Friday, February 25, 2011

The Firing of Sally Felix

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.


35 comments:

  1. I can't understand how the Mayor could tell the news media with a straight face that Sally had retired of her own volition when he in fact had fired her. It really shows the "good people of Sioux Falls" (to use the Mayor's overused tag-line) who they have really elected as their mayor. I think when they voted last year they wanted transparency, integrity and truth in the mayor's office and now they are slowly finding out they got something less. And another thing - the library director is just not a city position. Siouxland Libraries is a joint venture between the City of Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County. Did the Mayor consult with the county before firing Sally? I don't know for sure but I doubt it. There's something that ought to be investigated right now. The City probably has the final say-so in the hiring /firing of a library director, but doesn't common sense suggest that you at least let the other party of a joint venture know about something like this? I think the people of this area deserve better. A grain of truth in the saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely"

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  2. Unethical behavior..how do we start a recall petition? Dispicable behavior unbecoming to the office of Mayor.

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  3. It reminds me of a former City Attorney's "firing".

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  4. It appears your major is an incompetent short sighted buffoon. One of the most important qualities an executive can have is the ability to recognize and cultivate talent within the organization. Failure to do so is failure of leadership and to deny or misrepresent ones actions is failure of character. A sad commentary.

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  5. He can do a LOT more damage before the end of his term! I cant wait to see what happens if the event center doesnt go through. Will he take that out on the employees too! Everything else seems to have fallen on their shoulders.

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  6. Let me offer another perspective, I'm assuming all of you are open minded and open to other opinions.

    First, none of us ever truly knows what goes on behind the scenes. How do we know the Mayor and Sally didn't have a serious disagreement on a major issue? How do we know if Sally made a statement or series of statements that made it obvious to the Mayor that they were just on different pages in terms of the future of the library system and management styles? Whether you like it or not, the Mayor is the CEO of city government and he was elected overwhelmingly just recently.

    Personally, and I know many other regular people feel this way as well, I like the fact this Mayor is making changes - most of all, making difficult personnel decisions and changing the culture and the rampant entitlement attitude at City Hall where no one ever gets fired for performance, ever, and annual raises and loaded benefits packages are expected regardless of performance or the current economy. Jennifer touts "career professionals" as opposed to bringing in new blood with business acumen because she was a career bureaucrat herself, so ofcourse she's going to defend that crowd. And Cheryl, ask yourself this, if there is a lack of internal talent to promote at City Hall, do you blame the current Mayor who has been there all of 8 months or do you blame the person who has been responsible the past 20+ years for talent recruitment and hiring (previous HR Director)? As for those panning the national search approach to finding new department heads, you should know that Sally Felix, the current topic of this blog and widely applauded here, was chosen by way of national search - you can't have it both ways folks. This lack of internal talent to promote didn't just happen, the last Director's I can think of that were promoted internally were Doug Barthel (great choice) and Rick Larsen (he was gone in less than a year). Mark Cotter and Don Kearney were other examples hired from outside City Hall....by the way, on Jennifer and the previous Mayor's watch. Nothing new going on here folks, and Jennifer of all people knows it full well.

    Wake up folks, the rapid recent erosion of unions and downright revolt taking place right now in other states against unions and that mentality is because the vast majority of the public wants government as usual to change - especially the no one ever, ever gets fired or demoted no matter what, and we just always promote other bureaucrats from within approach. It's ridiculous and all of you are in a very slim minority bubble, trust me. I applaud this Mayor for shaking things up and making a statement that being aggressive and being efficient in govt are not four letter words. It should be clear by now that this Mayor is not a "wait for consensus before I do anything" leader like the previous Mayor. He's a real leader who's going to do what he believes is right for the taxpayers and for his agenda which people overwhelmingly supported just 10 months ago. No more massive overspending on pet projects, no more task force's that lead to nowhere, and no more six figure PR types pretending to be Chief of Staff. You can attack or question the approach and that's your right, but honestly it's pretty hard to argue with any of his personnel decisions to date when you look at each one individually. Give it time folks, judge him after 4 years, not 4 months.

