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Station mgr. fired – again

Huegerich (click for larger version)
December 07, 2011 - There was another motion and another vote Nov. 30, but the outcome was the same – Don Huegerich was terminated, effective immediately, as station manager of Oxford Community Television (OCTV) and executive director of the Oxford Area Cable Communications Commission.

By a vote of 5-3, the cable commission fired Huegerich, who's been station manager since December 2002, during a special meeting.

"I believe that the station manager/executive director has had many chances," said Commissioner Dave Bailey, who also serves on the Oxford Village Council.

That was the second time in two days the commission voted to terminate Huegerich.

On Nov. 28, the board voted 4-2 to fire him following a two-hour closed session evaluation of his job performance.

However, there was some uncertainty as to whether the commission's first motion actually passed.

According to the cable commission's bylaws, "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."

The commission received differing opinions from two attorneys as to what this language meant with regard to the validity of the first termination vote.

Gary Rentrop, attorney for Oxford Township, believes this sentence "makes clear for a motion to pass there must be a majority vote of all voting representative(s), i.e. a majority vote of all commission members."

"There must have been a vote of 5 of the 9 member(s) for the motion to pass," he wrote. "While this requirement is unusual, and I understand there may be a different legal opinion on this question, it is my opinion this is what is required."

Michael Watza, who serves as the cable commission's attorney, disagreed.

"Although the language is not as perfectly clear as I might like, it is my opinion that based upon the language quoted, a majority vote by the voting member representatives present at a duly called meeting at which a quorum is established, is sufficient to take any lawful action of the commission," he wrote.

"To require a vote of a majority of all appointed member representatives does not appear to meet the language of the bylaws and could be problematic in poorly attended meetings," Watza continued. "Thus, as few as 5 representative members of the commission could meet and by a vote of 3-2, conduct business of the commission."

Although commissioners voted 6-2 to release these legal opinions as public documents, they never actually discussed their contents.

A new motion to fire Huegerich was made and approved.

However, before that motion was voted on, Huegerich was given the opportunity to say a few words and plead his case for a second chance.

"If given the opportunity to continue as the executive director, I would diligently work to discuss and resolve any issues that may have been brought forth," he said. "I have faults. Everybody has faults, but we continue to try to recognize those and work on them. Given the chance, I would like to sit down in a businesslike manner and work out (those) issues."

Huegerich noted how under his management OCTV was able to broadcast 50 new productions each month.

"We do all the school concerts for the kids and their parents," he said. "We do all the sports for the kids and their parents. We do all the community meetings and all the government meetings for municipalities."

Huegerich told the commission he'd been "receiving calls all day long from all over Oakland County" from people reacting to the news of his termination.

"This has gone viral," he said.

Huegerich indicated one person told him "they should build a monument to you in this city for being able to pull off . . . 50 productions a month."

He noted how under his management, OCTV was the first community access station to broadcast on the AT&T U-verse system on its own, without help from AT&T engineers.

Huegerich addressed two of the issues cited by cable commissioners in the Nov. 30 Leader article as reasons for his firing.

The first was his allegedly poor rapport with station employees and the constant problems which stemmed from this.

"It's my job to correct people's behavior," Huegerich explained. "Sometimes that isn't appreciated. Sometimes it's very serious and it needs to be dealt with very seriously and in a very confidential manner."

In some cases, Huegerich said certain station employees chose to "spin off into the weeds, instead of take my advice and correct their behavior."

Managing people and dealing with their problems "doesn't make me popular," he told the commission.

Huegerich also addressed the issue of poor sound quality at some government meetings. He indicated there was an audio problem with the Oxford Village Council meetings, but it "turns out that it was a wiring problem on the village's equipment and it was also a problem inside the computer that their audio technician controlled."

The problem "was very, very difficult , but we fixed that," he said.

"It's not that things aren't being done, it's (that) sometimes it's a hurry-up-and-wait game," Huegerich noted. "We can hurry as fast as we want, but you can't change the world. You have to wait for the world to respond."

Commission Chairman Melvin "Buck" Cryderman, who serves on the Oxford Township Board and voted against the termination, expressed his concern as to whether or not the commission's dissatisfaction with Huegerich's performance had ever been adequately communicated to him in a "formal manner," per the OCTV's employee handbook.

Commissioner Chris Bishop, who represents the Oxford Public Library and voted in favor of the firing, said there were a "number of meetings" at which Huegerich's "performance (regarding) certain issues had been communicated."

"You can't get any more formal than these meetings," he said.

Commissioner Char Sutherby, who serves on the Leonard Village Council and voted in favor of the termination, indicated she understood Cryderman's point.

"I think that there has been dissatisfaction with Don's performance, but I personally haven't verbalized it. I've been kind of quiet," she said. "I think that Don felt he was doing all right. I think a month ago he had a hint that things were not as they should be. And I think for the last month, he's tried very hard to improve what he's been doing, but I really don't think Don thought he was in trouble."

Huegerich informed the commission that in all the time he's worked at the station he's only received two performance evaluations – the one on Nov. 28 and one in 2008.

"In 2008, I received an above-average evaluation and I have not received a lot of earth-shaking (feedback) about my performance (since then)," he said. "I have always received (information about) issues, which I try to deal with professionally and speedily as I have done for the past 43 years."

Commissioner Dave Bailey, who serves on the Oxford Village Council and voted in favor of termination, suggested that perhaps, the audio tape of the closed session evaluation could be transcribed and copies made available to the public should Huegerich and the six commissioners who were present at the Nov. 28 meeting consent to do so.

"I don't!" shouted Huegerich from the audience. "There's one vote for you."

Under the law, it's Huegerich's right to decide whether or not his employee evaluation is made public.

"I am very comfortable (with) that tape being released," Bishop noted.

In the end, the commission also voted 7-1 to give Huegerich a severance package that included any benefits owed him, such as pay for unused vacation time, plus he will continue to receive his normal salary until the end of this calendar year.

Some commissioners and audience members expressed their gratitude to Huegerich.

"I would like to thank him for his good years of service," said Commissioner Wayne Hodges, who represents Addison Township and voted against the termination.

"I think, like a lot of people, I most generally addressed Don when I was telling him things that I didn't like and (I) never took the chance to tell him the things that I did like," Cryderman said. "I know everything you did, you did for the best of the community."

"A lot of thanks to Don," said Oxford Township Trustee Sue Bellairs, who attended the meeting as a resident. "Cable was absolutely nothing until (Commissioner) Charlie (Kniffen) came on board and they hired a manager."

"(Huegerich has) done a lot of good things," she continued. "(Oxford Community Television) is what it is now which is 100 percent better, 200 percent better, than what it was 10 years ago. So, thank you Don."

Helen Barwig, a resident of Oxford Township, said the community has a "very good station" because Huegerich "brought it up from a dump to where it is today."

"I think we're a star," she said.

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.
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