Brooklyn Botanic Axes Arborist

Two Monday’s ago, the management of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden cut down a quirky and beloved tree. Staff and community opposed the arborcide. The garden’s own staff didn’t think the gloriously stumpy “BBG Treehouse” needed to come down, so, like some capo di tutti capi, the institution got outside contractors to do the killing.

Then, on Monday the 30th, the BBG cut down the arborist who stood up for the tree! Alec Baxt, an eight-year Garden veteran, one third of the aborists on staff, was fired. I’ve never met Baxt, but from what I’ve read, read, and heard, he sounds like someone you’d want on your team.

Except, of course, he wasn’t “professional”: no, he spoke out, he protested. He was a good citizen, not just an employee. But that’s a surefire way to lose your job in this nasty neoliberal economy (even with a union; his union is appealing his summary dismissal). Whistleblowers in a non-profit? Welcome to 2018. The corporate mentality demands a cowed, submissive “family” of employees. No thinking, no criticism! They basically want serfs under them. Even in a botanical garden.

Democracy dies in darkness, they say, but it also dies at work, where we spend a good deal of our lives.

The Pharaoh at BBG is Scot (with one T) Medbury. He works for a board drawn from the ranks of our upper classes and, boy, we know how well they like workers. Some years ago, Board/Medbury got rid of the science staff and science mission in their effort to turn this grand old institution into what an anonymous insider calls a “posh park.” It’s more a wedding venue now than a botanical garden. The garden is on city land, by the way, and receives city funding. Medbury’s leadership betrayal of the garden’s civic mission, including ending a time-honored route to STEM careers for Brooklynites, was a real blow to the city, yet it went unnoticed by a Bloomberg administration busy making the city more accommodating to billionaires (…who sit on boards).

This president’s 2016 salary was reported as $291,210. I don’t know what the aborists and gardeners make, but you can be sure it’s rather less. The people who actually do the important work, as in so many other places, are undervalued, ignored, and belittled by cadres of vice presidents, senior vice presidents, and executive vice presidents, not to mention dictator-presidents (mostly men still, but now with corporate feminism women can be corporate ogres, too). You could prune a tangle of managerial deadwood from this organizational tree and nobody would notice.

Don’t get me wrong: the BBG does great things, but that’s because of the dedication and knowledge of its frightened and demoralized staff. And now, with Baxt’s firing, these workers know that the terrible swift sword of the HR department is always there to slice them down, like a hapless tree, in punishment.

Medbury, spare that tree!
Touch not a single sprout!
Everybody loved it:
Visitors, staff, especially kids
Who enveloped themselves in it.

Wait, what? Damn it,
You chopped it down!
And whoa! Now your vengeance
Takes a power saw to the staff.

(With apologizes to George Pope Morris.)

UPDATED: Andy Newman of the New York Times wrote about this. In case you find take overwrought, consider that this fine institution threw him, his photographer, and Baxt out of the garden…

2 Responses to “Brooklyn Botanic Axes Arborist”

  1. 1 alaspooryorick August 7, 2018 at 8:41 pm

    DO SOMETHING: Brooklynites and Arborists of the world, protest firing of George Baxt.

  2. 2 Sherry Felix August 8, 2018 at 4:28 am

    That’s a sad story. Workers have lost too much. Central Park management has over grooms nature too.

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