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  7. Someone is asked to leave but given the option to resign/retire, and this is a new concept to anyone here? Happens every day in the real world. Stop the incessant criticsm and whining, offer solutions for a change....or here's a novel approach, get off the couch and get in the action, try being a leader.

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  8. Hey Huether Anonymous, get your blog.

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  9. Hey Jennifer, get off the couch and be a leader...LMAO. The liar doth protest too much.

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  10. Ah, he's sent out the henchmen. You're missing the point of this post. It's not the fact that a mayor may have not "clicked" professionally with one of his direct reports. It's the fact that he instructed her to lie about her departure. And then he lied about it. There was no "option" to call it a retirement. It was a mandate. This is much more a commentary about his character than it is about his personnel moves. Jennifer has exposed the man behind the curtain, so to speak, and no amount of spin can change the facts.

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  11. I do support the Mayor, along with 80% of the public according to the latest Argus scientific (not online) poll. I love how you freedom of speech advocating bloggers tell the first differing opinion that shows up here to leave instead of engaging on the facts. Oh wait, blogs aren't really for facts, but rather conspiracy theories from uninvolved third parties. Nice.

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  12. The facts tell the truth and the truth never lies. The mayor told everyone that Sally Felix decided to retire, when in fact, she was FIRED. The fact remains that the mayor LIED. The city directors serve at the pleasure of the mayor. He has every right to get rid of them and replace them if he so chooses. However, that is not the point. He lied. That is the exact point. I don't understand why this man can't be honest. It really shows what his true character is.

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  13. "He's a real leader who's going to do what he believes is right for the taxpayers and for his agenda which people overwhelmingly supported just 10 months ago." Who are you kidding? The lesser of two evils, IMHO.

    "No more massive overspending on pet projects"? What do you call the Events Center? Hmmm, sounds like a pet project to me, with the hope that a big picture of his face is erected on the outside of it. The Events Center is a "pet project" that needs to go to a public vote now. Then we'll see just how much the people of SF "overwhelming" support this mayor.

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  14. I agree with a recent previous post. The Mayor does have the right to do what he did, but the bigger issue is how he did it. I would like to think that the overwhelming majority who elected him and still supposedly support him want city business done in an open and honest manner, not with lies and deception. (or maybe they do want a liar in the Mayor's office?) That's my point here. If he is doing things like this already at this point in his term, do we really want to find out what other lies and deception he is going to pull during the rest of his term? How much lying has he already done up to this point that we haven't found out about yet? Maybe I'm just too idealistic for this day and age, but aren't our public servants supposed to conduct business in a decent and upright manner? Be "above reproach" in all of their dealings? If this is really what the people of Sioux Falls (and this whole area, for that matter) want in their elected officials, then I guess the battle for truth & honesty in government is lost already. From this point on, my attitude toward him when I see him speaking somewhere is going to be "his lips are moving, he must be lying", unless he comes clean at some point and admits he made a mistake in the way he handled this situation. When you are in the public arena (and even in private life), truth & honesty are of utmost importance. If you bypass them, you lose your integrity and no one is going to belive ANYTHING you say from that point on. This will ultimately be how we as the public will judge this Mayor long after his term is over. Will we remember him as being a progressive risk-taker who made some hard decisions early in his term that ultimately led to an even better city in the long run? Or will we remember him as someone who lied and deceived his way along to promote his own "my way or the highway" agenda? Time will tell. Real leaders are not necessarily remembered for their accomplishments, but how they conducted themselves in the pursuit of these accomplishments AND being willing to admit their mistakes, learn from them and move on. Take the high road, Mr. Mayor - repentance at this time would be very good for both the soul and your legacy.

