by Whatsblem the Pro
Earlier this year we reported on a spate of firings at Burning Man, including that of DPW Dispatch manager Palmer ‘Gameshow’ Parker. Technically, Gameshow wasn’t fired; the corporation that owns Burning Man simply declined to renew his contract. The reality of the situation, though, is that a long-term Burning Man employee in a management position was rather abruptly sacked after a decade with DPW.
Now Gameshow is speaking his mind about his tenure with the Man — and the reasons they fired him — and wants to share his thoughts with all of you, along with a letter he wrote to Charlie Dolman, the fledgling Event Operations Director that the Burning Man Org hired just last December. In a nutshell, Gameshow says he was fired largely for not keeping silent about the woeful state of the radio equipment his department was forced to work with, despite the safety issues involved.
[NOTE: “EMBER reports” are after-burn reports written by managers from every department of the Burning Man Org, to document in detail every significant success or failure.]
AN OPEN LETTER FROM PALMER ‘GAMESHOW’ PARKER
Greetings, friends and Burning Man family,
As most all of you know I received a phone call last March which said, in essence, I no longer had the job of Burning Man Department of Public Works Dispatch Manager because the new BM Operations Manager desired a closer working relationship between Emergency Services Division and DPW. Since then I have spent a LOT of time thinking about what happened and why. My primary concern as DPW Dispatch manager was always safety, not politics. It still is. The result is a letter to Charlie Dolman, the Operations Manager, along with the creation of a website which consists of that letter along with past manager reports, pictures, and other relevant information.
I invite you to learn more or, if you wish, stop here. Either way, know that I feel that your inclusion in this invitation was important. You have my permission to pass this information along to others if you wish.
The letter below was sent to Charlie Dolman with cc: to Burning Man Board, Executive Committee, and DPW Council of Darkness members. This is what my intro was in the email to Mr. Dolman et al:
“My apologies for the timing of this letter, it and the creation of a website have been a work in progress for months and now is when all was finally completed. . . if you encounter any difficulty in opening the file I can resend it in Word form.
I have attempted to cc: the Board, the Executive Committee, and the DPW Council of Darkness in particular though I was not able to verify all email addresses through the Burning Man website. I am sending it to others in the extended Burner community as well.
If you do choose to read my letter and go through the website I’ve created, I have one question for you: What would you have had me do differently?”
August 20, 2013
995 Market Street
San Franciso, CA 94103
Dear Mr. Dolman:
My name is Palmer Parker, playa name Gameshow. I held the position of DPW Dispatcher for 10 years, manager for nine of those. On March 13th of this year my immediate supervisor, Playground, informed me by telephone that Burning Man’s new Operations Manager “wished a closer working relationship between ESD and
DPW Dispatch” therefore my employment with Burning Man was terminated. This effectively also fired my wife Katy from her five year position as Dispatcher and my de facto assistant manager though no one from Burning Man has contacted her directly about that. It also served to eliminate my stepdaughter Aimee’s (Paws Off) two-year volunteer position under Bettie June in Art Support Services and removed my two step-sons’ (Andrew “L’il Dog” and Benny “Rooster Tail”) two-year volunteer efforts with Shelly in the Commissary. Over the months since that phone call I have spent many, many hours – including way too many times waking in the wee hours of the morning – processing what happened and why. This letter is one result of that pondering and, for clarity’s sake, it is not an effort to regain employment by Burning Man.
To the best of my knowledge you and I, sir, have never met or communicated directly in any way prior to my writing this – I didn’t know your name until I went looking for it on the Burning Man website after that phone call. No grievance has ever been filed against me, no request for mediation has been made toward me, and no conflict resolution efforts have been initiated by anyone but me. I have never been accused of theft, lying, assault, or any other criminal act at Burning Man. I will grant you that I was accused of sending a page about a death to a Board member at a very early time one morning. As that method of relaying such news would be entirely inappropriate regardless of the hour, when I asked for proof of the page I did not remember having sent, Joseph Pred told me that the paging log was corrupted and he was therefore unable to provide that record. In truth I may not have even been on shift that night despite what the posted Dispatch schedule listed.
