HomeStoriesHow Not to Lead 101: Alan Rodbell's "Difficult Decisions"

How Not to Lead 101: Alan Rodbell’s “Difficult Decisions”

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So, I hear Commander Aaron Minor was fired . . . again.  Or re-fired (if that’s even a word)?!  With all the Covid stuff going on it made it under the radar of the local news media.  You can read my take on the firing from an earlier post.  You can also check out some of the initial news coverage of it from outlets like AZFamily.com.  Literally hours after his firing, an email went out through the organization that “unfired” him.  He sat in limbo, at home, for several months as something went down behind the scenes until he was, again, terminated last week.

The great debate is if Aaron Minor was fired for a legitimate integrity violation or if he was fired because he attempted to protect an employee from administrative prosecution after speaking up about the misconduct of a superior.  My opinion is that he was fired for violating the cardinal sin at Scottsdale, “not kissing the Pope’s ring”.  That’s the motto everyone at the PD refers to when someone gets disciplined, demoted, transferred or fired for speaking up.  It happens all the time.  I can go through the list of employees.

I’ve always argued that Scottsdale’s leadership is crazy toxic.  It’s defined by a culture that uses fear and the threat of disciplinary action to keep the extent of the organization’s leadership dysfunction out of the headlines.  I knew it was bad when I was there, but it was not until after I left, and went to work for another organization, that I really saw how toxic it was.  It was a seismic shift when I went to work for a place that is truly employee-centric and began working for people that genuinely try to keep their employees happy and feel supported.

Recently, something happened that I thought provides a tiny peak into the leadership culture that I’ve talked about, seldom is documented for the public to see and illustrates why so many employees thought Minor was a victim.  That he was the victim of a group in leadership that have very little oversight, discipline people with impunity, and that the decision to seek disciplinary action against an employee usually has to do more with who they pissed off, rather than the actual misconduct they were involved in.

Here’s what went down recently that I’m even surprised by.  As part of this Covid-19 craziness the Federal Government passed the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA).  It provides employees with 80 hours of emergency sick time that expires on December 31, 2020.  The idea is that if you get Covid, or have to miss work to deal with secondary things related to the quarantine (like child care), you have an extra two weeks of paid leave.  The law allows employers to exempt essential workers—any Overland Park Criminal Defense attorney will see you through this matter. This would include first-responders and medical personnel.  The law says an employer may exempt these groups.  The law does not automatically do so.

Chief Rodbell decided to exempt almost all Scottsdale Police personnel.  That made for a lot of concerned and unhappy employees.  I can understand both sides of the argument.  One, you don’t want to have a run on sick leave during this time, especially if things start to get dicey.  On the other hand, this law was made to help those most susceptible to contracting the virus by virtue of their job and who may have to miss prolonged periods of work.

To address the employees’ concerns, the President of POSA (Police Officers of Scottsdale Association) wrote a letter to the Chief about the matter.  Part of the letter reads:

“The main concern that has been discussed with me is the EPSLA does not automatically exclude Emergency Responders, but the Chief has elected to exempt employees.  This in turn has made employees feel, yet again, unvalued . . . Everyone that I have spoken with has understood this leave could cause some staffing issues, but all have agreed that this leave still could be used with some cooperation and discussion with their respective supervisor . . . Chief, I ask that you revisit this memo and allow the stated exempt police positions to submit the request, if needed, and be considered on a case to case basis.  I am always willing to sit down and discuss members’ concerns with you further if you like”.

To me it seems like a reasonable request and a request that went through POSA, a recognized entity created to facilitate this very type of employee-leadership interaction.

Here is how the Chief decided to respond:

“ . . . I take exception to your statement, ‘This in turn has made employees feel, yet again, unvalued’ since I’m not sure what you are referring to.  Perhaps you can enlighten me as to when PD employees, all PD employees, were not a consideration or priority with the City Manager, or with me.” 

