Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
What a mess. What a stupid mess. I feel sorry for everyone involved.
No, I’m not talking about the U.S. Congress – that’s a stupid mess, for sure; but I do not feel sorry for anyone involved. (Except to the extent that all of us are involved, like hostages on a doomed ship sailing off the edge of the world. So I feel sorry for all of us. But never mind that.)
I am talking about the Basalt Brouhaha. The Midvalley Meltdown. The Cluster at the Confluence. The Fryingpan Follies. The Royal Flush on the Roaring Fork.
Oh, never mind. You know what I mean: the damnable disaster (just can’t help myself) that swallowed the Basalt chief of police, Roderick O’Connor.
Right off the bat, I feel sorry for O’Connor. He might or might not have deserved to lose his job, but he certainly did not deserve to get dragged right behind the elephants (with all that implies) in this particular circus parade.
I also feel sorry for the police officers who filed the complaints that triggered the entire mess. And sorry for past Town Manager Bill Kane and current Town Manager Mike Scanlon. I even feel sorry (and this took a bit of work) for the members of the Basalt Town Council who found a mudpit, dived into it, wallowed in it, churned it up and splattered it all over the place.
Most of all, I feel sorry for the town of Basalt, which really deserved a whole lot better than, in the end, it got.
OK. Let me unpack all of that a little.
As near as I can make out, it all boiled down to a simple and not uncommon occurrence: Roderick O’Connor was a nice guy who was good at his job and just couldn’t make the transition to management, from small-c cop to capital-C Chief.
It’s an interesting fact of life that people get promoted to management because they’re good at their job and suddenly discover that none of the job skills that got them promoted have anything to do with their brand-new position.
Your old job was the job. Your new job is managing people who do your old job.
It’s easy to stumble.
I speak of this as someone who wandered upward from reporter to copy editor to managing editor to editor-in-chief/publisher – and you can ask those who had the (mis)fortune to work with me about my (and their) trials and tribulations along the way.
O’Connor’s management sins, such as they were, may seem minor, even trivial, to those who were not on the receiving end of his management efforts.
But working for a bad boss can be a painful experience indeed – and those who complained seem to have done it out of desperation, not animosity.
Whatever their reasons, once they did file that complaint – which seems to have been the only recourse they felt they had (if your bad boss is a bad boss because he’s bad at “communicating,” how do you “communicate” that failing to him?) – everything ran right off the tracks.
With the town’s administration in transition – Kane on his way out, Scanlon not yet in – the complaints were shoveled to an outside firm for an independent investigation and once that happened the gears of doom began to grind.
And the inevitable conclusion of those inexorable gears represents a serious loss for all concerned. Basalt has lost an excellent public servant who might have become an excellent police chief. O’Connor has lost the opportunity to become that excellent police chief.
And the officers who complained might have, I suspect, lost the willingness to step up next time something is wrong. This experience cannot have been anything other than extremely unpleasant for them, as well. I do not know, but I cannot think they feel anything like triumphant.
One might well hope that in a sane world (assuming there is such a thing) it all could have been handled, at least at first, by making O’Connor aware of the problems.
Certainly, as a manager, lack of awareness seems to have been one of his main problems. He didn’t understand the impact he was having on the people who worked under him.
Since the transition to management is difficult, new managers often don’t realize that the behavior that was just fine when they were “one of the guys” (a term that is not, by the way, gender-specific) just doesn’t cut it when they are “the man” (also not gender-specific).
It is certainly more than possible that just a simple meeting – or, more likely, a meeting with a lot of follow-up and maybe even some training – could have solved the entire problem.
Sadly, we’ll never know.
Now it is tempting right here to veer off into a riff on the evils of ham-handed government that can never get anything right.
Government attempts to solve problems are, as I believe I have said before, like brain surgery with boxing gloves and a blindfold.
But dealing with bad boss syndrome is a major problem everywhere, even – perhaps especially – in our sacred “private sector.”
The world is full of bad bosses who keep their jobs because they are skilled at the process known as Suck Up/Kick Down. And that’s no more the situation in government than in private companies. (Or, for that matter, nonprofits. Please don’t make me start in again about the Aspen Music Festival and its boss.)
When all is said and done, bad bosses are a plague on the land. Many millions (really) live in terror of their terrible bosses.
And there’s the rub: Roderick O’Connor wasn’t a terrible boss, and I don’t think anyone lived in terror of him. And that’s why no one really deserved what happened.
But no one, it seems, could make it come out any other way.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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