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  15. Would you have preferred he embarrassed her and stripped her of all dignity by announcing he fired her? My god people, this happens every day where individuals at high levels just need to part ways, and people being given the option of resigning/retiring is a show of respect. The real tragedy here is that now the whole world will know that Sally's professional exit was being fired, not retiring. If Sally truly wanted that she would have told the Mayor "No, I won't retire, you'll have to fire me if you want to go in a different direction", but she didn't. She trusted the wrong person and now the secret and dignity she could have taken into retirement is on a blog and will probably wind up in the newspaper. Let's stick with the facts, the fact is she officially retired and nobody can dispute that. If she didn't want to reture she wouldn't have filed the paperwork and gone along with the story. Also keep in mind folks, we are ASSUMING all of this is true based a single blog posting. Keep that in mind.

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  16. To set the record straight, the content of this blog came directly from Sally Felix. There was no assuming anything on my part. She said he fired her and she retired because she was eligible to retire. She chose retirement because she unexpectedly lost her source of income. It was the Mayor's secret, not her secret. I asked her to review it for accuracy, which she did. All she asked of me was to not publish it until her last day.

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  17. Tired of the Mayors spinFebruary 26, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    He embarrassed the first four directors by publicly firing them so the argument he didn't want to do it to the librarian doesn't seem to hold water. He lied, period. It's the lie that is objectionable!

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  18. "Tired" is right on. My guess is he didn't want to face the backlash from her board, the county, the city council, etc. Felix is very well-respected and deservedly so.

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  19. I do believe Jennifer's account, especially if she is stating it came directly from Sally. I also appreciate Jennifer approving all blog postings, even those critical of her.

    I know I'll be lambasted by this group for the following statement, but I now have less respect for Sally. I mean she's supposedly standing up for what's right by providing this story but then saying "....but don't share with the world until I'm gone and won't have to see anyone at city hall"??? Pretty weak.

    But let's get back to the personnel issue. Does anyone truly think any Mayor would get rid of Director's he/she feels will be highly productive and make him/her look good? The answer is no. When I used to coach, I had parents complain all the time about their kids not playing because they thought they were better than kids playing in front of theirs. I always gave the same response - if your kids can hit home runs, make 3 pointers, score touchdowns, etc., trust me, they'll play because I want to win.

    We can agree to disagree on approach and public messaging, but this type of transaction happens hundreds of times daily across the country, it's business and it's life. Please don't take this the wrong way because I'm not trying to be inflammatory, but I think many of you simply live in a very naive and polyanna-ish world.

    The bottom line is that these positions serve at the pleasure of the Mayor, an elected official, in other words a politician, no matter how you slice it. These positions enjoy six figure salaries and control over multi-million dollar budgets and critical community decisions. They know all this when they accept the position, period. Honestly, whether it be in the public or private sector, I've never known anyone who got fired when they were doing a great job. Do your job and you'll have a job, simple as that.

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  20. Tired of the Mayors SpinFebruary 26, 2011 at 5:28 PM

    Didn' t this non performing librarian just get a commendation at the last City Council meeting honoring her for all her accomplishments leading Siouxland libraries? Public recognition by resolution from the City Council for a bad employee? Your comment doesn't pass the smell test.

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  21. I'm not saying Ms. Felix was a non performer, it probably had more to do with her and the mayor just having different visions for the future of libary services.

    As for the city council, don't read too much into that, they are not on the administrative side and wouldn't have a clue really as to who is truly excelling on a day to day performance level. The resolution was a nice touch, a courtesy they would likely extend any retiring director.

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  22. I've read through the comments and am so surprised that Felix has been demonized when the Mayor was the one actually caught in a lie. Comments on the ASK THE MAYOR clip by him are pretty telling considering Felx says she was Fired. The Mayor and his supporters are trying way too hard to try to spin it in another direction. I will never trust another thing that comes out of his pontificating mouth. Spin it all you want, a lie is a lie, is a lie. Liars always deflect the issue onto something else or someone else.I know Sally Felix and based on some of your comments, you do not.

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  23. Sally.