There were no discussions of need for personal improvement plan or other HR-related activity (Charles of ESD COMM – a Burning Man contractor rather than employee – threatened on occasion that he would talk to HR about me or others who commented on the poor state of the radio system), no mention of probation or other change in my Burning Man employment status. I was directed to not speak ill of the state of radios last year and I followed that directive to the best of my ability. I was honest in my ten years of post-event manager EMBER reports. Given the very succinct presentation of the reason I was given for your firing me, I can only surmise that you based your decision on information, documentation, opinion, and/or otherwise provided by Joseph in his position as head of Burning Man’s Emergency Services Division (I find it ironic that I had, through my supervisor, requested mediation with him in 2011 and he refused). It is a sadness to me that the friendship he and I once shared has also been a victim of the continued state of radio service his department provides to DPW.
My primary concern as DPW Dispatch Manager was always safety with a close second being effective, reliable, and efficient radio service. The quality of the tools Burning Man provides to DPW Dispatch to establish the umbrella of communication creating that safety and efficiency is controlled entirely by ESD: DPW Dispatch is completely dependent on that department for equipment and programming.
Among myself and the Dispatchers who worked with me it had long been a grave concern that we would be unable to respond to an emergency because we could not hear a radio call or could not be heard when we attempted to transmit. A life lost or a serious injury is a horrible burden for a Dispatcher to bear even when equipment works as it should. And it appears to me that rather than work to solve the real problem(s) you chose, instead, to be convinced by Joseph to kill the messenger. Your action has relieved me of responsibility if someone may suffer injury or death because of defective radios but, in doing so, I believe you have taken that responsibility on yourself.
I have no idea whether you’ve read any of my EMBER reports or not. They have long included appreciations for jobs well done and concerns for shortcomings. Examples from last year’s EMBER (sort of extra-appropriate since when I added this example to my letter it was Fence Day 2013 and congrats to the crew there for this year’s record time):
- IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT WORKED WELL AND WHAT DIDN’T THIS YEAR
WHAT WORKED WELL:
- 4508 (CONTAINS THE DISPATCH OFFICE) WAS IN POSITION IN THE DEPOT-TO-BE ON FENCE DAY MORNING EVEN BEFORE THE FIRST LEG OF TRASH FENCE T-STAKES WERE IN ~ THANK YOU INSANE AND HEAT!! INSANE WAS ALSO KIND ENOUGH TO TAKE US TO BREAKFAST – IN 4508 – ONCE THE COMMISSARY WAS UP AND RUNNING.
- SUPPORT FROM THE IT DEPARTMENT WAS, YET ANOTHER YEAR IN A ROW, STELLAR ~ COMPLETE WITH NEW (FASTER) COMPUTER, NEW (IT WORKED!!) PRINTER, ALL OF WHICH, ALONG WITH VOIP PHONE, WERE INSTALLED AND OPERATIONAL BY 2PM ON FENCE DAY. IT STAFF ALSO CHECKED IN ON US REGULARLY THROUGHOUT OUR TIME ON PLAYA AND, WHEN DISPATCH CALLED WITH A QUESTION OR PROBLEM, THEY RESPONDED IMMEDIATELY. IT IS TRULY WONDERFUL TO BE SO FULLY AND PLEASANTLY SERVED AND SUPPORTED BY THAT CREW.
- SUPPORT FROM MANY FORMERLY KNOWN AS SENIOR STAFF AND/OR DPW COUNCIL OF DARKNESS.
WHAT DID NOT WORK WELL:
- SADLY THIS IS YET ANOTHER YEAR’S EMBER IN WHICH I’M NOT SURE WHERE TO BEGIN.
