Monday, February 22, 2010

TEC, Cleaning Contract, & Communications

You may recall I blogged here and here and here and here about the action the Episcopal Church took to terminate a cleaning contract, leaving many workers unemployed.

When the dust settled, I was willing to believe the contract decision may have been just. Unfortunately, I know enough of Linda Watt and her lackies that I'm more inclined to believe the union reps than to believe the Watt Corporation. It grieves me to say that, as a paid-up Episcopalian who loves this church.

What left me livid? This above everything: CEO Linda Watt and and our "communications department" come off sounding more heartless than Pharoah or Pontius Pilate. The union reps came off sounding more charitable and humane than did Watt & Co. Our purported spokespeople seemed utterly deaf to how a church should communicate with its members and with the world.

TEC issued an interim report from the Executive Council meeting and now a final report from this week's meeting of the Executive Council.
As far as I can tell, no one asked why Linda Watt and other spokespeople of our Church issued such ugly, heartless comments to the media after the media went after our Church. As far as I can tell, no one is yet asking why our communications are so often miserable and purblind.
Mind you, this communications ignorance is recent. It dates from the time when Katharine Jefferts-Schori hired Linda Watt to run our Church in late 2006 and Anne Rudig to head our Office of Communication in late 2008. Under Watt's and Rudig's rule, our Executive staff has allowed many of our church's finest journalists to leave the church's employ. Some have left on their own. Some have been forced out, under more or less pressure. Watt and Rudig are behind the departure of many of our finest communicators and journalists.

I had heard that some members of Executive Council would indeed ask hard questions and insist on accountability. From what I read in the Executive Council's communiques, they did no such thing. I can only conclude that Kool-Aid was the drink of choice at the meeting.

What did Executive Council do about our miserable communications? The Executive Council passed a resolution "reconstituting the Board of Governors of Episcopal Life into the Episcopal News Service Advisory Committee." Did they call for accountability? No. Did they ask why most of the real journalists have left our Church Center? No. Did they address the miserable failure of our church's communications? No. They simply rearranged the deck chairs, giving a committee a different name.

I am disgusted.

Yes – thanks be to God! – a few fine journalists like Matthew Davies are still on staff. I'm glad he's still there!

But is anyone noticing how many of our finest journalists have left in the last couple of years?

Does anyone else remember when our own Communications council expressed concern at the failures of our communications and the church officials' failure to consult with them?

Several members of Executive Council said they would delve into the matter of how our church cancelled the cleaning contract and – more importantly – how our church communicated/defended this decision. Are they doing so? Not that I can tell. As far as I can tell, no one in our church's leadership cares that our communications staff is virtually impotent.
Apparently, none of our Executive Council members had the chutzpah to stand up against the current party line. It grieves me to admit my church now has a "party line."
Addendum: You might also want to read the reflections of Executive Council member Dylan Breuer. She seems to share some of my concern about the church communications, though more temperately. Among her reflections, she writes:
I appreciate [Chief Operating Officer Linda Watt's] report, but it does not dispel my ongoing concern for workers' rights and human decency, nor does it ameliorate, in my opinion, that communication about the situation was (to say the least) very poorly handled. I expressed that view, as did others, and I and others will be continuing to monitor the situation and strive to support workers' rights. I want to thank those people who hold my and others' feet to the fire about this. Keep it up! This is important stuff.


Blogger Caminante said...

Your words are harsh. (BTW, we did not drink kool aid.)

I am not on the committee that discussed the contract but they did, indeed, discuss it and apparently at length. Evidently it is a more complex situation than what the New York Post article reported -- that assessment is not coming from the COO or the communications office but committee members (as I recall). Agreed, it is not optimum, hiring a company that is non-union albeit run by women (and minority) but what I understood was that the company that was not rehired had been warned -- they subcontracted the work to those who lost their jobs. It is a messy situation, yes. But I am not sure it is quite so cut and dry.

If the standing committee had deemed it appropriate to write a resolution for plenary to consider they would have. They did not. At the same time, I believe they are still monitoring the situation as well as the Hyatt Boston.

