Allen Altvater

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About Being Fired

Allen C. Altvater

About Being Fired

     When my obituary is written, if it is complete and accurate, it will record the questionable distinction of my being fired three times by the same employer.

     The first occasion was in 1925 when I was ignominiously defeated for reelection to the city council.  I was on that panel in 1924 and made such a poor record that Neil Durrance had no problem in defeating me by a landslide (23 to l6). This result was not too disheartening because the councilmen with whom I had been associated appointed me as the first paid fire chief in Sebring, at a reasonably good salary, whereas the council position paid only a dollar a year at that time, and I was seriously trying to persuade Boo to spend the balance of her life with me.  So, I was happy that I had lost that contest as it led to a step forward.

     At first my feelings were not so joyous when the second "firing" took place.  This was in 1934, in the depth of the Great Depression.  The year previous, the council had decided to try an experiment with what in effect was the City Manager form of government, although the title  for the manager was "Superintendent of Public Works
" with the understanding that he would implement the policies set by the council in relation to the control of ALL departments of the city except the police.

     Conditions in 1933 were critical.  No city taxes were collectable - bond and interest payments were in default - payment of wages and salaries of city employees were in arrears for several months - the city’s credit had deteriorated to the point that no materials (including oil for the power plant) could be bought except for cash on delivery - and more than half the accounts of the users of electricity and water were either behind in their payments or refusing to pay at all - and the revenues from the sale of utilities were the only cash flow in the city operation.

     The situation called for a remedy similar to a doctor performing a major operation without providing an anesthetic for the patient.  Naturally
, those who had been enjoying the municipal services without paying for them cried loudly and when one of the towns two newspapers defended the administration’s methods, the competitive paper took the opposite stance and a battle of charges and countercharges ensued with the city (and especially the Superintendent) being pummeled by both sides.

     The results were that (at the next elections) the followers of the opposition won and they felt that they had a mandate to dispose of the office of the Superintendent of Public Works.

     And I was that Superintendent.  For a short time, I was bitter.  The council had set some high goals and by hard work most of them had been met.  All past due obligations (except bonds and interest) had been met and the city’s credit was reestablished - back pay of employees had been caught up and they were being paid on time - everybody had become aware that if they used electricity and water, the bills MUST be paid or service would be discontinued and their deposits would be forfeited, without exception or favor - a perpetual type inventory had been established and maintained - a source of misappropriation of city funds had been uncovered and the leak plugged - now the city had money in the bank - WHAT MORE COULD THEY EXPECT?

     The heartbreak did not last long.  Almost before I could get accustomed to not seeing harsh editorials and criticism of the council and superintendent, offers of positions were received and these offers carried better pay and more pleasant conditions, so all I could do was be thankful that the two newspapers had to find a new subject on which to vent their bitter verbiage.  (A few months later, I had another cause to be happy that I had not taken any part in the battle of words)  Two of the new councilmen who had been under the impression that the Superintendent must be eliminated, came to me to ask under what conditions would I resume the work where I had been.  But by then, I had accepted work that was far more pleasant - was without public harassment - had a more promising future and carried a far better salary.

     The lesson learned in that episode prepared me for the third time I was fired from a Sebring city job.  After 13 years as airport manager
, the doctors on the city council felt that the position deserved the services of a "younger man" (I was 60 at the time) so they gave me a sixty day notice.

     In this move, EVERYBODY won.

     As I had not been active in their election to council, the councilmen who initiated the action had the satisfaction of paying that score and, at the same time, they appointed a member of the council to the position of airport manager.  As it was necessary for him to resign his council seat when he accepted the job, the doctors eliminated some resistance to their control, as he was not always of their persuasion.  So, the councilmen won.

     The new man also won.  He was a "younger man" - very dedicated, very effective - liked by almost everybody.  He brought a new outlook to the airport and as he enjoyed his position and the work, he was a winner and the city gained the services of a good man.

     And, certainly, I had every reason to be happy that they "bounced" me.  Long before my 60 day notice had expired, I was on the payroll of the State of Florida at a far better salary and with the assurance of a paycheck so long as I performed my work, without the threat of losing it to a "younger man."  In fact, I did keep it for twenty more years.

     MORAL:  Every time I was fired, I got a better job, better conditions, better pay and more opportunity.  By the time I was 80 years old, I learned to eschew municipal jobs if any others were available - not that I am ungrateful for the many opportunities and benefits that I have enjoyed, but I regret the time that was lost.

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