RP&L, Steve Saum and employee performance reviews

Barbary sheep ~ "head-butting"2012 has been a challenging year so far for the leadership of Richmond Power & Light, Richmond's municipally owned power company.

Most of the strife centers around the firing of RP&L General Manager Steve Saum; the short version is that the Board of Directors unexpectedly removed Saum from his position after a negative performance review, and Saum along with others are concerned that he wasn't given due process.  After the story hit the media, there's been additional concern about the way the RP&L Board has (or has not) communicated the reasoning behind their decision and what it means for the future of the utility.  There's a story in today's Palladium-Item with some new revelations about the proceedings.

Few are in any good position to pass judgment on these matters.  In my limited interactions with Steve Saum I've always found him to be a person of good intent and competence in his leadership.  I also know most of members of the RP&L Board well enough to say they are people of good intent and great care for the future of RP&L and the City.  (Full disclosure: I ran unsuccessfully for election to the RP&L Board last year.)  And no matter what you think of any of their actions or decisions, it's just a painful and messy thing when matters of someone's employment and livelihood (or managerial methods) become a topic of public conversation.

But even with the limited facts available about this series of events, it seems there are some missed opportunities to reflect on moving forward:

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Sunshine Week: disclosure's benefits justify potential sting

Del Mar RestaurantAs a pat of my role on the Palladium-Item editorial board, I have a viewpoints piece in today's paper about Sunshine Week 2012, a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public's right to know.

If you've followed this blog you know that I am a consistent advocate for transparency in government leadership, and the topic was raised a number of times during last year's election season.  I appreciate the paper bringing focus to this issue, and look forward to the conversations that result.

Here's the full text of my editorial submitted for today's edition:

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Learning to improvise

Seaport VillageIn December I received the great gift of a 7-week beginner improv acting class, which I've just completed this past week.  I'd apparently remarked casually several times in front of Kelly that it might be fun to take an acting class some day, and knowing me as she does around experiences that might be outside my comfort zone, she took matters into her own hands to see that it might actually happen instead of just being talked about.

And outside my comfort zone it was, but also incredibly enjoyable.

The instructor Kevin (a professional actor and playwright in his own regard) has a background that includes the Second City improv comedy theater in Chicago, and so he made heavy use of Viola Spolin's techniques for teaching improv.  There were lots of exercises and games designed to train us how to create an environment with only our bodies and maybe the occasional folding chair, how to show a character's age, social status, mood, origin, destination and other qualities by showing instead of telling, and how to build simple objects or circumstances into a full-fledged scene.  We didn't really start using dialog until the last few classes; building the foundation of movement and environment had to come first.

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