Search
  • Dusty Weis

Lead Balloon Ep. 2 - City Hall Self Destruct, with Jim Bohl, Bill Arnold and Jim Owczarski

Updated: Mar 3


At the end of his first week working in public relations, Dusty Weis did something so dumb, he could have been fired on the spot. During a meeting with one of his new bosses, prominent Milwaukee politician Jim Bohl, Dusty made a bad assumption and recklessly insulted Jim to his face.


But Dusty wasn't fired, and the two went on to work well together at City Hall for five years. But they never again spoke about what was said on that fateful day in 2012.


Until now.


With the help of colleague Ken Leiviska, Dusty recounts the hilarious tale of the dumbest thing he ever did. Then, he and Jim revisit the insult to note some important lessons for media professionals transitioning into a career in political PR. And finally, Dusty checks in with two other City Hall officials, city clerk Jim Owczarski and public information manager Bill Arnold, to see just how close he actually came to getting fired in his first week on the job.




Transcript:


Dusty Weis:


On my fourth day as a public relations professional, I walked into a meeting with one of my bosses, a prominent local politician, and insulted him to his face.


Jim Bohl:


Today is your lucky day. Had you walked in half of the other offices here, you'd be walking out with your pink paper right now here today.


Dusty Weis:


On that day, September 7th, 2012, my career in PR and marketing should probably have ended, and it very nearly did. Now, I'll be the first to admit, then at 27 years old, I was a bit of a hot shot. I just landed a major step up from the trenches of broadcast journalism, a job as a public relations supervisor at Milwaukee City Hall and the shoot from the hip attitude, gut-instinct mentality that had helped me get so far in my career was about to become a major fricking liability.


As I would come to learn over the next five years, the field of politics is strewn with landmines and should be navigated with caution and careful forethought. But before I learned about those landmines, I stepped on one, and in that place where grudges are held and honed over years, something unbelievable happened. I got to keep my job and even became friends with the guy that I had recklessly insulted; and in this era of cable news, palace intrigue and revolving door personality politics, I think that's a pretty remarkable story worth telling.


So, for the first time since that fateful day in 2012, I'm going to rehash that incident with the man I insulted himself, moment, like cringe inducing moment. I'm Dusty Weis from Podcamp Media. This is Lead Balloon, a podcast about PR, marketing and branding nightmares and the well-meaning communications professionals who lived them.


PR, stratcom, marketing, whichever branch of communications you work in, there are stories to tell about how it's all gone wrong. This can be a high intensity business and so when the wheels fall off, it's usually pretty spectacular. Here on Lead Balloon, we're dedicated at telling those stories because sometimes there are valuable lessons to be learned and sometimes it just feels good to hear about someone who screwed up worse than you did. So, please subscribe to the Lead Balloon feed in your favorite podcasting app and follow Podcamp Media on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


This episode is a special exception. Normally the stories on this show will not be about my own personal disasters, although the portfolio of mistakes that I've made in my career could probably fill a season or two. Rather, I'm always on the lookout for a good story. So if you know someone with whom I should be in touch, please email me at dusty@podcampmedia.com.


So, how is it that I could make such a drastic miscalculation so early in my PR and marketing career? Why did I say something so irredeemably stupid to a man who controlled my fate and how did I get to keep my job? The story requires a little bit of setup and since I can't very well interview myself, I'm bringing in a ringer.


Ken Leiviska:


My name is Ken, Ken Leiviska. I work at Boelter + Lincoln. It's a full service ad agency in Milwaukee's Third Ward. I do some public relations and social media work for them there.


Dusty Weis:


And additionally you are a host of a podcast.


Ken Leiviska:


That is true. My colleague, Sam and I, we do our own little podcast there in house called Marketing IQ. It's a fun kind of podcast where we bring in guests and get to pick their brains about what their work is like and how it relates to marketing.


Dusty Weis:


Ken and I first got to know each other after I moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2012. But it turns out we had a lot of friends and colleagues in common. We had both cut our teeth at the Portage Daily Register, a small town daily newspaper in central Wisconsin where I worked until 2008, and Ken started there shortly after I had left. Missed him by that much. But that place was an incredible opportunity for two young hot shot reporters to rack up some by-lines, learn from a talented experienced staff and gain valuable experience in the field.


