Sometimes a Firing is Just a Firing But It's More Fun to Blame City Hall By Michael R. Caputo

A Tuesday Buffalo News story suggested City Hall was to blame for the exit of a local Time Warner Cable employee. But politics had very little to do with it: Time Warner insiders told the company had just grown tired of Sharon L. Hanson's act.

Hanson, a local government affairs manager for the national cable giant, recently submitted commentary to the Buffalo News analyzing the influence and impact of Mayor Byron Brown and Deputy Mayor Steve Casey. Her published quotations were highly critical of both men. The Mayor, according to the Time Warner employee, was a disappointment:

"The mayor is not being the driver," said Sharon L. Hanson, director of government relations for a local cable company who is also vice chair of the Erie County Medical Center board of directors. "He's comfortable in whatever seat he is in. To me, that is unfortunate. Sometimes you have to be the driver of the bus. As mayor, he needs to be in that position more."

Some African-Americans suggested Brown takes the black vote for granted. "He believes he can't lose the black vote," said Hanson, the cable company director.
According to the Buffalo News, "Hanson, 66, participated in a series of leadership surveys conducted by The News and was interviewed for articles written in March about the survey results."

Shorter: she talked to the press without approval from her boss. Bye.

Hanson's comments are a glaring no-no in corporate America. A mid-level employee is never, ever empowered to criticize local political leadership - especially during an election year. Hanson really stepped in it with the Mayor. Then she smeared it all over herself in a related article about Casey:

"Casey is brutal. Very blatantly political," said Hanson, the cable company government relations director who is on the ECMC board. "He has prevented access to the mayor. Early on, when Byron was first running, Casey tried to step in between Byron and myself during a conversation. I told him that wasn't going to happen. If more people were to treat him that way, he would fall into his rightful place. People give him respect he has not earned. And it's not a good respect. It's almost fear."

If I were vice president of communications for Time Warner Cable, I would have fired Hanson by text after reading my morning paper: "I read your story. Pack your shit." And, as it turns out, sources say the company may have been maneuvering her out the door for years.

Hanson held the same position at Adelphia Cable and conveyed when Time Warner bought the collapsing company in 2007. After working unsupervised for several years, she didn't adapt well to the national cable giant's tighter operating procedures.

Still, Hanson was a familiar face, well-regarded in the city and was deeply involved in community service. Her most prominent and demanding outside role: she served on the board of Erie County Medical Center. She spent a great deal of time at ECMC, and that rankled Time Warner management.

"Her record was to be an independent operator. She thought she was allowed to act as she saw fit," said an insider. Even with Time Warner's national footprint, Hanson still worked without much local supervision. She continued to serve on innumerable non-profit boards and shuttled between them during the business day. Oftentimes, she took a company vehicle.

When she was told to pare back her volunteer work and focus on weekly meetings with local government officials, sources say she did not. The company asked her to at least try to leverage her relationship with ECMC for some business opportunities to rationalize all the time she spent at the hospital. She didn't. And the hits just kept on coming.

The News story characterized Hanson as a key player in franchise negotiations with the City of Buffalo. Talks have been going on and and papers have been traded since 2007, but the key players are Time Warner's Manhattan lawyers, lead by John Fogarty. Hanson had the access.

So far no new franchise deal has been cut. Neither side seems to be in a big hurry. I'm guessing the temperature in the room dropped 50 degrees after Hanson's News comments.

Meanwhile, "Time Warner Today," her assignment featured in the Buffalo News story, was cancelled in 2007. Hanson was the host. It was Wayne's World with better furniture.

Company policy required three written warnings before termination and Hanson was well on her way to the magic number long before her recent Buffalo News performance. A December 11, 2008 Time Warner Cable "Disciplinary Action Report" obtained by outlined incidents of insubordination that raised "concerns that Sharon is not performing at the level that TWC expects from someone in her position. Any further issues of this nature may result in additional disciplinary action up to and including termination."

Still, Hanson's behavior continued. She got in hot water for featuring herself in an ECMC advertising campaign without her employer's approval. When reprimanded for abundant time away from the office, insiders say she would threaten to go to the press. More than once she promised to get the company in trouble with the "Black Elders" in Buffalo.

Today's Buffalo News article made it crystal clear Hanson had the power all along to cause a media ruckus and damage the Time Warner brand. And she apparently knows enough "Elders" of all stripes to get a few fingers pointing at City Hall. But this wasn't much about Brown and Casey; it was about Sharon Hanson. According to insiders, her departure is a corporate personnel decision that was a long time coming.

Home | About Us | Advertise | Privacy Policy | Contact