The restructure at the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas can be described as nothing more than a disappointment and a disaster that ran out of control. When this process was originally announced years ago, little or no preparation was made to prepare employees for that dreadful Friday in October, when so many law abiding citizens and workers lives changed forever. From the time the government announced plans to convert ZNS to Public Broadcasting (a structure many agreed the corporation was already operating under), there was no plan or clear path to facilitate this. To this day, years later, no one can honestly say what this means for ZNS and how it will operate. Yet 70 plus people are jobless, the corporation is weakened to the point that it cannot operate effectively, due to a shortage of staff and skills, and an angry public is questioning who gave the government the right to change its national broadcaster – without consultation with the taxpayers who have funded the cash strapped organization for years!
However, it appeared as though the ZNS executives, who were given a mandate from government without an accompanying plan, decided that they were going to secretly downsize through frustration, hoping (against all likelihood) that employees would quit or fire themselves. While this didn’t work, it caused tremendous grief and untold stress. Key to this failed strategy was Kayleaser Moss, now Kayleaser Deveaux-Isaacs.
EXECUTIVE MANAGEMENT AND THEIR CONTRIBUTION TO MESS
As if this in itself was not a conflict of interest, for the Sr. Deputy General Manager to marry the Under Secretary of National Security, the ministry that oversees ZNS, Mrs. Deveaux-Isaacs maintained her post during the time when the selection process of who remained or was given a package was being formulated. Mrs. Deveaux-Isaacs, in her conflicting role, used her customary bullying tactics to demoralize the staff at ZNS. Ask the Bahamas Communications & Public Officers Union and the Bahamas Communications & Public Managers Union who their biggest complaint is about and they will both say Kayleaser Deveaux-Isaacs. This young woman who was recruited by then Chairman Barry Malcolm and DGM Carlton Smith made quite an impressive showing, but never proved her worth to hold such a post.
These two men were invited by Kayleaser to come to New York and see what she did and talk over a possible position at the corporation. Originally Kayleaser had been in talks with the PLP administration who wanted to offer her a producer’s post since that suited her qualifications most as a Fox segment producer, associated producer for a segment on American Idol and as an experienced actress, and singer. This opportunity never materialized, but under the FNM administration she tried her hand again. Both ZNS executives took Kayleaser up on her offer and visited FOX network. Upon returning, dialogue between the then chairman and the then Parliamentary Secretary for ZNS Kay Forbes-Smith took place and initially they wanted to offer her the post of Consultant with the view of making her General Manager. It was advised by another executive that this was not a wise move, so the job was posted and filled locally. She was then brought in as the Sr. V.P. Programming, a post which placed her in charge of every key area in the corporation other than clerical and Physical Plant and Systems. Without experience in running a state run broadcaster, and little knowledge about News, and other areas, she was given to lead, Kayleaser bit by bit attacked the hardworking employees of ZNS and sought to create disharmony and unity by her less than tactful approach of dealing with staff. One thing is certain with Deveaux-Isaacs, she can hold a grudge! As long as you are vocal, have an opinion that differs from hers, she is sure to make it clear through her actions that you will not succeed in opportunities at ZNS.
She is clueless about labour laws in the country and continues to breach corporation and labour policies. It’s no coincidence that she and the then DGM of Human Resources Robyn Robert could not see eye to eye. Robert, the corporation’s expert in labour relations would constantly remind Kayleaser that she was in violation of the industrial agreement, or corporation’s policy by taking disciplinary matters into her own hands and taking action against employees that were not justified. This woman has suspended more staff without pay in 3 years than the corporation has witnessed in recent time. The unions have been successful in getting a number of these reversed, or have petitioned them to the labour board and are awaiting results. Whenever there are complaints lodged against employees by outsiders, especially regarding news stories, Mrs. Deveaux-Isaacs is quick to respond without providing any opportunity for that reporter to clarify, explain, reason or rebut. Mrs. Deveaux-Isaacs does not respect managers that run departments under her. She is constantly interfering with the decision making process, instructing her personal preferences to be implemented and when that is not successful she labels the manager as incompetent. The past few years the ZNS newsroom has been in chaos. Mrs. Deveaux-Isaacs showed little regard for the DGM of news Jerome Sawyer, and sought to persecute reporters like Shenique Miller, Clint Watson, Vaughnique Toote just to mention a few.
