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As Long as We Remember...

May 31, 2013

Conjecture: Redact Redux of Talley Dismissal

Adam Avery

The curt termination of former Frederick Community College President Frederico “F.J.” Talley has fueled speculation as to what led up to his firing.


Though the Frederick News-Post reported accurately that the Board of Trustees members have been “mum” on specifics, much can be read through the lines of what has been reported, what has been known and unreported, and what has been discussed in public forums.


That being said, I readily admit that my appraisal of the situation is based in large part on conjecture.


Supporters – or apologists – for Mr. Talley are whispering racism out of one side of the mouthpiece and martyrdom the other. The rationale for the first claim – in its traditionally trite and tiresome form – is that any black who is fired must have been fired because he is black. The story-line for the second is that Mr. Talley bravely brought the board’s attention to “irregularities” at the college and the board moved quickly to protect its own by punishing the messenger with termination.


Both claims make for good BET after school specials at best.


Mr. Talley’s termination reeks of a personal (mis)conduct nature. I suspect that we will learn – once the redacted closed meeting minutes of the board are “unredacted” and details are made public – that: (a) the board quickly realized that Mr. Talley was a less effective leader than they had originally hoped; (b) that racism had nothing to do with Mr. Talley’s firing (unless being black is synonymous with personal misconduct); (c) “irregularities” will never be defined with specifics, rendering the claim baseless; and, finally, (d) Mr. Talley’s firing was a result of his conduct which was unbecoming of a president of our community college.


Expect the usual game of race-baiting for profit by Mr. Talley and his counsel. What is one to do on their way out of as president of a community college with little more than an unsigned letter of recommendation? Do what any minority would do at the behest of his legal counsel – take a shot at a quick and favorable settlement with the threat of a racism scandal.


Nice touch, Mr. Talley. How cowardly and disingenuous of you.


Leaders in general, and especially the president of a community college, must be adept at managing egos and personalities. It is a community outreach position when you break it down to its barest form. And it isn’t something that can be substituted for with other strengths. Executive management demands people skills regardless of circumstances, be they contentious or calm.


My guess is that Mr. Talley acted out (unbecomingly) more than once, forcing the board to take immediate action. It is the only scenario that makes any sense given what has been revealed and given the behavior of both parties since separation.


When these types of things happen at the executive level, both sides usually part with a written and executed non-disclosure or non-disparagement agreement. In return for keeping private the sordid details of what led to his firing, Mr. Talley must have agreed to not talk about, disparage, or otherwise mope publicly about being fired. This is common in all terminations, whether employers are public or private.


We may never know the full details of why he was fired UNLESS he and his counsel drum up baseless claims against the college and its board. If this happens, the college would be able to fully disclose the events leading up to Mr. Talley’s termination. Watch this game of chicken closely. It will reveal the validity – or lack thereof – of claims of racism.


I also suspect that the trustees will apologize for its judgment during the vetting process. The board will claim that Mr. Talley was an incompetent leader, lacking an executive skill-set. They will have to explain how Mr. Talley was vetted and hired despite this void.


The only way they can do that is to admit they made a mistake in assessing this candidate. That would be both believable and refreshing.  Anyone who has hired knows that success isn’t any more guaranteed than the careers of “can’t miss” quarterback prospects on draft day. Evaluating the integrity of those who make up the board, it is clear to me that a genuine apology and credible explanation can’t be far behind.


Finally, the Board was influenced by its legal counsel. All boards are. It is likely that the college’s counsel advised the trustees to remain quiet (about events preceding the firing) and below lawsuit radar. This, too, is right out of the playbook for such instances. That would explain the delays and redacted meeting notes. It would also explain the apparent disjoint between what should have be done for public relations reasons, and what was advised by the college’s counsel charged with avoiding bad press and costly litigation.


Successful public relations campaigns and cover-your-rear legal advice rarely overlap. The college would have been wise to make public whatever they were convinced to keep private early in the process of separation from Mr. Talley. That decision needs to be analyzed, but it won’t include the necessary context unless and until the specifics leading up to Mr. Talley’s termination are disclosed.


In the meantime, I will continue to speculate to counter the speculation of others……


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