Ken Leiviska:


Of course the other side of that coin, while you are a reporter a lot of times you hear about the dark side and PR. Ironically of course we both found our way there. I understand that when you did join the dark side and went PR, that you did something kind of stupid early on in your career, Dusty. I kind of like to hear about it.


Dusty Weis:


Well, kind of is an understatement of sorts. This was during my first week as a public relations professional and it very well could have been my last week as a public relations professional. The thing that I did was so colossally stupid that they would have been within their right to fire me on the spot for it. And somehow I was able to get out of this situation and not only keep my job but work in that job at Milwaukee City Hall for five years, but also make amends with the people that are involved in this particular story.


But it sort of, it takes me back to that young hot shot reporter mentality, which I'm sure that you can relate to having come from the field of classic print journalism yourself. I was 21 when I started at the Portage Daily Register as an intern and I stayed in journalism until I was 27 years old. Taking that skillset that you learn as a journalist and applying it to the world of public relations and marketing and strategic communications, it's a natural leap, but there are also some things that are completely different. And one of those I was about to learn was the degree of tact and caution that you use when speaking with people.


Ken Leiviska:


Mm-hmm (affirmative). All of a sudden it was a little bit different, huh?


Dusty Weis:


As a young reporter being, for lack of a better word, sassy, was to my benefit in a lot of ways. I was paid to not respect authority figures. And so, learning to temper that and reign it in was tricky.


Ken Leiviska:


So let me ask you, Dusty, why haven't I ever heard this story before? Especially with our similar paths that we've had, it just seems like something that would naturally come up at some point.


Dusty Weis:


That's a good question. I can't say that this is a story I'm particularly proud of. I will say that it is a war story that I've told before because it's, in that sort of Shakespearian way where comedy equals tragedy plus time, it's actually quite funny, but it's also not something that you run around shouting about from the mountaintops where, "Oh my God. You got to hear about the stupidest thing that I ever did. I should've been fired."


So, I need to preface this story by saying, this isn't something that I'm proud of. And the reason that I am telling it now is twofold. One, it's kind of funny. Two, there are some important lessons in there that I think that other young hot shots who are getting into the field of public relations and marketing and strategic communications can benefit from. That's why I'm telling this story. This is not euphoric recall. I am not proud of what I'm doing. There are lessons to be gleaned from my youthful idiocy.


Ken Leiviska:


So, all right. Why don't you set the stage. I'm intrigued. I'm hearing things like colossal failure, a colossal mistake. Tell me Dusty. What happened?


Dusty Weis:


After leaving the Portage Daily Register, I spent a number of years working for WTDY Radio in Madison. I became a CBS Radio news correspondent covering the Capitol protests there and was able to parlay that into a job at WIOD AM in Miami, Florida, one of the greatest news towns that there is out there. But I got to a point where I was ready to get into a line of work where the hours and the compensation and the stress levels were a little bit more sane. I started looking for work back in Wisconsin and found what by all appearances was a perfect fit.


It was a job as the public relations supervisor at Milwaukee City Hall. I would also be called upon in addition to all the typical public relations duties to host a TV show, government access TV show so I could take my broadcast skills and put those to work too. It was, it seemed like a really great job. And so, I applied and was granted the job and came to start on September 4th of 2012. It was the day after Labor Day and spent the week meeting new people, learning names and that sort of thing.


At the end of that week, it was a Friday. I showed up at the office that day and my boss, Bill Arnold, who's also a former newspaper guy, called me into his office. Bill had me sit down across from him and he said, "All right. We are going to take and we're going to introduce you to your first one-on-one meeting with a member of the Common Council." As the public relations supervisor there I served 15 members of the Milwaukee Common Council, the City Council as it's more commonly known. This was going to be my first face-to-face with one of them. A fellow by the name of Alderman Jim Bohl.


Alderman Bohl served, at that point had been on the council for three terms, 12 years, and went on to serve many more years until very recently when he took a job with the mayoral administration. Bill kind of started filling me in about Alderman Bohl's background and then he asked me this fateful question. Bill said to me. "Say, are you familiar with the controversy over the fluoridation of Milwaukee's water?" I looked at him and I said, "Well, I'm not necessarily familiar with the local controversy, but I know that when I was working at the Portage Daily Register, I covered the Poynette Village Board from time to time. And one time they voted to take the fluoride out of their water."


