I know you’re all expecting an announcement of new office pictures and once again it’s a post about something different. The light is getting better and things are getting darker so I should be able to actually take good pictures in the next month or two. In the meantime, however, I will be getting a lot of people asking me the same question and it’s easier for me to publish the answer rather than to personally respond to everyone.
On October 1st, 2013 I resigned, effective immediately, as a board member/director at the Oakley Chamber of Commerce.The date is actually irrelevant though. The question I will be repeatedly asked now, is “why”. So here’s why.
I expect the board of directors at a Chamber of Commerce, most of which are business owners, to act and make decisions in a business-like and professional manner for the organization as a whole, its members, its board, and of course for themselves. When important decisions need to be made you need to rely on everyone doing the right thing and bundle all that business experience into something that forms a solid and cohesive decision. At this, however, the board has unfortunately failed and in a way that is incomprehensible to me.
Maybe I can’t comprehend it because throughout my professional career have prided myself on the fact that I never allowed anyone walk all over me and “roll over and play dead” when it comes to having your business under pressure from elements that are easily dealt with in a proper professional manner. But that is, as it turned out, what the board at the Oakley Chamber (all except 3 board members, that is) does not share with me because they made it very clear to me that board members should somehow expect to have themselves walked all over. Most of you reading this know me, some better than others, so you know that allowing that is not part of my repertoire (nor ever will be, I’m sure).
Because of that and the inability and incompetence I witnessed, combined with some board members stating they made their decisions out of fear, I decided enough is enough. I can’t support an organization, that through its board, actively decides to not stand up for itself. It is not worth my time and energy.
The next question I’ll be asked after hearing my reasons, I am sure, is “what happened”. A lot of you reading this may be familiar with this or at least part of this but since my readership and “fans” is large and global I’ll need to take some time to explain that with a few more details.
Oakley (not Oakland!) is a small town and not the most of technological havens east of Silicon Valley. And it perhaps shouldn’t be. Life and most especially its pace is different here. Over the recent year or so Oakley gained itself a local resident blogger (Michael Burkholder aka Mike Burkholder). Known for his delusional ideas where his “public relations” business (Make Public Relations) he runs from home (and states that it produces his blog) is “a combination between journalism and a chamber of commerce”. Funny thing is that the spelling and grammar errors and every few paragraphs completely omitting a word of two seems to equate to “journalism” in his mind. This while he describes himself on his LinkedIn profile as “an exceptional communicator”. Then again, he describes himself as a “Professional level executive” as well. Which is quite something for someone like him who probably never held a real job since people tend to refer to him as a deadbeat who sits at home all days in his underwear trying to figure out ways how to get a little pocket change by begging folks to advertise on his site (called EastCountyToday). 🙂
But aside from that he’s mostly known for always trying to stir up trouble, especially if he can stir up trouble between different groups or the city itself and other businesses or members of the community. If he can’t stir up trouble he doesn’t get any comments and people don’t get into meaningless petty arguments with each other. You know, the very thing that internet trolls and riot-bloggers seem to feed off of because their own lives are so miserable they wish to make other people’s lives miserable too.
Some people ignore him (bad idea when crap published on the internet may affect you or your business but I guess you have to have more tech and internet experience to understand how that works), some decide to respond in the comments on his blog (which he loves because he likes the often violent and childish disagreements people have on his blog). Responding on his blog is of course an even worse idea, ask any crisis or PR manager (except the ones who thought it was a good idea when they did so themselves and caused even more harm to their employers).
Before I joined the Oakley Chamber there were some really awful “persecutions” and “character assassinations” he was trying to accomplish through his “riot blog”. Some people at the other end of his frustrations and attacks were board members or worked at the Oakley Chamber. We saw that, we knew that. And if someone wants to have a blog on which they incoherently ramble along saying they have some opinion even if the opinion is never very consistent, then that’s fine.
This riot-blogger actually tried to “tone down” for a while but that didn’t last long. In fact, I took bets on how long it would take and… won. The reason he decided to stop being such a nasty person was (and he told me this in person at a community meeting he attended) was because people were screaming at his house from his lawn and clearly it had some impact on his wife. I remember not being surprised about that. What I was surprised about is that he was surprised people were doing that. He even told a few people he had been viciously and consistently attacking that he would stop doing so and would from now on only “publish local news”. Of course, publishing local news on a blog that’s mostly news from other sources does not get you anywhere and must not be all that satisfying, I suppose.