Interestingly these are perhaps the hardest working out of the bunch and the ones who are not afraid to be fair and balance in reporting. However because they are not afraid to speak up, these are the last to get opportunities in the news department. In fact she saw to it that although Ms. Toote was recommended for a promotion by her bosses on her evaluation, it was squashed by her without explanation. Ms. Miller who has been targeted for several years not only by Jerome Sawyer, because of rumors that she began a petition to have him removed for what many agreed to be bias management of the newsroom, but also from Mrs. Deveaux-Isaacs who was fed lies by Mr. Sawyer on many occasions but never bothered to verify it, and whenever she would break a story that the government felt would tarnish their reputation or record. This example came home when the issue with the abuse at the Elizabeth estates children home surfaced. Ms. Miller was threatened termination, but after the union fought and proved her innocence and that the blame should fall on the news bosses who Okayed the story to air, she was still suspended without pay. As a result reporters in the newsroom now stray away from doing investigative reporting for fear of being targeted like Ms. Miller. Today Ms. Miller has been demoted to a regular reporter from an editor without explanation as a result of the so called restructuring exercise. But even before this, one could see that the worse was on the way for Ms. Miller simply because of the way she was treated. As the official back up anchor for national anchor Jerome Sawyer, she would be ignored to fill in many times, as both Sawyer and Deveaux-Isaacs would look for someone else to read the news other than Ms. Miller.
Clint Watson continues to prove to be a strong reporter and anchor, but again because he is the union’s shop steward and is often called on to face intense battles with Deveaux-Isaacs, she has literally put him on a stop list despite his skills and talents. On many occasions she would correspond with News Director Beverly Curry to have him pulled from anchoring the TV weekend news, without explanation. She would deny travel opportunities for him, and would recommend another person be sent instead. The same has been done for Vaughnique Toote. There are countless stories of this kind of victimization and the only thing it has resulted in is a weaker product and a demoralized staff whose talents and abilities are not being used.
In the middle of a freeze on hiring and when there was no opening in news, Altovise Munnings was hired. She interviewed for a reporter post that would double in news and sports. Also applying for this job was the sports anchor Jonathon Benson, who wanted to move from a reporter II to a reporter I, which is a senior reporter. Naturally you would think he would be the most suited for the job as he was doing the job already. Instead they turned him down, and said in a letter they found someone else more suitable and qualified. The union again intervened saying out of the three people short listed, he was the only one with sports experience. Human resources Manager, Sandra Duncombe, recalled the letter and reissued it, changing the words more qualified and suitable and said instead we have decided to “go with another candidate,” no explanation given. Ms. Munnings came in, and was given the support of newsroom managers, like they had a direct order from Deveaux-Isaacs. Munnings would be given all of the assignments on the morning shift to do, while other reporters sat in the newsroom all morning waiting for a story.
She would be unfairly pushed to do the big stories, given resources unlimited, even down to giving the morning report anchor spot to her, then assigning a chauffeur to work a 6am shift, just to pick her up every morning from home, because she didn’t have a car! Ms. Munnings could be seen, and would often times boast to her colleagues and others outside of the corporation, that she was sent to take over the newsroom. She would constantly be texting and talking on the phone with Deveaux-Isaacs on a personal level and would boast about constantly texting government cabinet ministers on issues and favours. Under the restructure, when she became the only person in the newsroom to be promoted from a reporter to the post that is second in command of the department, no one was surprised even though she had only been at ZNS for SIX MONTHS!
It was said initially that the restructuring exercise was designed to right size the corporation and prepare in for conversion to PSB. Although no one could say what the corporation would be doing as a PSB, they were convinced that the downsizing would take place. So without a model and mandate in place, the downsizing took place. When unions spoke with the Minister of Broadcasting, he was adamant that deployment would be an option. However after the Prime Minister said that was not an option, his position changed, yet the broadcasting minister never came clean saying he did tell union executives this was an option.
That being said, unions should have known they were in for a ride where things would change daily and consultation would be strategic. The unions failed miserably in this exercise. ZNS took advantage of new BCPOU leadership team who had little experience in negotiations. The numbers fluctuated on who would go home and a cold and harsh chairman Michael Moss was more concerned about getting his mandate fulfilled to cut staff than he was with dealing with the process humanely. Many promises were made to the unions that were never fulfilled. They promised to submit the new organizational chart with names on it to the union, so there could be dialogue, discussion and recommendations before final approval would take place. That never happened.
The union got this document the day staff was sent home and there was no room to make changes and recommendations. In fact only three representatives from each union were permitted in on this meeting. Injustices were clear. For example it was said that those who are due to retire or close (55 and up or 25 years of service and up) would be considered first to take the separation package. This didn’t happen, in fact in accounts Monique Cornish a young professional manager who is a single mother was disengaged while Elvira Johnson a 59 year old employee set to retire next year, but a noted strong member of the FNM was kept on, although she relies on Monique Cornish to close the month books. In fact records would prove that while on a recent compassionate leave, Cornish had to come in a close the books, because no one else could do the job. In radio the same thing took placed. Those production assistants considered top of the line were sent home, while the torchbearer’s president and the relative of Mrs. Delores Ingraham wife of PM Ingraham were the two permitted to stay, even though their evaluations prove that they were not the best. The corporation has kept only four radio announcers for its National Voice 1540am which broadcasts as well on the FM band 104.5. Anyone knows that you cannot run a full shift each day with four announcers. Who will cover weekends? Sick days? Vacations? How long will these announcers have to work? Thankfully the two announcers for the religious station 107.9 were allowed to stay until the station is sold.
