The Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke said, “all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing". It is probably hyperbole to speak of local government in such terms, but I hope it helps to explain why I feel I must write this blog. It has been a long time coming.
When the announcement was released in January 2011 that Sally Felix was retiring effective February 25, 2011 as the Director of Siouxland Libraries, my antenna immediately went up. I did not believe Felix was retiring of her own volition and found out from her personally that she was in fact fired by Mayor Huether with the best option offered to retire in six weeks.
Huether told the city management team in October 2010 at the city’s internal Fall Forum that he was going to be making more personnel changes. He had already fired four city directors. I’m not sure anyone would have guessed that Sally Felix would be next. To me the most sadly ironic fact about Felix’s firing is that, truly, it’s not that Sally Felix isn’t good enough to work for this Mayor, it’s that she’s too good to work for him.
Mayor Huether has experience in banking. He thinks that because he can analyze a bank’s organizational chart he is qualified to determine when a library system should be reorganized. Sally Felix has decades of library management experience and still is open to always finding a better way to run her organization. But you judge whose expertise won out.
Mayor Huether questioned the need for libraries in general, noting that research can be done using Google and consumers can buy e-readers. He equated library services as only reaching out to the homeless and the poor. As ill-conceived as that may be, let’s go down that road a minute and ponder the logic of supporting the purchase of a security system to lock the homeless up but questioning the worth of a system that can teach them to read.
When you consider it in this context, it is not surprising that Sally Felix was not compatible with Mike Huether. She was very much attuned to the changing role of libraries and supported the evolution of her programs and services. Under her leadership, usage rose in all categories and the demand for neighborhood libraries grew to the point that new branches were envisioned years into the future.
So, it's really not surprising that even though this Mayor claimed to want to surround himself with people who would “challenge” him, when faced with a confident, competent and forthright person like Sally Felix—whose beliefs clearly differed from his own—the expedient course was just to fire her.
Felix wasn't ready to retire yet. She had only been with the City for 8 years. Lucky for her that she was vested in the city’s pension system and was able to retire. She was past the age of 60 which is the allowable retirement age with a minimum of 5 years of service. Felix wanted to stay at least until the end of this year or possibly next. She wanted to be here to make sure the new Westside Branch Library was well on its way to being built. But the mayor made it clear to her that the best offer was the end of February. Felix says he told her he didn't care how much she worked and that she could work one day a week if she wanted. I suppose she should be thankful she got about 6 weeks "severance", if you want to call it that. When he fired Buseman as Public Health Director, she got 4 days.
I listened to the January 2011 ASK THE MAYOR program on Channel 16 (go to 9.23 on the video). It was hard to listen to the mayor's comments when I knew the truth about Felix leaving the City. The mayor, when asked about Felix leaving stated, "Sally did a great job in Sioux Falls, we are very blessed to have her here but she has made the decision to retire and when that happens we also have to move on". The mayor went on to say that he hoped there would be someone on her staff who would apply for the job. There are some very talented people on Felix's staff but there is no one on her staff who is as experienced as she is or who could compete with her qualifications on a level playing field. And, most tellingly, after a personal plea from the Mayor for internal applicants, he ended up ceding to the need for a national search. One can only surmise that those who now know him don’t want to work for him. How ironic that Sally Felix was recruited through a national search. And so today, Sally Felix leaves and Siouxland Libraries is without a director.
I wrote a blog about Sally Felix when I first heard she was "retiring". When I go back and read it now, I wonder how on earth he could fire this outstanding career professional. It's certainly couldn't be for performance, so it had to be personal. The Library Board deserved the truth from the mayor instead of this facade that she was retiring. She did not voluntarily choose to resign or "retire".
Just because you have the power to appoint and fire at the city director level, it doesn't mean you treat this executive, career professional level of service so disrespectfully and without any sense of decency and truth. Unfortunately for Felix, she felt she could not speak up because she feared she would be terminated immediately without any form of severance pay. Being out of work so abruptly, she needed as much paid time as possible. Six weeks later she is still in shock over what has happened to her career.
Mayor Huether should take a moment to read this tribute to Chicago’s Mayor Daley and his support of public libraries as it appears in the Chicago Tribune. As the author writes, there are myriad ways to judge a mayor’s achievements. There are just as many ways to judge one's ability to lead and manage people. And to me, the case of Sally Felix tells you everything you need to know.