Bullies, Enablers and Victims: #NewSeattle Style
There has been a great amount of media attention on the subject of bullying lately.
When I was growing up, the attitude towards bullying was that it was a right of passage. Today however, there are laws and policies in place- one can even face criminal prosecution for bullying.
But bullying isn’t something just faced by kids. It’s a societal norm that impacts people from all races, levels of income and stature, and all ages.
When bullying happens, there are at least 3 components involved; the bully, the victim, and the enabler.
The bully is the aggressor. That person doesn’t care about the impact they have, no matter how severe. They are the ones that hit, taunt, and manipulate to get what they want which is simply to reinforce their own backwards comfort zone or self invented idea of control.
Next is the victim. That person finds themselves on the receiving end of the bully’s actions and doesn’t have the power to stop them. The treatment they receive comes at no fault of their own.
Third, is the enabler- the person or individuals who both watch the bully in action and do nothing to stop them, or join in- for fear they might become the next victim. The enabler is completely under the influence of the bully and will do anything to keep them happy. In doing so, they strengthen the bully and send the message that bullying is okay.
Lately, I have found myself dealing with this exact scenario.
In August I went to work for a local organization, Tabor 100. My employment came at the end of an eight month process of vetting and working with members of the board to create the first-time position. After so much time invested, I was thrilled to be brought on board, and they were equally thrilled to have me.
I brought my “A-game” every day, until suddenly, everything changed. Out of the blue I was notified by two separate members of the board that an employee from the City of Seattle had contacted the organization to express their displeasure with the organization’s choice of a staffer- me- a person outspoken and critical of Mayor Mike McGinn. The unnamed employee was so upset, the relationship between the organization and the city was in jeopardy- and so was my job. The bully sent a clear message to Tabor; get rid of her, or suffer the consequences.
Within days, I was fired- a casualty of the organization’s fear; a textbook bully scenario.
I didn’t know who had done it, I only knew why- any commentary I’d made previously about the mayor was not appreciated.
Boy have I learned a lot since then. Specifically, it’s not uncommon for an organization to get a phone call from someone in City Hall about some sort of ongoing political or even personal situation that, at first glace, has nothing to do with the organization being contacted.
Perhaps the city wants an organization to give a public show of support on a controversial or unpopular issue. They “ask” the organization to do so by calling and “casually”- or not- reminding said organization about their city contracts and relationships with decision makers. It’s a passive aggressive bully tactic that happens all too often, and just one of the ways the City and its employees throw their weight around to get what they want. It’s nothing less than shameful, and a dirty aspect of Seattle politics no one likes to talk about.
There are a lot of contracts that can be held over Tabor’s head, not just the contract with the organization. Several member businesses, including the business of the President herself, have gotten contracts as a direct result of Tabor’s activity with the city. Those contracts represent over $1,000,000 of revenue in the past few years. Proof Tabor is an effective organization doing important work at a crucial time. Small business owners are struggling in these hard economic times- we all are. I know I certainly am.
I don’t have a traditional career in journalism- I have to work to provide for my family just like everyone else- journalism and commentary are done on my own time. I take time away from my family and my personal life to write and report. There isn’t a single article or interview or commentary that I’ve produced because someone told me to, but because they are stories and truths which demand to be told.
Pair that with my love for Seattle, a city that is great, but far from its greatness. Seattle prides itself on diversity, progressiveness, and tolerance. Yet when the surface is scratched harsher realities are exposed. It’s the collective failure to adequately address those hidden-in-plain-sight realities which perpetuate the city’s flaws. I’ve seen the effects those flaws have, and I choose not to look away for the sake of the status quo.
The SV provides an invaluable perspective on our local society, whether people agree with it or not. It exists solely to speak truth to power. That is the value, and that is the reward.
Most organizations and government entities- whether they agree or disagree, take it all in stride; apparently not the mayor’s office. Needless to say, the mayor and his staff have a history of reacting in a way that is a bit more emotional, whether it is to ignore or engage, than one would expect from a public entity.
The behavior displayed in this current situation is about as low as one can go- bullying an organization into firing their employee- directly jeopardizing one’s ability to provide for their family- it hits well below the belt.
Less than 24 hours after I was fired the mayor’s office confirmed an employee of the City of Seattle initiated the phone call to a member of the Tabor 100 board. They were extremely conciliatory, saying it was regrettable, inappropriate and a potential disaster. They expressed a strong desire to see the situation “reeled back in”. Neither the City of Seattle nor the organization offered the name of the employee but both unequivocally stated the call had been made; surprisingly, both Tabor and the Mayor’s office expressed as much to independent third parties.