Margaret McKay, the shop steward for radio and a former executive of another union at her previous job was also treated unfairly. She was originally chosen for the separation package. But after fighting by the union and a registered complaint with the labour board, she was offered her job back. This goes to show you that no procedure or policy was used in this exercise that was standardized. In the news department, the DGM position was eliminated, however the news director Beverly Curry was moved. She was not given a reason for her removal. She was transferred to the Parliamentary Department. Anthony Newbold the DGM of the parliamentary channel was made the news director. Curry has gone on record saying they felt she was allowing too many opposition stories on the air and couldn’t control reporters’ stories. Jerome Sawyer, who was on contract, has been offered a Sr. Producer post in the programming department. He will produce a one hour current affairs show to air weeknights. The new anchor is Keishla Smith, a reporter who has very little presence in the public’s view but with great story telling skills. She is noted by superiors and colleagues to have little drive and no interaction with staff. While she is not the best out of the pool of anchors at ZNS she is Kayleaser Deveaux Isaacs favourite and has close ties with Anthony Newbold, who she formerly worked with at Love 97, prior to his joining the Broadcasting Corporation with Darold Miller, and recommending her to make the switch to the corporation.
When she left ZNS to take up a post at GEMS as editor, he was instrumental in the corporation taking her back after the job proved to challenging for her. Gems employees have said she showed little drive, and did not communicate well with staff. Newbold tried to get her back in his parliamentary department at a higher post, but was not successful, so she returned to the news department as a reporter I. This move is another example that the corporation is not looking for the best talent and is not looking to reward hard workers who are loyal to the institution but rather, it allows executives to put their personal preferences above professionalism. Whatever happened to the natural progression of Shenique Miller from her back up anchor post into the anchor position? That speaks to positive succession planning. Charlene Ferguson was the Sr. News Editor – described by most as the best writer, editor and outstanding radio anchor. She was made redundant without reason. Could it be because as a qualified, professional, talented reporter she would not allow her objectivity to be stifled or accept any and everything given to her? Was she was forced to pay for her professional stance? Is it because there are letters on file that she has written condemning, bias, incompetence and unfair treatment by bosses? Harsh moves were made in news, where news producer Vaughn Albury who edits and manages employees like Altovise, now have to answer to her, as her post is senior to the producer’s. This is unfair, and makes the work environment difficult to function in. Deputy Directors Betty Thompson and Opal Roach were transferred back in news as editors.
After sending people home that Friday and that Monday in Grand Bahama, the board returned to meet with the remaining staff the following Tuesday. Hoping to hear some kind words of comfort and encouragement, the staff was again ‘rapped’ with demeaning instructions like “don’t make the board look stupid by selecting you!” and “we will require you to do more and work harder and smarter!”
For Chairman Moss to tell staff that “You are the crème de la crème that’s why you are still here!” was hurtful and tantamount to ‘pouring salt on wounds’. It meant that those who were sent home were the worst!
Can you imagine how difficult statements like these, which have been repeated in the media, make it for those ‘packaged’ employees to get jobs elsewhere? While it may be true for some, I’m sure it’s not for all those that left, especially those who voluntarily left or were eligible because of years of service or age.
There were three categories involved in the separation but how will people know the difference! In fact because the process was handled so poorly, many outstanding employees opted to take the package, as they no longer wanted to work for an institution that treated staff so poorly and unfairly over the past two years. Then there were those who had heard about threats to their livelihoods and opted to take a package, in hopes of getting the higher sum, rather than waiting for their fate to be determined – cognizant of personal feelings and agendas involved.
What made the process appear even more murky or shady, was the limited involvement by the Human Resources department. Robyn Robert has said, that she was never included in the process and her department, except for the new Director Sandra Duncombe, who executive management opted to deal with, while Robert was in office, was the only individual involved.
NO PLAN FOR IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE DOWNSIZING
With so many employees gone, the executive management didn’t think about a plan for the station to operate immediately afterwards. With the departure of four of the five VTR editors, who will be assigned the task of putting stories together for the television news? With the main CG operator gone who will now have the responsibility of typing CG for news? What about audio engineers, cameraman, editors and newsroom managers and chauffeurs? This only speaks to the news department – what about the other divisions?