Like with many of my old reporter days war stories, when I tell that story about the Poynette Village Board, you kind of set it up. It's an old war story. And so, you tell it the same way every time. And so that was the setup. And then the punchline was next. But before I could deliver the punchline to Bill, his phone rang and he kind of did one of these. "What? Hello. Oh, okay. Hey Dusty, this is going to be a minute. Why don't you pop back in here in a little while." Then he wound up on that phone call right up until 9:00 AM when we were to have our meeting with Alderman Bohl.


Ken Leiviska:


I've got some ideas on where this goes next.


Dusty Weis:


You're a bright guy Ken. My picture of the world at this point was incomplete? I thought I had a pretty good handle on things. And so... you see where this is going?


Ken Leiviska:


Oh yes. Oh yes. But I want to hear you say it.


Dusty Weis:


Bill and I, we went downstairs and wandered into Jim Bohl's office and behind this large Okin desk overlooking Water Street and the Pabst Theater sat this very normal looking upper-middle-class college educated guy, hair combed nicely, stylish glasses, stylish suit, friendly face. So, we came in, I shook his hand. Bill and I sat down. Alderman Bohl's assistant joined us in the room as well and we got to talking, just formalities, kind of getting to know each other.


And then Bill, having not heard the conclusion of my story turned to me and said, "Oh, and you know, Dusty used to work for the newspaper in Portage and covered it when the Pointan Village Board voted to take fluoride out of the water." And without any consideration, without taking a moment to read the room, without having done any research into Jim Bohl or his background, I blurted out the punchline to that story.


Ken Leiviska:


You had been waiting to deliver this punchline.


Dusty Weis:


That I didn't get to earlier, right?


Ken Leiviska:


And now you had more than just one in your audience.


Dusty Weis:


And so I looked at this person, 1 of 15, who control the budget of the city of Milwaukee, air go control the future of my job. And I said, "Yeah, actually I did. The Poynette Village Board voted to take fluoride out of the water. And then two months later they had a recall election and they all got voted out of office. And I guess that's what you get for being uninformed on the internet." If it's not obvious by now, Alderman Bohl had sponsored similar legislation in Milwaukee.


Ken Leiviska:


And what did the Councilman's face look like at this point?


Dusty Weis:


So, you know how... here's what I liken it to. Do you remember Punk'd? The show with Ashton Kutcher on MTV?


Ken Leiviska:


Oh yeah. That's a good one.


Dusty Weis:


And how when people were Punk'd by Ashton Kutcher, sometimes they would get that wry smile on their face like, I think you're messing with me, but I'm not sure you are.


Ken Leiviska:


Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Dusty Weis:


And so that was the look that was on Jim Bohl's face to start with, was this the smile of sort of waiting for Ashton to jump out of the closet and be like, "You got punk'd."


Ken Leiviska:


Right. Right.


Dusty Weis:


And for me, the entire world slowed down into matrix bullet time.


Bill Arnold:


It was like a slow motion car accident.


Dusty Weis:


My old boss, Bill Arnold, remembers it the same way. After all, he was right there with me in the wreckage.


Bill Arnold:


I was like saying to myself, "Oh now, this isn't happening." And then looking at Alderman Bohl and seeing his face get extremely red in a very, very quick moment, that I think there was that split second where he's like, "Is this really, is he serious? What is this?" And he couldn't make heads or tails of it. And again by that time it was too late.


Dusty Weis:


Right. That dam had broken. And it's funny to me that you describe it as having happened in slow motion because as I look back at it, I have very vivid memories of that immediate moment when I said it and I looked at him and I smiled like, "Hey, look at me. I made a funny joke." And he had this very small wry smile on his face and that smile just kind of, it was like watching the setting sun. It just disappeared. And then you're right. His face just got redder and redder. And in my mind, this played out over like 30 seconds of dead silence. I don't think it was that long. I think that was my perception of it.


Dusty Weis:


But I remember having enough time to look at Jim and wonder, why is he not laughing, and then to look over at you and see you sitting there mortified and I looked back at Jim and noticed that his face was starting to turn a little bit red. Look over at Todd, Jim's assistant, who is also sitting there mortified in this dawning realization in my mind of, "Oh, I did something very, very bad here."