The call was made by a City of Seattle employee. They admitted it and they knew they were in the mud because of it. But this story doesn’t end there.
In the course of a separate investigation conducted by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to determine if the employee in question inappropriately and/or unethically used their position within the City to influence Tabor 100, the EEC contacted the organization’s President Ollie Garrett. Ms. Garrett refused to divulge the identity of the employee and withheld the information for an additional 3 to 4 days before confirming she personally had a conversation with Seattle Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith and Nancy Locke regarding his concerns about my employment. Ms. Locke, was unaware of the SV Blog, and only contacted Tabor after the Deputy Mayor advised her I’d written things about the mayor that were “close to the edge”, and that my presence in any meetings with Tabor now constituted a hostile environment.
3 to 4 days.
When they finally did talk to the EEC, both Ms. Garrett and Deputy Mayor Smith denied he had initiated the contact, and though he admitted to calling at least one other City of Seattle employee (Nancy Locke) to discuss his concerns, both claimed to the EEC the discussion came in the course of a coincidental call Ms. Garrett made to the Deputy Mayor.
Ms. Garrett first said I was terminated because my journalism represented a “conflict of interest”. She later stated it was because I failed to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Yet, she didn’t specifically state she asked for one, nor specifically state that I refused to sign one- because she didn’t ask me to sign anything. Ever. Ms. Garrett also told the EEC she was unaware I was SV.
I went through an 8 month interview and vetting process. One of those interviews was with a Tabor Board member who owns a private investigation company that specializes in employment and background checks. In that process, I was told I came very highly recommended.
And I would be completely remised if I didn’t point out the fact that prior to my professional relationship with Tabor, articles on the blog had been discussed and used as reference materials by the organization- specifically during their Seattle Mayoral Candidate Forum. They discussed SV articles in at least one membership meeting. They even went so far as to request comment from McGinn’s staff.
And finally, the Tabor Board President was a fan of the SV on Facebook. One can’t “Like” something without choosing to. One probably has to know what that something is, too. Other board members were friends with SV on Facebook as well.
Even if none of those things were true, type my name into Google, Bing, Yahoo or any other search engine and it becomes very clear who is responsible for the SV voice. Me.
Tabor can cite a “conflict of interest” or “failure to disclose” as the reason for my firing. I think we all know that the truth is there was never a problem with my blog or opinions until they heard directly from Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith that HE had a problem with it. He could say, and probably will say, it wasn’t his intention that I be fired. I think we all know that’s not true either.
So, why am I writing about all of this now? Tomorrow members of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission will review the report prepared by their staff, much of which I’ve outlined here. I’ve been getting emails, texts, phone calls, tweets, and interview requests- all about the report. The fact is the EEC worked diligently and within the scope of their authority to determine who made the phone call and for what purpose. That the integrity of the investigation was compromised by uncooperative parties at a critical time was outside of their control.
I have never met Deputy Mayor Smith- in any capacity and was completely unaware of his feelings towards me or the SV site. It’s true, we have been extremely critical of the Mayor- for good reason. But that isn’t nearly the sum of what we do. We have a much broader array of issues to cover and stories to share.
What I am most proud of is the invaluable stories we tell about the lives and deaths of real people; that is the cream of this city- those who live here and those who die here. We have been entrusted by people to tell their stories when they trusted no one else to do it. Equally cherished is the impact that our writing/radio has on fellow journalists, both mainstream and community based. The countless reporters that have pulled me aside or dropped me an email to say “I’m never going to write about youth violence the same again, because of” an article or an interview they read/heard on the SV or KBCS Radio.
That’s irreplaceable. No bully is powerful enough to take that away.
Nevertheless, being on the receiving end of it is no cake walk. It has left me shaken. It has made me question whether or not writing the SV is even worth it, if it means I can’t pay the rent. It leaves me wondering, what else…how far? How far will they go?
Whether you like the mayor or agree with the mayor, the record if his administration speaks for itself. When they don’t like something- not when something is wrong, but when they don’t like it- they pick a fight. Nearly everyone acknowledges this, and some even like it. It’s evident it’s now gone beyond picking fights- they’ve resorted to bullying to get what they want.
All of that left me with a choice to make, shut up about it all given the cost I’ve already been forced to pay, or say something. Bullies count on the continued fear and inaction of both their enablers and their victims. And they have bullied effectively. I admit it, I’m scared. But if I don’t say something I become an enabler myself.
Truth to power it is.
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