Personnel issues: public and private

Personnel. It’s easily the most challenging aspect of running any business or organization. Keeping employees happy while trying to satisfy the public and meet the bottom line and purpose can be daunting.

In the journalism world, informing the public about personnel issues that their taxes pay for is equally challenging. There are three reasons that public bodies can close their meetings: for litigation, real estate transactions, and personnel discussions. Much as the public may want to be aware of staffing issues that involve governmental bodies, they are often cloaked in secrecy. Office doors are constantly opening and closing at city hall, in our schools and at the county courthouse, and most of the time all we in the press can do is report who left and who arrived to take their place.

At the helm of our middle school right now is a new principal who recently took over for the individual who was hired last summer to replace a longtime administrator who was moved to a less prominent position. We’ve covered that whirlwind of musical chairs, fully aware of hard feelings and accusations, little of which could be mentioned in stories except school district statements and faculty testimonials made at school board meetings.

Over at the city, the halls are still echoing from the chaos left by a short-time city manager who came to Moab with lots of baggage and left with even more. The era of Rebecca Davidson—a person who was supposed to bring professionalism to our city’s departments—has gone down as a legacy of legal woes and wrongdoings.

While things now appear to be more stable at the city, a number of notable staffing changes have occurred and are coming down the pike. The city planning director recently resigned quite suddenly and hasn’t been replaced. That, coupled with the city’s move away from the county to do its own building inspections and approvals, seems a little puzzling as to just how permits are being processed.

The longtime city recorder was just promoted to be the new finance director, leaving her spot open to appointment by a longtime staffer. The city wasn’t required to hold an application process for that critical role. Other jobs have been retooled and filled with other folks. There are more changes on the horizon; the current city manager is poised to leave this summer.

Staffing changes at one of Moab’s most notable nonprofit organizations made headlines last week. The monthly board meeting of Moonflower Community Cooperative was packed with an emotional crowd Feb. 21 at a Grand County Library meeting room and verbal charges were made.

The power of social media brought the level of attention to a head after the organization’s outreach coordinator was terminated from her position. As comments spread on the internet, it prompted people to flock to the meeting. Staffing issues that don’t normally become public debate in the nonprofit world suddenly became raw and very public.

Nonprofits, although not in the same category as tax-funded entities such as schools and cities, are still in the eye of public scrutiny due to their tax-exempt status and standards of operation. Nonprofits are answerable to the attornies general in which their states reside. The National Council of Nonprofits posits that, “America’s charitable nonprofits rely on the public trust to do their work. That is why it is so important that charitable nonprofits continuously earn the public’s trust through their commitment to ethical principles, transparency, and accountability.”

But few people who join a board of directors for a nonprofit organization expect to be in the bullseye of painful personnel—and personal—attacks. Nor does the public like it when the organizations they support become the center of controversy.

Two weeks ago as the issue was heating up, The Times-Independent took stock of public comments and attended Moonflower’s board meeting. Our reporter quoted members of the audience, and later interviewed the board’s treasurer who resigned in the wake of the drama. Then we were asked by a Moonflower insider to not run the story. As a staff, we discussed that request, and compared his arguments to the public awareness and interest of the matter. Why wouldn’t we cover it if scores of people attended a public meeting held in a public venue?

We sat on the story for five days debating its merits and hearing people talk about it around town. Then we were asked by Moonflower’s board to run a response to what had occurred. That made our story a “go,” so that we could convey, through our reporter’s pen, what was said in the meeting

Several letters to the editor in this week’s paper say we shouldn’t have done a story on the matter. But we beg to differ. Nonprofits hold a public responsibility to improve quality of life and are accountable to the people they serve.

But we are also accountable to the public. Moonflower’s board president says the public comments made against her by an aggrieved person were slanderous and not fully contextual. We reported what was said at the meeting. But our news story was wrong in stating that there has been a “series of unexplained terminations,” when in reality, there has only been a couple over the last several months. We regret that statement. But we don’t regret covering the story.

Here at The Times we do our best to inform the community about matters that involve the public’s trust. We report about matters that are important to the community. Matters the public talks about on social media, on the sidewalks, and at open board meetings.

We fully support Moonflower Market, its mission, its goods and its educational outreach. We understand that personnel issues can go awry, as they do from time to time in all businesses and organizations, including ours. We hope the co-op will have a more stable staffing climate going forward, and that the people who no longer fit there find productive purposes elsewhere in their lives.