In the weeks that followed, I would replay that scene over and over again in my head. The details are indelibly etched on my memory. And then, well, Alderman Bohl gave me a bit of a piece of his mind and that's where things get hazy in my recollection. I know he really let me have it. I know I apologized profusely and sincerely, and I know that I followed up immediately with an apology email. And then for months I walked on eggshells. When I finally worked up the nerve to talk to Jim again, I silently begged that he had forgotten all about it even though I knew he hadn't. But he was cool with it. He didn't bring it up and neither did I.


I knew I had to earn this guy's respect even more so than with any of the other council members. And I put my back into that work. And in time I came to really enjoy working for Jim Bohl. I respected him as an elected official and even eventually as a friend, but we didn't talk about that morning again for seven years until this moment. I think that there are some important morals to this story that are worth telling. So, I appreciate your coming here to retell it with me.


Jim Bohl:


I'm curious what your version is going to be here; your memory versus mine.


Dusty Weis:


I'm sitting with Jim at my basement bar and we're having a couple of Spotted Cows, but that's not helping my nerves as much as I hoped it would be. And I am actually a little bit more uncomfortable than I thought I'd be. But I'm still curious to hear this story from Jim's perspective.


Jim Bohl:


I remember, you were coming in and Bill Arnold came knocking on the door and he said, "Jim, I want to introduce you to our new hire here in the public relations office here. We've got a new number two that I'm bringing in and I want to introduce him to you." We have a little bit of that small talk and I don't remember how I got to it, but Bill mentioned out of the blue, "Jim's a little more active on policy issues. In fact, he just recently took a really active role working on an issue on fluoride in water." That was my memory here. Immediately upon Bill saying that, I think you immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was on one side of that issue versus another and proceeded to kind of take from that. This is my opening and-


Dusty Weis:


I'm going to dazzle him with my wit.


Jim Bohl:


I will dazzle him with my wit, and among other things, I think that there may have been an insult in there like, "Oh..." I like to think that the word was idiot here. Like, "Bohl, those idiots. You are working on legislation, Bohl though there's those idiots out there trying to take fluoride out of water."


Dusty Weis:


I didn't use the term idiot. I didn't use the term idiot. I can actually, I can tell you the exact name.


Jim Bohl:


What was the term. I'm curious.


Dusty Weis:


Here's the part of the story that you've probably never heard.


I don't know if you've ever been in a position to relive the biggest mistake of your career with the person that you insulted in the process. But I can tell you it's an uncomfortable situation. I rehashed the routine for Jim, but that fateful punchline falls flat still.


And I guess that's what you get for being uninformed on the internet.


Jim Bohl:


Okay.


Dusty Weis:


And I said those words.


Jim Bohl:


Yes, yes, yes. That was my recollection as essentially being an idiot. But-


Dusty Weis:


It was not a smart thing for me to say.


Jim Bohl:


Uninformed and idiot probably go hand in hand.


Dusty Weis:


Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Jim Bohl:


Now, I don't know if you remember this. And maybe this is just my memory wanting to replay this. I think that I actually wanted, and I don't know if you remember this, that I wanted to engage you so; what is it that you think is uninformed or whatever else? So I kind of pushed you a little bit further on that.


Dusty Weis:


Oh, God. Did you?


Jim Bohl:


Yes. Just to kind of see, so what is it that you do know here on this issue.


Dusty Weis:


Just to hand me a shovel and let me dig my grave.


Jim Bohl:


You proceeded to go on a little bit and right away Bill kind of put his arm on your shoulder for a second, which my recollection was, gave you a pause like, "What am I doing wrong here possibly?" So, it was like I was willing to hand you a little bit of rope and to see how much further you wanted to go on this.


Dusty Weis:


What went through your mind when I said that incredibly stupid, stupid thing.


Jim Bohl:


I don't remember if you know I actually made a comment to you after Bill kind of like put you on pause. I know I turned a little red and I felt a little heat under the collar because one of the things that you didn't know is I actually spent about a year and a half of researching this, and I actually would come home at night and spend hours at times, hours, multiple nights a week. And over the course of a year and a half I read, it would be hundreds of articles, dozens of medical studies, on and on and on and on and on. The hearing on that was about six or seven hours. I had all sorts of experts and it was countered by experts on the other side.