Unfortunately, like General Convention, much of the work is done in committee (at least half the time). Unlike GC, there are not a lot of outside people (like people in the deputation who have not been assigned to a legislative committee) who can report on what happens in the committees which one cannot attend. While I read all the resolutions that come forward to plenary, I cannot really know in depth what the other four groups did because I am heavily involved in my own committee. There is only so much time in plenary because our schedule has been cut back due to budget cuts -- like everyone else. Hence, discussion is limited. And, like GC, we all have differing passions.

There is push-back; there are feisty and questioning people on Executive Council. That is not getting reported.

I would write more but I am too tired and frustrated (dead laptop) so will leave it here. I will continue to try to clarify even when the world (not just you) is dumping on Executive Council.

2/24/2010 10:19 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Yes, Caminante, my words are harsh. But please look at them again. My harsh words are for Linda Watt and the abject failure of our church’s communications. As I said, the union managed to sound more compassionate than did the two people who spoke officially for our beloved church. I am livid that TEC has wrecked its communications function over the past couple of years. If you read my words, I think you will find little criticism for Executive Council, but huge criticism for the “communications” function of our church.

Caminante, my complaint is no longer about the cleaning contract. Read what I said in the 5th line of my blog post. I wrote: “When the dust settled, I was willing to believe the contract decision may have been just.” I have already accepted the Executive Council’s judgment.

That is not my complaint.

My complaint is with the people in our “communications” office who made hash of that event. They failed to speak like Christians. The union officials spoke more charitably than Linda Watt did. And that’s a pattern recently. That is what I hammered about in my blogpost: Our Church is ill-served by some of the people who are supposed to speak for us.

Linda Watt has presided over the near decimation of our real journalists. She needs to be held accountable for that. My criticism of Executive Council is that they did not hold her accountable for the miserable communications regarding the cleaning contractors.

We’ve seen this before – as I wrote before. During the end of his term, Presiding Bishop Griswold failed to have an effective communications function. When Presiding Bishop Jefferts-Schori arrived, she finally let our fine communicators do their work … and it was effective. Now, it seems to me, our leaders have again backed off from speaking effectively for our church. And that ticks me off.

There was a period of a year or so when our communications staff was allowed to do their jobs, and they made a difference. But Linda Watt came in, and our effective communications were killed. As a devoted Episcopalian, that ticks me off!

Read my post again, Caminante. Perhaps 20% of my blogpost is critical of the Executive Council. That’s not because of your overall work. I support most of what you did. My anger is about the failed communicators in our church leadership.

You are right: It was unfair of me to make the Kool-Aid comment. That was mean, and I was wrong. I let my rhetoric carry me away. Full stop.

I do know most of you are faithful, hard-working members of Executive Council. But why is the Executive Council oblivious to the failure of the communication office which seems so important to me? The EC can spend a lot of time passing resolutions about Palestine and health care and many other topics. But if we have an ineffectual head of our communications staff, we are ineffectual. I don’t understand why EC isn’t paying more attention to our miserable communications failures.

2/25/2010 12:52 AM  
Blogger Caminante said...

"I don’t understand why EC isn’t paying more attention to our miserable communications failures."

And with that statement, I agree much. I hope that Government and Administration will consider this. Given that my partner is a communicator, I am well aware of the fiasco that has befallen the communications department. So I am totally there.

Right now, without laptop (my brain), my physical brain is shot and therefore I am not here fully.

I will reread your posting and comment when I get back from a 150 mile RT to the Apple store that sold me this bum computer.

2/25/2010 11:23 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks, Caminante.

I should have been more focused in my criticism. I apologize for taking such a scatter-shot approach.

My target is Linda Watt & Anne Rudig, who have nearly decimated our church's communications. And I desperately want Executive Council to hold them and our leadership accountable.

We need the best possible communications. There are topics on which we are doing great work (such as the Haiti crisis), but our leadership is doing us no favors in critical stories like this one.

2/25/2010 8:41 PM  

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