Monday, April 3, 2017

Fired (Farewell MWF)

The Montana Wildlife Federation (MWF) has had a huge influence on my life. I strongly believed in their values, mission and goals. It has shaped my thoughts, beliefs and actions ever since I left the Marine Corps and moved to Montana in 1985. I used to volunteer for the organization. I helped lead the organization. I served two terms as the organization's president. I helped lead the organization's efforts to ban game farms in Montana. I received the organization's Les Pengelly Professional Conservationist Award. Many of the good folks involved in the organization are like family to me. (See Preserving a Tradition.) More recently, I worked for the organization as their western Montana field representative.

I was fired.

I did the best I could. I strengthened relations with affiliate clubs; I revived an affiliate club; I was in the process of getting a new affiliate up and running; I helped advance protection of the Badger-Two Medicine area; I helped create awareness and support for the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act; I rallied hunters and anglers to comment on the draft revisions of the Helena-Lewis and Clark Forest Plan; I generated OpEds and letters-to-the editors advancing our mission and goals; I developed and strengthened relationships with partners and members; I wrote numerous articles and essays for MWF's newsletter and blog; I represented MWF at fairs, brewery events, film festivals and sportsmen shows, and I helped advance the mission, goals and objectives of an organization I have long been part of, and been passionate about, in an honest, credible, professional manner. I put in long hours and I worked hard. Affiliate leaders, partners and members seemed happy with my work. 

When I received my 6-month evaluation and workplan review, my boss, the executive director, made valuable suggestions on how I could improve, but said I was doing a good job. I followed through on his suggestions. By all indications, he was pleased with me and my work.

I first sensed a change when I posted an article regarding ballot initiatives on my own time and on my own personal blog. This was while the Montana “trapping” initiative I-177 was up for a vote, which would have banned recreational trapping on public lands. I was careful not to take a stance on the issue in that personal essay, but rather discussed how – through poor behavior, denial of science, and ignoring and even often ridiculing other citizens who should have a say in how public lands and wildlife are managed – we can sometimes bring these initiatives upon ourselves. It resonated with a lot of people, including fellow hunters. It did not contradict MWF policy, but I could understand how it could be perceived that way. We almost lost an affiliate because one of their leaders was upset. Understandably, my boss was not happy. He told me to immediately remove the blog and sign a note stating I would not write or post such things again. I understood, admitted to a lack of judgement, signed the note and thought all was good.  I even patched things up with the disgruntled affiliate and its leaders.

A month or so later, the boss became upset about a photograph I posted on my own, personal Facebook Page of me with a blackeye. He claimed that a “funder” had complained about the photo and said it portrayed a “negative” image of MWF and could hurt MWF’s ability to accomplish its mission and goals. I told him I would be more careful in what I post on my personal page and blog, and I was.

At this point, I believe it became personal for the boss; he simply did not like me. It no longer had anything to do with my performance. His entire attitude towards, and treatment of me became akward and uncomfortable.

Then I missed some conference calls for legitimate reasons (on the road and out of cell range; in the hospital with my son) with our partner organizations in regards to the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act and the Upper Blackfoot Campaign. One of the partners was upset with me, so I met with him and worked things out. I agreed to a list of tasks he wanted me to accomplish. It was a good, honest, airing of grievances of which I was not previously fully aware of, and served to clarify my role and what I needed to do.  Our partners seemed fine with our resolution; the boss was not. He had me sign another note outlining specific goals and expectations. One of those was to not miss any more conference calls.  I took it very seriously. I posted it over my desk and read it every morning. I did my best to meet all goals and expectations – although I felt like the boss was setting the stage to fire me and waiting for me to fail.

A few weeks ago, I asked the boss if I could take some time off to go on a spring-break road trip with my son. I assured him I would be on all scheduled conference calls. He gave me the go-ahead. We were in East Glacier on the day of one of the conference calls. Cell coverage in East Glacier is iffy, so my plan was to drive atop a hill between East Glacier and Browning where coverage is usually strong and where I have parked and participated in conference calls before, while working on the Badger-Two.  Cory and I drove to the spot. Unfortunately, a storm had blown in and I kept getting cut off the call, and missed the conference call. I drove to Browning and sent an apology to our partners and explained what happened. They seemed fine. In fact, one partner wrote back: “No worries, enjoy your break.”

I explained the situation to my boss. His response: “If you really wanted to be on the call you would have been on the call.” (Apparently, he’s never been between East Glacier and Browning during a storm.)

He fired me.

That’s my story. I have talked to a lawyer about a possible “wrongful discharge” suit. We’ll see. I have mixed emotions; it’s a tough thing to prove, and I still strongly support the mission, goals and objective of MWF.  However, I doubt I will be actively involved anymore unless the current executive director leaves.  He's an arrogant, bureaucratic number-cruncher who cares more about perception, image and money than wildlife and wild places. His every move is dictated by the foundations he's good at soliciting money from.

It may be a good thing. I’m a stubborn, passionate, opinionated guy and my views on a few things – such as wolves, grizzlies and trapping – are not always in-line with MWF (and therein lies the likely roots of it all). I am already enjoying my freedom to once-again write about those issues. I’m going to make a go of writing and photography and see what happens; it’s more suited to me and my wild ways.  

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