No Wonder the County Fair is One Huge Mess

by jhwygirl

I can’t even follow it all as it’s played out over the last year or so – hell, you’d need a multi-post series – but the number of questionable things in this Missoulian story leave me with little comfort that things are going to get better.

Earlier this month, the Chicks-n-Chap’s breast cancer fundraiser rodeo clinic pulled itself from the Western Montana Fair after county commissioners failed to act on two allegations that oft-controversial manager Scott Meader had groped two females at a fair convention in Great Falls.

Note that in the story linked to above, Scott Meader is said to have “immediately reported” to county’s chief administrative officer Dale Bickell. Bickell is then quoted as saying “We had a very long conversation about it, to the point where I’m certain that Scot won’t have an incident like that again. That was his reprimand at that point.”

Aww, how warm and cozy. And apparently, whether Bickell ever really brought the matter to the county commissioners appears to be in question.

Who could follow all the flurry going on..but last Wednesday, as if anybody really cared, Meader announced he would be resigning the next day. I mean – a pre-announcement? Who does he think he is? Rod Blagojevich?

So Thursday we get his resignation.

Only – what kind of friggin’ resignation is it? He’s under contract, he resigns, and yet he gets a full year’s salary?

We’ll get back to that.

Then, the very next day, the Missoulian has a story that the Board of County Commissioners is “pulling back” on its Thursday afternoon meeting with someone who had thrown their hat in as interim manager.

Good Goddess. The fairgrounds are a mess and they were interviewing an interim manager less than 24 hours after ushering Meader out the door? After ushering a guy out the door that they’ve stood behind for the last two years after accusation after controversy swirled? I mean, it doesn’t seem to show that anyone knows what they want down there. What did they get? Instant clarity?

But let’s get back to that resignation – that is now called “the buyout” in the “pulling back” story.

Just exactly what is this Meader/County Fairgrounds Affair going to cost taxpayers?
Meader had a 3-year contract worth $69,000 a year.
Did that figure include healthcare? Retirement?
While he “resigned” on the 29th, he’ll be getting paid as usual through March 6th.
After that, Meader gets the $63,000 remaining on his contract that runs through Feb. 7, 2011.

Now – that the county is going to have to absorb the cost of Meader’s “resignation” is one thing that people should be questioning. Someone is at fault on the county’s side if they’re making a payout on a contracted employee resigning. Will we be finding out or is this all getting swept under the rug?

There is something suspect, too, with the length of time that he will be “getting paid as usual” and the fact that he’s getting a payout on the remaining length of his contract, which runs 11 months – less than one year – from his official last day of work (March 6th).

Isn’t there some milestone in the county retirement system with salaries that last a period of 3 years?

While the figure being thrown around for Scott Meader’s “resignation” is $71,776, me thinks he’s costing us a bit more. Taxpayers might want a clearer picture of that.

County chief administrative officer Dale Bickell got off pretty luck in this whole affair, it seems. Remember above that I note that the Great Falls incident was “immediately reported”? Well, in the “pulling back” article, county HR director Steve Johnson says “Bickell took care of the issue with a verbal reprimand when Meader brought it to his attention several months later.”

This is where I really wish Shakespeare still ventured to his satire every once in a while. Picture the Bickell/Meader “confession”:

Meader: Man – did I get wasted again in Great Falls! Those chicks were there from that breast cancer thing? You should have seen what they were wearing!

Bickell: Yeah? Was that chick there from Glasgow that was there at the Chicks-n-Chaps last year?

Meader: I don’t know – all I know is that those gals have some hard asses. And they get pretty uptight when you slap ’em.

Bickell: You slapped someone on the ass? Scott – you probably shouldn’t do that. Did they really get mad?

Meader: Ah…yeah – I probably should have told you. Two of ’em.

Bickell: Scott, my man – don’t be slapping chick’s in chaps in the ass, OK? (har,har,har)

Meader: OK. (har,har,har. wink-wink)

Bickell: Good – now – what was she wearing?

  1. Does sound pretty cozy over there in the courthouse.and a little stinky.

    Maybe someone needs to let a little fresh air in….

  2. Pogo Possum

    I am betting on the strong possibility the county’s legal counsel advised the Commissioners that paying Meader a year’s salary would be far cheaper for the County than the cost of termination and fighting a potential law suit that could originate from either Meader (wrongful termination) or others (Chicks n Chaps members or Fair employees) who could bring claims against the County.

    That’s what happens when you either don’t have proper personnel procedures in place to handle these types of problems or don’t follow-up on existing procedures.