I mean, it's a contentious issue. It is what it is. It was for me, it was something that I was very reluctant to do. My wife was just all in. My wife was an RN, left nursing, went into holistic health and actually does that for a living and she was the one that actually turned me on to this. And when she first did, I probably did somewhat close, not as big a foot job in the mouth here that you did. But I probably did the somewhat dismissive until my wife looked at me. It's like, "Well, how much do you really know here, Jim?" And honestly the more that I actually saw the more I thought, wow, there literally is more to this.


So, it for me, having done all that, it's something that you really do not want to approach as an Alder or any of the elect official. This is actually going full grain against what is the prevailing wisdom and status quo and everything else. If you want to get reelected, you avoid controversy and you pick issues that are favorable issues. I took on a crusade where I literally believe this, but I am putting everything on the line, reputation and other things because the press and others are going to be attacking me and doing all these other things.


That was, I was the major breadwinner when my wife left her nursing degree. She was working part-time. We had daughters that had some health issues. And so, I was the breadwinner and doing that was something that was really controversial and that I literally had to put it all out on the line.


Dusty Weis:


You caught some heat in the press.


Jim Bohl:


I did. And I told my wife afterwards. I'm like, "Honey, I'm doing this because you got me, you got me hook, line and sinker. I actually did all this research but never again. Do not do this again to me." So, in one way it was a sore spot. And you know what? We wound up with a compromise where we had a reduction. It wasn't an elimination that I was seeking. It was a compromise, but we did wind up seeing a reduction. That being said, it wasn't all that far removed. And here you proceeded to tell me all the uninformed.


Dusty Weis:


All that is to say, here you are going about your business while these wounds are still fresh and this hot shot walks into your office and says something like that. Did you think that somebody had put me up to it and we were screwing with you or that I was trying to pick a fight on my first day in prison or what?


Jim Bohl:


I thought, boy, he doesn't know what he's in for if he's shooting his mouth off here along the lines.


Dusty Weis:


I remember the words, "I don't know who you think you are," coming out of your mouth. And then things get a little bit blurry for me-


Jim Bohl:


Actually know that that sounds a whole lot like me. Sure. I don't know who you think you are. But according to you, you're speaking to the king of the uninformed. I don't know if you realized it, but your back was to my aid because my aid was actually in a little credenza because I had this bigger office by this point and my aid is doing this like, "Jim, don't get started. Thing to me."


Dusty Weis:


Was he trying to wave you off?


Jim Bohl:


Yes. He was trying to wave me off.


Dusty Weis:


Oh my God. Because I remember that after a little bit of a... and you read me the Riot Act. Appropriately so. Bill was bringing you his new puppy to meet and I basically popped a squat and pooped all over your floor. And I remember that you lit into me a little bit. Finally Todd Peterson, over my left shoulder behind me, stands up and says, "Jim, he didn't know." And Bill; Bill who was one of the best bosses I've ever had in my life, Bill who did not hold this incident against me in spite of the fact that he had every reason to, Bill grabbed me by the arm, yanked me out of my chair and said, "Well, Alderman Bohl, thanks for your time. We've got to get going and let you get back to your business."


Jim Bohl:


See, what you maybe don't remember though. Yes, Todd was trying to get me in and I was going. And Bill was actually allowing me to do it. In fact, I talked with him afterward and he said, "You needed to get this. What I will call is a little bit of reaming out." And I'm like, "Todd, I get that. You know what? I'm going to tell you something Dusty. Your name is Dusty, right? Today is your lucky day because I am going to actually forget that we had this conversation here and forget that you all but insulted me on your first day here on meeting me on the job.


But I'm going to tell you something that will be a lesson for you and let this be something that you remember. In serving 15 people, you will be actually coming up and you will not know what position they have. You will be well-served to shut your mouth and to not jump out and assume one thing or another on the issues because many other alders are not going to be so kind in actually forgiving this. And I'm going to forgive you and forget that this actually happened and actually allow your work before me to demonstrate itself for what it is. That being said, had you walked in half of the other offices here, you'd be walking out with your pink paper right now here today."