    Good job, and I trust retirement will be kinder to you than working for a liar. I'm sure you will be much happier in greener pastures.

    Jen.

    Thanks for your blog. I'm having a hard time with you. I want to address many city issues you were a part of, and then you do stuff like this.

    Polly Amalo

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  24. Since you found the time and need to request a review of this particular issue for accuracy purposes, I wonder if you have ever done so with Mayor Huether? He does seem to be the sole purpose of your blog and yet I have never once read that you have spoke directly to him or with him on any of the content. Relying on the media and disgruntled employees and citizens is not probably the best way to form an educated opinion.

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  25. Relying on the mayor is probably not the best way to form an educated opinion. You may want to reconsider that statement considering the facts presented in this particular blog entry.

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  26. I am very afraid for the good folks of Sioux Falls. It appears they have elected a person of low morals and ethics. Even though the last writer seems to support the mayor he goes on to acknowledge there are disgruntled employees and citizens. Those who work for him and those who have been on the wrong side of his anger tell a whole different story about our supposed CEO as he likes to call himself. I thought his title was Mayor. Hate to think of the damage he will wrought on the City before his term is up. What is most curious is that he is reading and commenting on blogs. Keep protesting and attacking the blog writers and the city employee you talked so fondly of in the Ask The Mayor segment as it only supports what everyone says about you behind your back. I only hope
    the City Council is strong and vigilant during your remaining term.

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  27. The sad fact of the matter is that the mayor believes only 'poor' people use public libraries. This particular constituency doesn't contribute to political campaigns and money buys access. The mayor is cutting spending where the constituency doesn't count and he putting those savings where it contributes to the lifestyle of Sioux Falls' affluent and politically philanthropic constituency can benefit from it. Such as the Events Center. I believe he was hoping a library staffer would apply for the job so that person could do the same job for less pay. He was wrong. Now the expense of a National Search will put any new library initiatives on hold. Still the Event Center wins.

    I wonder what the mayor will say when he finds out that everyone uses the public library system? “You could have knocked me over with a feather?”

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  28. I understand that the Library Director serves the Library Board. The Board hires and accepts resignations. Was there Board action? Also, over 5% of the budget is for the library, that requires City Council approval. Was there City Council approval? Was this a retirement or termination, the world wonders?

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  29. Does anyone know if the mayor was fired from his previous job or did he retire before he started his campaign for mayor? I'm not trying to make a statement, I am truly curious so please don't attack me because I am very fragile.

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  30. Why didn't anything come out back then about how this guy could spend one whole year just running for mayor without a job especially when there were rumors out there that Premier Bank was happy he was gone. This guy only won because of who he was running against in the run off.

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  31. I believe that people at Premier Bank were happy to see him go because he treated them in the same manner that he is now treating his city employees. I understand that he brought people to tears on a regular basis at Premier. When I first heard this I assumed that they were not up to the challenge that he demanded and was not particularly sympathetic. However, I have witnessed first hand Mayor Huether's intense anger with anyone who dares to question him. More concerning is his presumption of superiority and his outright dismissal of alternative perspectives. This can't possibly be good for the city of Sioux Falls. Although leaders need to be able to make quick and decisive moves when in crisis mode, they should be able to integrate multiple perspectives when developing long-term plans. This is where Mayor Huether falls short.

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  32. Where was the library board support when this was going on?

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  33. The Library Director before Sally Felix retired suddenly a few months after Munson was elected Mayor. Deja Vu.

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  34. To set the record straight on the last post, the Library Director preceding Sally Felix, elected to retire of his own volition without any encouragement or direction from Mayor Munson or his administration. Sorry, No Deja Vu there.

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  35. Just curious, what is the Mayor's vision of the Library System? I have not heard him express it. How does firing Sally Felix relate to firing of Judy Buseman? Both women toward the end of their careers? My guess is that if Costello, Brown or Peterson would have become Mayor these women would still be Directors.

    Also, my guess is the Mayor is spending his Political Capital faster than he is acquiring it.

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