Two weeks ago he went over the line of merely incoherent rambling and attempts at instigating fights between other parties. Instead he crossed straight into libel and defamation. Against one of his favorite subjects to attack; the Oakley Chamber of Commerce. A lot of you that know me know that I’m a little bit of an expert on the subject of libel and defamation. You also know that I like making understatements when I say that. 🙂
So I looked over all the details and established the baselines for the legal position on libel and defamation, including the evidence of motive and malicious intent. You know that when you go from just writing opinions on local news and events to spreading false, destructive, libelous and defamatory rumors about an organizations and members of its board of directors you are likely going to meet California Civ. Code 44, 45a, and 46. And even more so if you don’t even care to fact-check your statements, failed to due any due diligence, and thus knowingly publish things you could’ve known are false or you can’t ever prove while the other side might very well be able to prove you wrong.
In addition to the above there were several other things crossing the boundary into being a solid basis to file a legal complaint and deal with the matter in a proper and professional manner. Except I’m not going to outline any of these here because I have a feeling our little local riot-blogger will actually read this sooner or later. Probably sooner since this is a small town. I see no reason to make him aware of how easily he can be dealt with. 🙂
I immediately recommended the board on what actions to take and prepared the legal foundation for it and with the help of our (Sallie and I) business lawyer we drafted up a very nice Cease & Desist letter. That is usually a first step in which you allow someone a small window of time to remove the defamatory material and put out a rectification. And when failing to do so, you file suit and “take’em to the cleaners” so to speak.
Defamation suits are always very difficult to mount and succeed at, especially if the defendant is smart and lawyered up. But in this case the defendant is everything but smart and most definitely not lawyered up either. The lack of such smarts is what showed that this course of actions would have an almost guaranteed success in court. The other thing that is very annoying about defamation suits is that it usually costs way more to defend yourself against one than it does to mount one and in the end you may very well, in most cases anyway, end up having to pay for the legal costs of the plaintiff in addition to possible other punitive damages. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of a defamation lawsuit, really. Unless you’re really good at dealing with it.
The board, however, wanted to have an “emergency meeting” about it to decide on the matter. Instead of voting in favor (only 3 board members were) of sending the Cease & Desist and taking proper business-like steps they decided to do something completely different that a week later ended up not being executed. At the end of the meeting everyone agreed that the alternative plan “would mean nothing and have absolutely no effect whatsoever”.
So basically I wasted hours of my time in a meeting in which a group of people of which one expects a more business-like and professional behavior decided to “do” something that was agreed on as being totally irrelevant. We’re all wasting our time talking about doing irrelevant things? Well, obviously!
What shocked me even more was that two board members voiced their concerns about taking legal steps and dealing with this situation in a highly effective manner because they were afraid. One was afraid of being sued (I can’t even fathom that one except writing it off as a fear out of ignorance of how these things work). Another was afraid that because of being a board member their business might be next to be defamed and libeled on the riot-blogger’s blog.
At that point my decision to resign finalized itself in my mind and I only decided to give the chamber a little more time to see their mistake in taking only the “alternative” action (that never happened due to other reasons outside of the board’s control).
You can imagine that after learning that, as a board member, when the chamber or the board comes under fire and its professionalism is defamed and libeled in a way that is otherwise easily dealt with, you are expected to incur any harm to your reputation because the board will not stand up for itself or the organization they’re supposed to be leading, there was no other choice for me to make than to resign. In the end there’s no denying that you get the reputation you deserve if you actively allow and chose for your reputation to be smeared.
In a way it’s rather a shame the riot-blogger focussed his attacks on the Chamber instead of me or my business because you all know how swift and effective I’d take care of the matter. Even if it means the riot-blogger ends up only reading blogs from internet cafe’s because he’d end up in a position a lot of individuals on the receiving end of a defamation suit end up like. Especially if you have someone like me with plenty of resources coming after you. 🙂