Dusty Weis:


I do remember that part. I remember it vividly. I remember you actually used a couple of specific names, which we won't repeat here.


Jim Bohl:


Maybe other alders here.


Dusty Weis:


As a sign of respect. If you had walked into Alderman X, Y, Z's office and said that you would be out on your ass right now. But I also believe to this day that you're absolutely dead bang right about that because there are people who have worked in that building who have considerably thinner skin than you do.


Of course, I didn't know when I walked out of Jim Bohl's office that morning, but he is a man of his word. I knew that I had stepped in it bad and perhaps that I had made an enemy for life. But just how close did I actually come to getting my pink slip and crashing out of a career in public relations? Maybe forever. There's only one person who can tell me for sure. My former bosses boss, the confidant of all 15 members of the Milwaukee County Council, the duly and unanimously elected Milwaukee City clerk, Jim Owczarski. On that fateful morning seven years ago, he was in his office when Bill Arnold brought him to play by play of my brash stupidity.


Bill came down and he told you about this and your reaction was what?


Jim Owczarski:


Well, my number one was to go talk to the alderman to see where he was at because just to let people in behind the curtain, you run all these things through your head when you head up a department. You are on probation, which means you don't have city service civil service protections. You can be run out of here a lot easier than most other people. Certainly for cause we can't fire because we don't like the cut of your jib. But that would have been cause. Now I didn't want to, I believe in people making mistakes and fixing them, but I wanted to take the temperature in the room before I responded.


So I went over and I spoke to the alderman. He and I are friends, have been for many, many years. Even though he's no longer a council member, he remains a friend. We had a very blunt, honest conversation like friends do that broke into two halves. The first half of which was, "Nah, it's fine. It's fine, it's fine, it's fine." But the other half was, "Maybe Dusty should realize that he should think before he speaks and take a better temperature of the room, know who he's talking to."


Dusty Weis:


I think that was a pretty important moral of the story for me, one of a few that I took away. But I definitely can say that I went home that night thinking to myself, "Oh, I've got about a 50/50 chance of having a job on Monday." And so to hear that I was in fact that close to actually being smelly and rightly dismissed at that point is not necessarily surprising to me.


Jim Owczarski:


And let me be clear, neither Bill nor I wanted that to be the outcome. It's easy enough when you get a council member to come over and say, "Well, I don't like this work, or I thought this person was this or that." But when they really do cause the fall, then you've really got to deal with it. Fortunately, and we found this out very quickly after Bill brought me the bad news that he was all right. And that's where Bill and I got together and I said, "Look. Bill, you go have this conversation with Dusty. You got to tell him what happened. You got to convey from me, you step, like you said, you stepped in it. A plus holy cow, that thing you did, don't repeat that."


But the other thing I wanted to say was that, "Look, this can be rehabilitated. And I think that rehabilitation starts very simply with an apology. Don't let it sit because the one thing I've learned doing this job over the years, not any judge is politician, it people. They remember offenses. And if you cause an offense, that's one thing. If you acknowledge that offense and seek to make it right, that has a dramatic difference. Not in every case. I won't say in every case, but in most cases I've dealt with, that's what they remember; is that, oh, he's really screwed up. But then he said about in a sincere way to try to make it right."


And that sounds banal, but well, at least in my line of work, it amazes me how many people don't get. And this is not just because you got a mic in front of my face, but this is the one thing I give you a lot of credit for. You acknowledged you made a mistake. It amazes me how many people in 2019 don't understand the importance of that in getting something straightened. They will come up with reasons, they will rationalize, they'll make excuses. They will say this, they will say that. And there are things you could have said. "I didn't know. He was being unreasonable. That is a crazy position." You could have said a lot of things. You didn't say any of those things. You acknowledged the problem and it just... I'm serious, I think in the majority of cases, that isn't the response I get.


Dusty Weis:


For me it's just such a big part of my upbringing. When I screwed up as a kid, I wasn't allowed to continue living my life until I fully faced up to the fact that I stepped in it. I don't know. It was pretty apparent to me in that moment that I was way out of line. It was part of a learning process for me and that was a very jarring aspect of that. But I think I also underestimated in my own young hot shot way at that point what a cutthroat environment city hall and politics in general can be. I mean, it probably suffices to say that people have been fired over less in this building. Do you think that if I had run my mouth like that in front of some other prominent politician under this roof, that the reaction would have been the same and that I might've survived that?