- DISPATCH WAS EXPECTING TO HAVE UP TO FIVE MOBILE (POWERFUL) RADIOS PROGRAMMED CORRECTLY AND COMPLETELY INSTALLED ON FENCE DAY IF NOT SOONER (THE RADIOS COULD’VE BEEN INSTALLED WHEN 4508 WAS ON THE RANCH). DISPATCH WAS WITHOUT EVEN A SINGLE MOBILE RADIO UNTIL TUESDAY (FENCE DAY WAS MONDAY SO THAT’S ESSENTIALLY TWO DAYS INTO TRANSPO) WHEN I (WITH PERMISSION) WENT TO THE RANCH AND REMOVED THE MOBILE FROM THE COMMON SHOP AND MOVED IT TO DISPATCH. TWO MORE ANALOG MOBILES WERE INSTALLED ON WEDNESDAY.
- THE RENTAL BRICK TO RENTAL DIGITAL SNAFU WAS A HORRENDOUS TIME AND ENERGY SUCK. IT SET DISPATCH BACK IN TERMS OF OFFICE ORGANIZATION, STAFF TRAINING, AND PLAYA-WIDE DISPATCH SERVICES WHICH DOES NOT INCLUDE THE AMOUNT OF WORK TIME RADIO USERS LOST IN THEIR PART OF THE SWAPPING PROCESS.
- CHANNELS 4 (PRIMARY DPW ANALOG CHANNEL) AND CHANNEL 911ALT (FORMERLY 912, THE BRICK RADIO’S VERSION OF ESD911) WERE TAKEN DOWN WITHOUT WARNING TO DISPATCH OR OUR USERS.
- THE MORE DIGITAL RADIO USERS THERE WERE, THE MORE DPW’S PRIMARY CHANNEL BECAME UNUSABLE DUE TO HARMONIC INTERFERENCE.
- WHEN 4508 WAS SWITCHED FROM GENERATOR TO LIGHT TOWER FOR POWER POST-EVENT THE UNINTERRUPTIBLE POWER SUPPLY (UPS) PROTECTING THE MOBILE RADIOS WENT CRAZY. SOLUTION WAS TO BYPASS THE UPS (THERE WERE NO COMM TECHS ON PLAYA OR IN GERLACH). THAT WOULD NOT HAVE OCCURRED IF THE RADIOS HAD BEEN POWERED AS REQUESTED IN LAST YEAR’S EMBER.
- RADIO COMMUNICATION WITH THE RANCH BECAME DIFFICULT TO IMPOSSIBLE ONCE THE SWITCH TO DIGITAL OCCURRED. THAT PRESENTED SAFETY AND LOGISTICAL SIDE EFFECTS.
- SADLY THIS IS YET ANOTHER YEAR’S EMBER IN WHICH I’M NOT SURE WHERE TO BEGIN.
If you would like to read about my history at Burning Man, view, pictures, and browse other information you are welcome to visit www.gameshow.me. If you
would like to learn more of the DPW Dispatch side of ESD/Dispatch history, I can provide that as well. I started this letter several months ago and let it sit, I’m not usually the letter-writing type in a situation like this. Much more likely, typically, to recognize the hierarchy and move on. But I keep coming back to the issue of the safety of those on the playa. I have spoken of my firing with very few in the Burning Man organization (or elsewhere for that matter except by way of explaining why I wasn’t going to TTITD to those who expected me to be gone by now). It was suggested to me at one point that a way of airing my safety concerns might be by filing a grievance myself. I thought about that suggestion for a while and decided to try that route rather than airing dirty laundry, so to speak. I called Playground and asked her what procedure there might be. She said she would get back to me in a day or two and she did, saying that there was no procedure but if I’d like to write a letter to her she would forward it to Human Resources or, if I preferred, I could write to HR directly. As I had been told in March that it was you who had made the firing decision, I have decided to send this letter to you instead with copies to the Board, Executive Committee, DPW Council of Darkness, and others in the Burner community.
You can read the entire text of Gameshow’s letter to Charlie Dolman at gameshow.me