It's an oft-repeated rule of life in the age of e-mail, text and Twitter: Don't press SEND unless you're really, really sure. Don't post something online or in an e-mail that you wouldn't mind seeing on a billboard.
Well, Paul Burns blew it bigtime. The Executive Director of VPIRG sent an overheated e-mail to the VPIRG board shortly after learning that his employee, Cassandra Gekas, was running for Lieutenant Governor. And yup, the e-mail was leaked to the media -- Seven Days and the Vermont Press Bureau, at least.
In it, he blasts Governor Shumlin for enticing Gekas into her candidacy, and depicts Gekas as a dupe for taking Shumlin's bait.
In his e-mail, he says this about Shumlin:
I believe that Cass was talked into this by the governor and others. He should be ashamed of himself. ...He deserves to hear from others who don't appreciate this self-serving political move.
And on Gekas' decision he says "I know it sounds absurd but it's true... I hope [Gov. Shumlin] has a nice job waiting for her after she loses a race for which she is completely unprepared, but it's no excuse."
Hmm. If I were Gekas, I'd be a tad insulted. And if I were another VPIRG employee, I'd wonder what Paul Burns really thinks of me.
Elsewhere in the e-mail he characterizes Gekas' departure as "doing great damage to VPIRG" and says "I let her know how important her leadership was in the office." There's a bit of cognitive dissonance: is Gekas vital to VPIRG's work, or is she a chump? She can't be both, can she?
So far, Burns has refused to comment on the e-mail. I'll bet. The fact that he sent it, even in the heat of the moment, doesn't reflect well on his leadership qualities. A manager has to manage him- or herself as well as the staff, and he failed.
Indeed, he may be the one "doing great damage to VPIRG," having made some harsh accusations against the Governor. It also may indicate some internal problems at VPIRG; somebody leaked that e-mail, knowing what damage it would do to Burns. As Seven Days' Paul Heintz noted, the VPIRG Board "includes a number of prominent Shumlin supporters and donors."
Do you think those "prominent Shumlin supporters" were happy to receive that e-mail from Burns? Do you think that one of them might be the source of the leak?
As I wrote previously, Gekas is not without fault, and Burns has reason to feel aggrieved. She gave him almost no notice of her candidacy, and that was wrong. But Burns made a royal mess of things. Here, free of charge, is a little management advice for the next time a valued employee/chump decides to run for Lieutenant Governor:
Remain calm. Discuss a mutually agreeable departure. Notify the staff and Board in a non-inflammatory way. Release a public statement lamenting her departure from VPIRG and praising her public service. If you have to vent your real feelings, do it verbally with someone you trust. Otherwise, keep your trap shut and DON'T PRESS SEND. Go home and have a stiff drink.