Jim Owczarski:


Well, I don't know if it would have been the same. It could have been very different. I mean, there's every chance you could've gotten screamed at. We've had that happen. You and I have our hands on a wooden desk right now. Folks can't see that. But this used to be a glass table and that glass table was broken by a council member who was so mad that he punched it and had a ring on his hand and it cracked the glass straight through. And the question is, would... there's a lot of what ifs. Would Dusty have kept his temper even though he's had somebody screaming a spittle-flecked rant in your face. Ultimately, and I think it bears mention that, this is a city service environment. Look, it's political. At city hall, reign is a political event. But there's still a protection for staff, even in the face of mistakes.


In my experience, my personal experience, I can't talk to everyone. I have never had a council member ask me to fire someone. I've asked them to discipline someone and I have, at their request because they presented facts that merited discipline but never fired. And I think the incident could've been different. Had you comported yourself differently in the response to that, perhaps it would have been different. But it really does bear mention the fact that you acknowledged it, seemed legitimately sorry about it and not necessarily because you had the opinion. I was never asking you to feel sorry because you thought that way, because you expressed it in the wrong way and you didn't know something, but that you really seemed to want to learn from it.


Dusty Weis:


I still, in my mind, give a lot of credit to Alderman Jim Bohl over the way that he handled it because someone who nursed a grudge or held onto misgivings about me could have used that position to at least make me miserable in the months that followed. And he really did, even from his immediate response to my apology, just waved it off and brushed it off as nothing and allowed us to have a reset and eventually not just to develop a really great working relationship, but a really great personal relationship to I consider him a friend now. And so, I think particularly in this very charged, toxic political atmosphere that we hear on the evening news every year in this revolving door approach to politics that's happening in Washington, I look back at the way that he responded to that and almost chuckle to myself and say, "Gosh, that's quaint. Gosh, he's a good guy."


Jim Owczarski:


Yeah, it is. It is. And every one of them responds differently. But I will also say many of those that I've served will keep account of how they view your competence. All of them in my experience are willing to understand any error of, what would we say? Language, any error of misreading a room, things like that. That's more forgivable. And I like that. I really do because I think it should ultimately come down to what you can and cannot do and hopefully you learn to figure out how to do it.


Dusty Weis:


Vince Lombardi said, "Errors, mistakes and humiliations are all necessary steps in the learning process. Once they have served their purpose, they should be forgotten and not repeated." Former Milwaukee Alderman Jim Bohl exemplified that credo in his reaction to my indiscretion. That job at city hall, which he could have taken from me on that day, was a crucial development opportunity in my career. And I've been grateful to Jim ever since, but I never had the opportunity to tell him that until now.


Dusty Weis:


There were a couple of reasons that I wanted to have this discussion with you because I don't know if you can tell; it is still, even to this day, a mildly uncomfortable discussion for me to have.


Jim Bohl:


Why so? We've known each other on positive terms. I think just about every day since that point here.


Dusty Weis:


As we clink on the beer bottles, I think it is important to note that in spite that this happened, we went on to have five very productive years working together and you came to be not only one of the elected officials that I respected and liked the most, I think we became friends as well.


Jim Bohl:


Yes, absolutely.


Dusty Weis:


And so, yes, when you take tragedy and add time, it becomes comedy, and that is one of the reasons that I wanted to tell this story. But the other reason that I wanted to tell this story is because I think that it is an important parable about leadership and about allowing people the leeway to screw up and making sure that they learn a lesson, but then allowing them to continue on and become better people because they learned that lesson and better professionals.


Jim Bohl:


You know what? I'm glad here that I didn't pound down and tell Bill, "You know what? This guy overshot himself today. Get rid of him."


Dusty Weis:


Yeah, me too. I'm very glad of that.


Jim Bohl:


Because you were a tremendous asset to that office.


Dusty Weis:


Well, thank you Jim for not having me fired on the spot on September 7th, 2012. And thanks for being a role model to other leaders and other young people coming up underneath you as well. In a political world that is sometimes increasingly dark and savage and mean. Jim, I've got one last surprise for you, and that's coming up after the break.