Let me address this first, smug-ass, part of the response with a game I love to play that was coined by Adam Corolla.  It’s called Stupid or Liar.  Whenever someone says or does something that is so obviously contrary to the facts or to the general beliefs of the masses, you have to ask yourself if the act was done because the person it too stupid to understand the reality or just lying to try to save face.  This is a Rodbell Stupid or Liar moment.

Hey Chief, you know, or should know, exactly what he is referring too.  It’s been the 800-lbs gorilla in room for the past 7-10 years.  You guys (the SPD leadership) treat your people like shit.  It’s why there has been a large and consistent exodus from the organization during your time as Chief.  It’s why so many cops have transferred from Scottsdale to other local agencies that have 3, 5, even up to 7 seven years on with SPD.  It’s why cops that have 10+ years decided to change careers or move to federal law enforcement jobs.  It’s why so few employee hit retirement and decide to participate in DROP, instead calling it quits at 20 years of service, like me, compared to how many stayed the extra five years just a decade ago.  It’s been going on for a long time.  It was never like that for the first 10 years of my career and prior to you taking over.  These issues are no backroom secret.  They are openly discussed.  In fact, get 10 Scottsdale cops in a room, morale and your leadership issues WILL be the main topics of discussion, 99.7% of the time.

But it’s the end of the response that really bothered me and that best sums up the philosophy of the leadership and exemplifies why people like Minor find themselves without a job.  It reads:

“Perhaps you and the membership of POSA would like to identify those employees who you feel are not essential and forward your recommendations to me.  Hopefully, I will not have to make difficult decisions when this is over, but I will take your recommendations under advisement.”

That’s about as clear a threat to take punitive action against those people that speak out  as you can get.

Reading that, someone make the argument that Rodbell is not vindictive?  That he does not keep people in line through fear, intimidate and the threat of disciplinary action.  Help me understand why the cops there would not think that Aaron Minor was fired ONLY because spoke up about the leadership and supported one of his guys that reported obvious misconduct.

Regardless of your position regarding if Scottsdale officers should be exempt from EPSLA, as even I could make an argument both ways, put yourself in their place.  What if you were an employee (at any organization) with little or no sick time and contracted the virus as a result of the fact that your job required you to be on the front line; not working from home.  What if you had to take time off work to care for yourself or a sick child? How about covering a day where you had to play home-schooling teacher?  Or cover a day of unexpected daycare?  How would you feel if you were denied two weeks of extra leave, brought up your concerns through an appropriate mechanism like POSA, which was created to facilitate communication between the leadership and the line level guys, only to be threatened with “difficult decisions”.

I’m talking for the all the guys that still work there, who, if they attempted to bring this kind of information into the open, would almost immediately find themselves without a job, demoted or transferred.  It’s why, when this kind of stuff happens, my phone blows up with text messages, copies of emails, IA reports and stories.  Someone at that city has got to eventually step back, take a look at the leadership culture of the organization, and seriously ask if the Scottsdale Police Department would not benefit from some major changes at the top.

Chief Rodbell, I will “enlighten [you] as to when PD employees, all PD employees, were not a consideration or priority with the City Manager, or with [you]”.  THIS DECISION.  This should be simple for someone that has been in a management/leadership position for as long as you have.  If you ask your people to go in harms way, give them all the support they need, deserve and are entitled to, should something happen to them.  Allowing them the opportunity to access EPSLA, on a case by cases basis, is a simple way to show them that you are there for them.  Cutting them off from that safety net, under a blanket policy, demonstrates to the employees a certain level of uncaring.  When you then ask those people attempting to help the line-level guys “to identify those PD employees who you feel are not essential” in case you have to “make difficult decisions when this is over”, you take it to a whole new level.  Your threats not only demonstrate that you don’t care, but it shows what a truly pompous asshole you are and proves, I would argue, you should no longer run that place, as you have lost the support of the very people you are there to lead through this difficult time.  The organization, and those that bust their ass for you everyday, especially during this crisis, deserve better.

Again, all this is just the opinion from a guy that spent almost 21 years there and can’t stand to see what’s continuing to go on in regards to the toxic leadership culture that exists.

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