    The interesting quote in the January 16th Missoulian story is from Commission chair Michele Landquist who “expressed surprise at the accusation” and who “. . . said she hadn’t heard about the Great Falls incident until this week.”

    Hadn’t heard about it until this week? These rumors have been circulating in Missoula for months along with the growing problems surrounding Meader and the running of the Fair. This story didn’t seem to be a surprise to some of the people I know who are involved with the County Fair.

    • I agree with everything you say both above and below – except that buying out Meader does nothing to prevent the victims of Meader’s sexual assault from suing the county.

      What the hell was Bickell doing handling a personnel matter anyways? That’s why the county has an entire HR department.

      As you point out, the ciounty has a well-known history of protectings its favorites. Bickell apparently gets to fly under the radar on this one.

    • klemz

      I find it odd that you’re concocting conspiracies to explain what is probably a contractual matter.

      • Yeah, klemz, I’m sure allegations of sexual misconduct, the loss of several major events, and the worried looks of sponsors is all part of this ‘contractual matter’ you speak of. What might the theme be next year – Gropin & Roping?

        • klemz

          I’m talking about the guy’s employment contract.

          • Pogo Possum

            Klemz is probably right on this one Binky.

            It is not uncommon for employment contracts to require the employer to provide the employee with a severance package that includes the payment of salary and benefits after the termination date, provided that the employer did not terminate the employee for cause. The employment contract should specify what acts are considered “for cause,” such as felony, civil judgments or moral turpitude against the employee for company-related business.

            The allegations against Meader may provide the County the opportunity to argue cause in this case. However, the County probably decided that either:

            A. they would not prevail in a legal challenge based on how Meader’s supervisors followed (or didn’t follow) County HR procedures,

            B. the cost of possible litigation would be far greater than the year’s compensation they paid (plus the risk of additional damages the County might owe for failure to live up to the contract)

            C. all of the above.

            • Can I just point out here that as the story was put forth, Meader resigned. As I know it, that shoulda voided that contract. I mean – the county put him under contract because they intended to keep him for 3 years. It’s one thing if they want to get rid of him..but if he resigns, he, himself, voided that contract.

              • klemz

                Well, I’m pretty sure there was a settlement considering he had is lawyer speaking for him — indicating, to me, a worry about violating some non-disclosure clause — and just the general outcome of the dispute. If so, resignation is purely formal as the bargain of the settlement would be the benefits and salary due under the contract in exchange for a forbearance of any claims in breach.

                But I really don’t know without the documents; the situation just strongly suggests that was the case.

  3. Pogo Possum

    While I am on the subject of proper personell procedures, since when is giving someone a “verbal reprimand” a proper employer response to charges of a manager sexually groping someone in a workplace envioronment?

    “. . . . county HR director Steve Johnson says “Bickell took care of the issue with a verbal reprimand when Meader brought it to his attention several months later.”

    The very minimum action against someone in such a high level management positon that Meader holds should be a thorough investigation of the allegations follwed by a written note in an employee’s file along with written notification to the County Commissioners. It appears none of this happened.

    • If you ask me, its still worthy of an investigation. Meader isn’t the only one at fault for creating a significant legal exposure here. Who all else is involved is a whole other question.

      That whole county commission is so darn unaccountable – proudly unaccountable as in “we don’t have to have no steenkin’ public meeting” unaccountable – it’s a disgrace.

      I will not be voting for any of ’em again.

      • Pogo Possum

        “. . . .I will not be voting for any of ‘em again.”

        I am one step ahead of you jhwyGirl. I didn’t vote for any of them in the past.

  4. Freeranger

    Po Po, I’m with you on this one. I could not believe this was handled with a verbal reprimand. No way, this flies anywhere there is a strong HR department. This is seriously alarming about Missoula County!

  5. problembear

    i am fairly sure if pee wee herman had a law degree and a briefcase, he could scare this bunch of moral cowards that pass for a county government into diving under their desks and holding out a quivering peace offering. looks like this lawyer is getting a sweet deal no matter what his client did.

    meanwhile, we taxpayers are suppose to watch $70,000.00 of our property taxes thrown in a pile and burned because no proper system of supervision over employees seems to exist within the county.

  6. Franco

    “I mean – a pre-announcement? Who does he think he is? Rod Blagojevich?”


    Good one! Maybe Meader could get the Blago hairdoo.

  7. Bulldoze the fairgrounds and put something useful there. Please. What a waste of prime space.

  8. Karlsefni

    If they bring the horse racing back everything is going to be fine.

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