Who's to blame next?
In fact, we don't know who's to blame now, though there are plenty of folks in Ouray looking for answers after the city council unanimously voted to fire City Administrator Katie Sickles Monday night.
Sickles, who was hired a year ago almost to the day after a three-month trial run as interim administrator, may never know why she was released. Council voted to fire her without cause, which means they get to keep their reasons to themselves, and Sickles gets to keep a severance package.
Sickles certainly has the right, you would think, to refuse the severance and sue the city for wrongful termination. But since she's on a two-week vacation, we can't ask her intent at the moment.
I'm not going to speculate why the council fired her, though I've heard plenty of theories already.
All the theories I've heard so far put the blame squarely on Sickles and Sickles alone.
But what if the shoe is on the other foot and it's actually the city council who is to blame?
That would be one reason to keep mum on the rationale.
In October 2017, Jonathan Batt declined the city council's offer for the city administrator job. He was chosen after the council whittled down from 34 applicants, and he went through a battery of interviews with council, staff, the ever-dreaded committees and the community. Council went back to square one, soliciting new applicants and receiving 27 of them.
Concurrently, they retained Sickles as interim administrator for three months. When Sickles entered the scene, seemingly out of nowhere, council shelved the other 27 applicants, and none was put through the ringer as was Batt. Subsequently, Sickles was hired by unanimous vote in January 2018 with great fanfare.
She had held the same job in Cedaredge from 2006 until the week before taking the interim position in Ouray in October 2017. She was available because she quit her position in Cedaredge.
There was no discussion in open meetings regarding her performance in Cedaredge, none that I recall, and I attended all the meetings. So there's no telling whether or not council did its due diligence in asking about her managerial style or ability to manage a budget or any other qualifications needed for the job.
What were her shortcomings? Was council going to work with her to overcome those?
Again, who knows? All we heard were the accolades when she was hired.
"We are extremely excited," Mayor Pam Larson said.
"From her first day at the city, Katie has shown she is willing to get involved and tackle tough issues," said Councilor Dee Hilton.
"In her short time as interim administrator, Mrs. Sickles has proven she's not afraid to tackle big issues with the city," Mayor Pro Tem Glenn Boyd said.
"She hit the ground running and didn't stop," said Councilor Bette Maurer.
Perhaps she was hired out of convenience. She was here, doing the job, saying the right things, and it was the easy thing to do.
Perhaps she was hired because of her stellar portfolio of work in Cedaredge, and she deserved this job over anyone else.
Or, perhaps she just impressed the hell out of this council in three months time, and that was all they needed.
The folks in Ouray will never know.
They'll also never know why she was fired.
And they'll also never know if Sickles was, indeed, the right person for the job and that this council is just plain lacking in ability to manage the one person they are charged with managing.
I worked alongside a manager once in my corporate days who liked to tell me that he didn't fire people, people got themselves fired. I think that made him feel good about himself when letting people go. I pointed out that as those people's boss, he was just as culpable for their success as for their failure.
It begs the question: How does someone hold a job in Cedaredge for nearly 12 years, yet not be able to cut it at the same job in Ouray for nearly 12 months? Either she had a serious flaw that only came out when she got to Ouray, or she wasn't managed properly.
Sickles told the Plaindealer Friday that if she was to be fired Monday, she was at a loss as to why. Either she wasn't being forthright, or she truly didn't know.
Usually if someone is fired, the reason why is not a surprise.
In fact, good managers give successive warnings and even offer improvement plans.
"I told you once not to do that, and you did it again," the conversation generally goes. "If you do it a third time, you'll be fired. Now how can we work together to avoid that?"
If there was a first time and a second time that led to Monday night's action, then there would be no need to fire "without cause." You could tell everyone the cause, including Sickles, because she would be the least likely person surprised by her firing.
She would have seen it coming, right? Curiously, she just bought a condo in Ouray two weeks ago. Who does that when you "see it coming?"
By firing "with cause," you can forego having to pay a three-month severance. On a $98,000 salary, that would be a $24,500 savings to the city. But you can only do that if you have cause.
And you only have cause if you can stand up in front of your constituents and say, "We tried, she failed."
Alan Todd is co-publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.