OPINION: Dismay on many levels over prank

By Stephen Knight

When I read a recent Record-Journal article with the headline “Town Workers face discipline after fake security camera prank in Wallingford,” (R-J, 3/25) my reaction was of dismay on many levels. Dismay that they pulled this prank at all and got themselves in such hot water. Dismay that the remedy might even include them all being terminated as employees of our Electric Division. Dismay that this has become a “public” issue rather than strictly a personnel issue. And dismay that dismissing up to five highly skilled employees from the division may well take months and months of recruitment and training. Let me elaborate on each of the previous four sentences.

First of all, it is a shame that these employees exhibited such a lack of judgment. Deviating from their work schedule and using town equipment without authorization are two actions that cannot and should not be overlooked. I have hope that the employees involved are now very aware of that and are kicking themselves that they ever thought of committing the prank. At this point, I am sure they are.

Secondly, I truly hope that the work record of these employees, other than this ill-advised stunt, warrants keeping them employed with the Electric Division. Termination is very, very severe, and should be treated as a last resort. I know of where I speak. I can proudly list 12 years as a manager of skilled, professional truck drivers, members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and another three years as an owner of an LTL freight carrier employing a dozen local drivers. My wife Cathy, to whom I have always looked for guidance in such matters, held a regional human resources management position for Overnite Transportation as well. It has instilled in us an admiration and respect for the rank-and-file workers that are the foundation of every such service organization. And, in this case, the union to whom they pay dues had better be stepping up to ensure that the punishment they receive is commensurate to the offense. Personally, given my aforementioned experience, termination in this case seems unwarranted, but I am the first to admit that I know of this incident only through one newspaper article.

Thirdly, this should not have become a “public” issue. Having it become so immeasurably complicates the determination of the appropriate discipline. There will be always be members of the community that feel it is their “right” as taxpayers to sit in judgment of these personnel issues, shouting “off with their heads” as if they had any inkling of the complexities of such sensitive human resource issues. Their loud involvement, and that of self-righteous politicians, hardens positions on both sides. Management in any organization is a balancing act between maintaining discipline and maintaining a culture of trust between management and the staff they supervise. Adding the inevitable busybodies really makes their job a thankless one in these cases. Nothing is as simple as it looks to be in a 650-word article in the newspaper, and a just outcome is so much harder to achieve now.

And please don’t tell me about the public’s “important right to know.” How many dozen times have you seen a public official demur to speak to the media on a “personnel matter?” There is a legitimate reason for such reticence as described in the preceding paragraph.

Lastly, termination of up to five Electric Division employees for their serious but ultimately stupid mistake will have a significant impact on the Electric Division itself. I have to assume that these employees possess a skill set that is very important to the division, and recruitment and training of replacements of these five men would take months and months to accomplish. I am speculating that this would hamper the operation and its ability to quickly respond to outages and the critical repairs that are part of their normal work. That is my selfish reason that I hope that the investigation into their prank does not result in their termination.

I decided on this topic for several reasons. First, given my work background, it interests me. Second, my tour as a Wallingford town councilor and my concern that the Electric Division be left to sort out this matter as it deems fit free from public interference compels me to ask for such in this column.

Last of all, I want the best and most appropriate outcome for both the employees and the management. Human resources management is a really difficult job. Managing a complex operation such as the Electric Division while in the public eye is also a difficult job. Let’s leave all of this to them — all of us. I promise this is my final word on the subject. Will everyone please join me — right now?

Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.


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