All right. Are you ready for your surprise?


Jim Bohl:


Okay.


Dusty Weis:


I've got a little intro here. I've got to read it. So, former Milwaukee alderman Jim Bohl, I promised you one last surprise. I was a young hatchet who walked into your office and stupidly, recklessly insulted you to your face. And I think that there are a few morals to this story. I think that you've modeled an excellent sense of humor about the whole thing. I think that's an admirable trait. I also think it's important for leaders, especially elected officials, to practice forgiveness instead of treating politics as a blood sport.


But of course the most important moral of this story is the lesson that I learned the hard way. And that is to not run your mouth like a stupid hot shot, not assume you know everything that's going on. To learn the environment, read the room and recognize that there's a certain decorum that cannot be ignored when you're the low man on the totem pole. And so, to celebrate this lesson that I've learned again and again and again in my career, I have for you a copy of my original letter of apology of which I will now perform a dramatic reading for your enjoyment. Ask me how I got it.


Jim Bohl:


Oh, how did you get it?


Dusty Weis:


I foiled it. I filed an open records request with Jim Owczarski, asking him to go back and find the letter of apology that I wrote to you. He was quite delighted. This is from Dusty Weis, sent Friday, September 7th, 2012 at 9:48 AM.


Jim Bohl:


Almost immediately-


Dusty Weis:


I hadn't even had my second cup of coffee and I'd almost already been fired.


Jim Bohl:


Bill was like, you better get on that right away here, Dusty, or you're not going to last more than the noon here.


Dusty Weis:


Absolutely that was his advice.


To James Bohl. Subject, an apology. Hi Alderman Bohl, I want to apologize again for my remarks in your office this morning. I'm in the middle of a pretty big career transition here from a realm where information is gathered and disseminated at the speed of light to one in which sometimes a little forethought goes a long way. I sometimes have a bad habit of running my mouth and this is clearly a case in which I hadn't done my homework. I was out of line and I'm sorry.


Bill really took me to the woodshed, and I can assure you that I have a new perspective on how I am to approach my interactions with you and other members of the council. I can tell you now, just between us, Bill dictated that last line to me, especially the part about him taking me to the woodshed. Very sincerely.


Jim Bohl:


This will sound really good. Trust me. I've been around here for 18 years already.


Dusty Weis:


Very sincerely, Dusty. And four minutes after I sent that you responded. If you want to read your response to me right there.


Jim Bohl:


Oh my goodness here. Thanks Dusty. All is good. Life is full of lessons that we all learn, all of us, that comes with making mistakes and hopefully improving from them. My wife constantly has to remind me of how many I make. Take on the weekend. JB. As I told you, the one thing that I do remember is my wife has to constantly remind me of the need for my own humility.


Dusty Weis:


Well thanks again for joining me today. It's been a pleasure and thanks for your helping hand along the way in my career as well.


Jim Bohl:


My pleasure here.


Dusty Weis:


Thanks Jim.


Jim Bohl:


It was a great lesson and a great friendship and great colleagues here. To that.


Dusty Weis:


Cheers.


Jim Bohl:


Cheers.


Dusty Weis:


Thanks are due as well to my old boss Bill Arnold and to his boss, Milwaukee City Clerk Jim Owczarski for putting up with me for five years. Thanks also to Ken Leiviska for helping me tee up this story. Make sure to check out his Boelter + Lincoln podcast, Marketing IQ. It is not my intent to do a show solely about the times that I've screwed up or been in over my head. So, if you know of a story that those of us in marketing communications would benefit from hearing, let me know. I'd love to tell it. Email dusty@podcampmedia.com.


Make sure you subscribe to the Lead Balloon podcast feed. That way you know when I put out a new episode. I'm going to try to do this monthly, but well, we'll see. Leave me a comment, share it with your friends and I imagine that will provide me some extra motivation. Lead Balloon is produced by Podcamp Media where we provide branded podcast production solutions for businesses. Check out our website, podcampmedia.com. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as well. I am going to share some video of my interview with Jim Bohl so you can see just how red my face turned during our conversation. But until next time, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.

©2020 by Podcamp Media.