Sunday, July 06, 2014

saif -- and sorry

Most people who know of President Plutarco Elías Calles know him as the Mexican president who precipitated the Cristero War -- a peasant-inspired uprising against the central government's anti-clerical laws. 

Most historians rank it as the last portion of Mexico's benighted Revolution.

But the Cristero War was not
Elías Calles's highest achievement.  After he left the presidency, he attempted to control the administration of his successor, Lázaro Cárdenas.  Cárdenas first tried isolating Elías Calles.  When that did not succeed, Cárdenas exiled Elías Calles to the United States.

I thought of the two Mexican presidents last week when I attended my former employer's (SAIF) 100th anniversary picnic.  It was not a happy time for the company.  I told you why in "saif's abrupt firing of ceo after three months raises questions" -- and things were just as bad as I had anticipated.

I have no inside information.  What I know, I have learned from the newspaper stories.  And the tale gets more interesting (and sadder) with each new telling.

Here is what I have learned from my reading.  The long-serving CEO of SAIF announced her retirement last year, and SAIF began a process that concluded in the company hiring John Plotkin to be its new CEO.  Within three months of hiring him, the chairwoman of the board called him and told him he could resign or be fired.  That was a Saturday morning -- with no prior notice. 
With a little bit of investigative journalism based on a Public Records request, The Oregonian discovered that the firing was based on a few boorish, but hardly offensive, comments.  Apparently, some of the defenders of straight-jacketed thinking concuded Plotkin was not their kind of guy.

The allegations?  I have shared them before.  But their innocuous nature deserves re-telling.

  • Plotkin told an employee to "speak English, not actuary."  The board deemed the remark to be an insensitive and hostile because it was made to a person of color.
  • During a debate among executives about dress codes, Plotkin said he did not want to have to be arbiter of acceptable clothing, recalling his intense annoyance at his sixth-grade gym teacher who physically checked to make sure his students were wearing jock straps.
  • Plotkin brought his bulldog to work as part of an April Fool's Day joke suggested by staff.  Plotkin was outdoors at one point with his dog when another employee approached with her black lab.  Plotkin attempted to warn her off due to his dog's penchant for mounting other dogs. "My dog is a humper," Plotkin told her.  "He likes to hump black dogs."
  • While traveling with the former CEO (a woman) to one of SAIF's satellite offices, Plotkin allegedly used the word "tits" in a story about a goat cheese class he and his wife had taken that involved milking goats.  Plotkin claims he used the word "teats."
The Oregonian has now discovered that most of the people who were present for the comments have complained that their statements were either taken out of context or were entirely misconstrued. 

It is almost as if John Dean had shown up before the Irvin committee and said, "No, President Nixon's version is correct."  The wheels appear to be falling off of this railroad job.

The only new revelations in the news stories concern what almost everyone I know has been speculating about since the firing.  It appears that the former CEO used her connections with certain members of the executive committee, the Department of Justice, and the governor's office to depose her successor.  I guess that is one reason we usually wait for kings to die before the successor is crowned.

If the news stories are correct, the whole escapade smacks of the destruction of 18 minutes on the Nixon tapes -- except, this time, the record seems to be somewhat intact.  And damning.

This is the sad state in which my former colleagues at SAIF now sit.  They have lost a popular CEO.  He has filed notice that he intends to sue the state and some named individuals,  (A suit, that in my opinion, will not get him reinstated, but may help to clear his name of some rather silly allegations.)

Two of the board members, whose terms have expired, are still on the board.  And, it appears, that the governor, who is running for an unprecedented fourth term, may have approved of the palace coup before the long knives came out.

Looking at that picture, the governor's office may be the exact place for people who are offended by this unconscionable state of affairs to show their disgust.  The governor appoints the board members, and he has done nothing to help rectify this wrong.  If nothing else, he was a co-conspirator.

Not being a citizen of Oregon any longer, I have no vote.  But quite a few readers of this blog do.

The former CEO used to exhort us that sometimes it was not just the legal thing to do; "it was the right thing."  I think most of us know what is the right thing to do here.


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