Archived Story

Decision made in haste, poorly communicated

Published 8:44pm Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cedric Scott, the new Suffolk fire chief with an impressive resume of climbing the professional ladder, never standing long on a single rung, needs some help with his communication skills.

Or he could read a little Stephen Covey.

Habit 5 in Covey’s best-selling and internationally respected “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is simple but true: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Embracing this fundamental truth of good leadership might not have altered his controversial decision, after less than six months on the job and as a resident of the city, to dismantle a long and proud tradition of volunteer first responders in Suffolk. But it surely would have affected the way it was communicated, implemented and, when the proverbial poop hit the fan, defended.

As it stands, Scott created a public-relations disaster, offended a group of people who have contributed much to the well-being of their fellow citizens over the years, and spit in the eye of a tradition of volunteer service that has served this country — and communities like Suffolk — well since its founding.

Some college classroom that needs a case study in ineffective leadership and communication now has a good one in Suffolk’s decision to make the Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad a second-run organization.

This columnist assumes that the decision, made by a man of Scott’s experience and knowledge of public safety, was the correct one. It’s hard to say for sure, though, given the city’s clumsy handling of the matter, both internally and in the community.

Scott’s defenders initially told concerned City Council members to butt out, saying, preposterously, that to simply discuss the decision was a violation of the council-manager form of government.

When it was clear the matter would not go away with taxpayers, they decided that it was the council’s business after all and embarked on a series of one-on-one visits with council members to enlighten them.

Good idea. But a month too late.

Finally, to rub salt in a freshly administered wound, Scott used the forum of last week’s City Council meeting — where, just two weeks earlier, the rescue squad was deemed to be an inappropriate discussion topic — to publicly trash the volunteer organization as incompetent and unreliable.

If that were the case, and public safety has been compromised over a long period, City Hall is negligent for not having sooner informed taxpayers. If the problems are more recent and anecdotal, Scott owed the volunteer organization more time to fix them.

Assuming Scott plans to be in Suffolk for a while, he should learn the value of better communication, and of understanding before he seeks to be understood.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is steve.stewart@suffolknewsherald.com.

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  • Roger Leonard

    Seems liek amny agree that once again, our arrogent city manager is ant the heart of another failure… We just seem to keep them coming with such a poor example of leadership.

    We will only fix this situation, by demanding new members of council who will then fire our totally incompetent city manager…

    Suggest Removal

  • chief601

    Well thought out article and well expressed. I don’t believe the city’s management problems will be fixed until the city manager is gone. ITT, illegal refunding of tax money and an inability to collect what’s due, and now the fire department. The city manager doesn’t give a rat’s behind what the citizens want or think. The way to handle that is to change the city council and put people on with the stated purpose of either reigning in or firing the out of control city manager.

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  • jhuxster

    There are so many issues to be addressed concerning this city’s government and this situation in particular. Over the years I’ve lived in town, I keep hearing about how professional and well-staffed our city protective services are. Even so, when it came time to find a new fire chief, our ever-wise city manager unilaterally decided none of our fire captains were qualified. So, she conducted a search and ending up spending thousands of dollars to move a person from Georgia to Suffolk. Now we’re reaping what we sowed–an arrogant fire chief who takes his cue from apparently the only person to whom he must answer–the city manager who is even more arrogant.

    This incident, and countless others, demonstrate the folly of the city-manager form of government. For city council, it provides a cover for unpopular decisions. If the city manager does something we don’t like they can’t intervene because it violates the principles of the city manager form of government. If our city manager does something we don’t like then she can blame city council. In the end, everyone is covering their rear and the only ones being hurt are taxpayers who pay for a bloated, out of touch, fiscally irresponsible city government that cares nothing about what we think.

    Here’s a novel idea–let’s restructure city government and get rid of the city manager form of government. Let’s have a mayor who is responsible for the city and one we can fire if we don’t like it. Right now, we have no voice in government because quite honestly they don’t care what we think.

    Final point–excellently written editorial. Keep up the pressure on city government to be more open and responsive to the people.

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  • gale

    I find the new chief, out of line, insulting, and many other unflattering terms. His lack of communication skills leads me to believe he is not only overpaid and under qualified but completely uncaring about the people he was hired to help. My feeling will be seen in my voting and I hope others will do the same. I personally want proof and not insults to those how served in the past.

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  • Chris

    Well written. I only wish our elected officials would discuss the issue as openly.

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  • Roger Leonard

    What wise and well thought out words, as they apply to this truely sad situation. For many of us, this situation by a total stranger to Suffolk leadership and our communnity speaks more to the fact that a well documented resume, is not a replacement for leadership nor understanding of what makes Suffolk, our chosen community…

    Give a perfect world, I would demand that the Ciy Manager and the Fire Cheif be fired for incompetence… If they cannot lead in this most basic fashion, how can we trust our community to them? Seems a relevant question to me… and one that our dysfunctional council would never take up.

    Perhaps we need to fire our council too… as the means of our own protection.

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