“Merry Christmas, Mr. Scaife! Here’s your lump of coal!”
While it wasn’t put in exactly those words, that was the holiday message the Meriden City Council delivered last week to now-former City Manager Guy Scaife. It might have been more fun to wait a week and fire him on Christmas Day. Maybe next time.
Because heaven help the next person who takes on the job. Fire Chief Ken Morgan has agreed to do it for now, on an “acting” basis, and he seems to have the knowledge and skills to do well.
Then again, so did Mr. Scaife. What he lacked was the support of the power structure (translation: good-old-boy network) at City Hall, and that made all the difference.
Whether Mr. Morgan will wind up in the post permanently, well, that will depend on several factors, including what the definition of “permanently” is.
Right now, in Meriden, it seems to mean about 16 months. Here’s a mini-timeline: August 2016: “You’re hired.” October 2017: “Attaboy, here’s your raise.” December 2017: “You’re fired.”
Anyway, here’s some advice for the next candidate for the job:
■You may be told that you’re the new broom that sweeps clean. Don’t believe it.■You may be assured that the whole idea of hiring you from the outside was meant to shake things up at a City Hall that could use some shaking up, and that you can ignore the complaints of “That’s the way we’ve always done things” that you’re going to hear every time you want to make a change. Don’t believe it.■You may think your new bosses on the City Council expect you to bring new efficiencies to city government through technology, restructuring, or whatever. OK, but don’t step on any toes.■You may be told your job is “non-political,” but politics can still get you in the end. The majority party may decide to get rid of you without telling the minority councilors — or even the mayor. That’s how it works here, so get used to it.
This is not to suggest that Mr. Scaife bears no responsibility for the “infighting” and the “escalating discord” we’ve been hearing so much about. Maybe his management style sets people’s teeth on edge; I don’t know; I never worked for him.
And there are other questions, around the involvement of the FBI and those dark mentions of “financial wrongdoing.” The public has a right to know more about this stuff.
If the contract language empowering the City Council to fire Mr. Scaife “without cause” proves to be ironclad, the people of Meriden will at least be spared a repeat of the interminable, agonizing and expensive process that became necessary for the city to get rid of William Abbatematteo, another highly credentialed professional who was brought in from the outside, in 2001, to run the Police Department.
As of now, Mr. Scaife’s last question to the City Council — “Please tell me why you are terminating me this evening. What reason do you have to take away my financial livelihood and do irreversible harm to my professional career?” — remains unanswered.
All he got was, in effect: “Your keys, please.”
Reach Glenn Richter at email@example.com.