyone present from the Trust? The closed meeting that two councilpersons had with members of the Trust last week leads me to believe the Trust is circling its wagons in full CYA mode. 

Although Council members presented a united, poker-faced front last night, I wonder - to paraphrase an old expression - what they knew and when they knew it. Barry Ford was the only one who seemed genuinely in the dark and out of the loop (and didn't want to stay there) when he requested an executive session be convened so he could learn what council had learned on the matter. 

By the way, a member of Council is married to a member of the Trust. To me, such a situation borders on a conflict of interest. One would think a councilman would want to avoid even the slightest hint of impropriety. That councilman should recuse himself from any future actions regarding the Trust. In addition, Council members need to remember they are public officials and are, at least in this circumstance, public figures, and as such are targets for criticism, warranted or not. In such a position, one cannot be too thin-skinned and start "talking lawyers" at the slightest provocation. 

Allegations of abuse on Facebook and email hacking were once again brought to the fore. When asked where the investigation of these allegations stands, Mayor Lutz replied they are “ongoing.”  Let's hope they're not “ongoing” too long.

It was also alleged last night that a member of the Trust has discussed Carmen's termination with patrons of the Market House, in the process giving different versions of the event.

One speaker, Paul Miles, suggested that if Council does not resolve the matter, a strike might be in the offing to bring down the Market House. 

I hope Council realizes that when they lend power to some in their charge, they'll use it as a cudgel and bludgeon everyone and everything in their path.  As it stands now, Carmen is one of those victims, a victim of - if you'll forgive the term - "Machiavellian machinations."  The other victim is the credibility of the Trust, but in their case, the wound is self-inflicted.

According to Carmen, she was not given an explanation as to why she was fired, other than a limp bone of an excuse about not being a “good fit.”  (God save me from trendy euphemisms.)

The standard procedure when terminating someone's employment is to offer a meeting and give a reason - or minimally, a justification - if not out of decency, then at least out of decorum.  Any employee deserves as much. 

I hope tonight's meeting with the vendors proves informative and productive and helps Council render a sound decision on this issue - with full transparency. I also hope Carmen examines her legal options.

In any case, Council needs to get to the bottom of this matter and rein in or dissolve the Trust if necessary.  If they don't, the credibility of both bodies will be damaged more than it has been already.

The consequences of inaction will be dire: a further erosion of public trust, loss of the Council's credibility, and the possible end of the Market House as a business enterprise.

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