November 30, 2011 - It appeared Don Huegerich, station manager for Oxford Community Television, got the proverbial ax at Monday night's meeting of the Oxford Area Cable Communications Commission.
But it turned out to be a swing and a miss.
Following a two-hour closed session evaluation of his job performance, commissioners voted 4-2 to immediately terminate Huegerich's employment.
"We took his keys last night," said Commission Chairman Melvin "Buck" Cryderman during a phone interview Tuesday morning.
In a nutshell, Cryderman, who actually voted against terminating Huegerich, explained that the commission "just felt we weren't heading in the right direction to make this a viable TV station" and "Don was not a good fit for that job."
"Don had not been doing what the commission had decided was a reasonable job," said Cryderman, who also serves as a trustee on the Oxford Township Board. "He wasn't fulfilling job expectations and it had been going on for years and years. They decided they'd had enough."
Attempts to reach Huegerich on Tuesday via his cell phone were unsuccessful.
Commissioners Char Sutherby, Dave Bailey, Chris Bishop and Sue Bossardet voted in favor of the termination. Joining Cryderman in voting against the firing was Commissioner Charles Kniffen.
"I think everybody on that board voted for what they thought was best," Cryderman noted. "I don't think anybody on that board had anything against Don. I think they had things against the way Don was handling the station."
However, based on the cable commission's bylaws, it seems Huegerich, who took over as station manager in December 2002, is actually still employed because it takes five 'yes' votes for that particular governing body to do anything.
According to the cable commission's by-laws, "A simple majority vote of all voting representatives of the commission is necessary for the commission to pass motions, adopt resolutions, or take any other action within its power."
Given the cable commission consists of nine members, a simple majority equals five members.
"They need a majority of the full commission to pass any motion, which is crazy," said Gary Rentrop, attorney for Oxford Township.
So, in reality, the commission was one 'yes' vote shy of being able to legally terminate Huegerich, given only four of the six commissioners who attended the meeting voted to fire him.
"They would have needed five to make it happen," Rentrop said.
In Rentrop's opinion, that portion of the bylaws is "poorly written." He indicated all that should be required for the passage of a motion is a simple majority of the commissioners "present" at a meeting, not the full nine-member board.
Unless the cable commission meets again and has five members vote to pass a motion to fire Huegerich, he remains station manager, in Rentrop's view.
The cable commission had scheduled a special meeting for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30 (at the Oxford Veterans Memorial Civic Center; 28 N. Washington St.) to formulate a strategy for finding and hiring a new station manager, but it turns out officials will have to first discuss the legal issues surrounding the validity of Huegerich's termination.
Cryderman indicated he'd already spoken with Rentrop and got his opinion on the situation. When this reporter spoke to him Tuesday, Cryderman was attempting to contact the cable commission's attorney to get his opinion as well.
Although he couldn't say for certain, Cryderman confirmed the commission could decide to make a new motion to terminate Huegerich, which, as was previously mentioned, would require five 'yes' votes to make it effective.
"That's certainly a possibility," he said. "I'm the chairman. I'm not the boss. I don't control what goes on there."
Given the outcome of the first vote, the possibility of a second termination vote is certainly a strong one.
For Sutherby, who's served on the cable commission for at least 15 years, the decision to terminate largely came down to what the employees had to say about Huegerich's leadership and abilities.
"I've talked with the employees over the years and it just seems (like) every time there was a problem, it came back to Don," she said. "There never seemed to be any resolution. If that is the problem, in order to move forward, you have to make a change."
That was Cryderman's take on things as well. "There's employee issues at the station. Every week, there's somebody mad, somebody upset," he said.
"He never had the respect of his workers," Sutherby noted. "If you're the director, respect has to go both ways if you're going to have people work with you in harmony. He couldn't seem to achieve that."
"The workers felt he did not have the skills that he said he did," she continued. "If he was qualified, it never showed because we keep buying equipment and we still don't have good quality cable (programs) . . . If you keep buying equipment that's supposed to make your production better and it's not better, then who's to blame?"
That echoed what Cryderman said.
"We buy new equipment all the time and it doesn't seem to solve our problems. It's just one on-going problem after another," he said, citing poor sound quality at government meetings as an example.
Sutherby, who also serves on the Leonard Village Council, noted she "really struggled" with the idea of firing Huegerich "for quite a while."
"He's a very nice man and it bothers me any time something like this happens," she said. "Especially, when you have a job where the public knows that you've been dismissed from your job. I think that's very difficult to deal with. I just think he wasn't bringing anything more to the job . . . It still makes me feel bad for him. I liked him as a person. He was very personable and he represented Oxford well publicly, but he did not have a good rapport with his workers."
Cryderman indicated he preferred to put Huegerich on "probation" as opposed to firing him.
He thought maybe the problem was Huegerich simply didn't understand what commissioners expected from him and that if they explained it to him, maybe things would improve.
"He was not doing what needed to be done," Cryderman said. "Could he have improved? I thought it was worth, maybe, giving it a try. Maybe he could improve. I don't know."
"I'm not sure if he really deserved (another chance), but I'm a softy," he added.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.