When the email was first passed to me I thought it was a parody, something written by a middle schooler typically thrilled by scatological funnies and equally oblivious to boundaries of propriety. You excuse that sort of thing in 12 year olds.
But it was no joke. It was an actual email written last Thursday. It went out to all Palm Coast city employees—all 400 of them. It was an attempt to potty-train those employees, none of whom, it’s safe to say, is a child. It was condescending, presumptuous, degrading and foul. And it was unpardonable, considering the source: Wendy Cullen, the director of human resources, who would have been justified to fire any employee who would have sent that sort of email to colleagues.
Yet she sent it, herself clearly oblivious to boundaries of propriety. If you’re not one of those employees, consider yourself lucky not to be working in an environment where the very person who’s supposed to set the tone for professionalism and respect thinks it’s within her bounds to treat you like a child and give you lessons in hygiene.
There’s supposedly been an issue with bathroom cleanliness at the city. Cullen felt compelled to address it. No one can object to an organization’s administration looking out for its facilities and for communal respect among employees. Many of us in our workplace years have known the occasional memo-blast reminding the troops about essential courtesies. But this was no reminder, and there was nothing courteous about it. It was written of the very filth it sought to address.
“This is one of those e-mails that I can’t believe that I need to send but, alas, apparently I do,” Cullen begins, wasting no words to take on the persona of a boarding school matron. (The full email appears below.) She writes of the recent issues with cleanliness, then launches a five-point assault on decency. Examples, with apologies (mine, not hers): She wants people to flush. “Yep, I’ve heard that not everyone can remember to reach out either their left or right hand and pull the handle that replaces your deposit with clean water.” And: “Gentlemen, if you happen to miss the bowl completely, please take a moment to tidy up.” She has equally haughty words for women who “hover.” Then this phlegm-inspired hurl: “ If you feel the need to spit, hawk a logy, or sneeze in the area of the sink, please take a paper towel from the receptacle hanging on the wall and clean up your mess.” I feel the need to vomit.
At every point Cullen can’t resist assuming the attitude of a warden at a reform school, her sarcasm serrated with contempt: “it is my understanding that there is soap and water available for you to wash your hands.” “I don’t believe that I should have to reeducate our employees on things that you most likely learned between the ages of 2 and 5 but apparently I do.” This is how employees are talked to by one of our largest employers.
Of course Cullen wouldn’t—couldn’t—have written that without the approval of City Manager Jim Landon. She’s his right-hand (or is it left?). He sets the tone. The words may be hers, but the arrogance and contempt is all his: we see it in action regularly at council meetings or when he addresses the public. If he’s able to treat newly elected council member Nick Klufas, his boss, like a child and insult him to his face, as he did in a recent council meeting when he outright refused to answer one of Klufas’s questions (“I’m not participating in this”), we shouldn’t be surprised when he condones his lieutenant’s equally insulting behavior toward 400 people.
And if this is how the human resources director addresses 400 employees in an organization-wide email, imagine how those employees are treated behind closed doors when they may have grievances or other issues. Imagine how vendors or the public or businesses may be treated, if the example from HR is that know-it-all insults and condescension are the administration‘s first language.
The Cullen email is too blatant, too blind to its own rudeness, to be an isolated thing. It reflects a disconnect that has a lot to do with an administration that’s been entrenched and barely accountable too long. It’s what happens when the same administration stays in place while entire batches of council members come and go. Power accrues in the administration, and with it the sort of arrogance Landon displays toward new council members—as he has toward Heidi Shipley, toward Steven Nobile in the past, toward Klufas now—and that Cullen is displaying toward the employees. All along council members have let him get away with it, rewarding and enhancing his misplaced authority. That email is just the tip of the bile.
The disconnect may run deeper. From what I’m told, Landon is spending an inordinate amount of time working “from home” these days—the home he put up for sale in February, just days after securing a raise that brought his pay package to nearly a quarter million dollars a year. He’s supposedly got his foot on an RV’s pedal.
Maybe he’s losing touch. Maybe he’s checking out. Maybe he doesn’t want to use the bathrooms at city hall. Whatever the case may be, the council, on whom all this ultimately reflects, should demand an explanation of the Cullen email, and should demand an accounting from Landon, its one employee, perhaps reminding him who his bosses are and who’s owed respect—on the council and in the ranks.
The Wendy Cullen email to city employees:
From: Wendy Cullen <[email protected]<mailto:[email protected]>>
Date: June 1, 2017 at 12:12:55 PM EDT
To: All City Employees <[email protected]<mailto:[email protected]>>
Subject: PLEASE READ: YOUR FELLOW EMPLOYEES WILL APPRECIATE IT
Good afternoon, All.
This is one of those e-mails that I can’t believe that I need to send but, alas, apparently I do.
I have heard some complaints about the cleanliness of our restrooms. So, in order to improve conditions, I would like to remind people of a few simple rules and/or courtesies that should be followed.
1. It is customary that once you complete your business, either #1 or #2, you flush. Yep, I’ve heard that not everyone can remember to reach out either their left or right hand and pull the handle that replaces your deposit with clean water, ready for the next person.
2. Gentlemen, if you happen to miss the bowl completely, please take a moment to tidy up. Ladies, if you hover please take a moment to tidy up. Again, the person using the facility after you appreciates it.
3. Leaving the floor littered with toilet paper and the like is inappropriate. If you drop tissue, pick it up and place it in the receptacle designated for that purpose.
4. If you feel the need to spit, hawk a logy, or sneeze in the area of the sink, please take a paper towel from the receptacle hanging on the wall and clean up your mess. In fact, you may want to use a little soap and water to be sure that your germs are not hanging around the basin for the next person.
5. Which brings me to sinks. It is my understanding that there is soap and water available for you to wash your hands. It may be a good idea to do so at the end of your visit. If your facility is lacking in supplies, please let me know and I will be more than happy to rectify the situation for you.
Now, this is not related at all to the cleaning crew. They do a good job so if you think that I am implying that this is someone else’s fault, you are mistaken. I don’t believe that I should have to reeducate our employees on things that you most likely learned between the ages of 2 and 5 but apparently I do.
Finally – these simple rules apply to both MEN and WOMEN.
Human Resource Director
City of Palm Coast
160 Lake Avenue
Palm Coast, FL 32164