After 35 years on the job, Michael Stuban was minutes away from retiring from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
Only one thing stood in his way: emailing his exit questionnaire to the Human Resources Department.
Stuban had already decided to use the questionnaire to get a few things off his chest, penning a brutally frank assessment of his colleagues and bosses and how they functioned inside the state-run agency.
Now, the 58-year-old stood at a crossroads.
To the left was the nicely paved road to the HR Department, to which Stuban could quietly send his scathing critique, like a good rule-following employee to the very end.
To the right was a rockier but far more adventurous path known as the “reply all” button. On this route, Stuban could live out the fantasy of disgruntled workers everywhere, ending his career in a blaze of glory, essentially yelling “Sayonara, suckers!” at the top of his lungs — his name forever infamous.
Did Stuban's finger linger over his mouse as he decided which route to take and which man to become as he entered the next phase in his life? Perhaps we'll never know.
What we do know is that Stuban boldly chose the road less traveled.
Seconds later, his sharp-tongued missive landed in the inboxes of 2,000 fellow employees.
Weeks later, during an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News, Stuban, who retired on Thanksgiving Day, seemed to be at peace with his decision.
“When they asked for an honest exit interview, I gave them one,” he told the newspaper. “I sent it minutes before I officially retired.”
Calls to Stuban and his former employer were not immediately returned.
In his questionnaire, Stuban said, rather surprisingly, that he actually enjoyed his job, according to a copy of the questionnaire published by PennLive.
“I really didn't want to retire yet,” he wrote. “I like my job. The first 30 years were great but the last 5 years are terrible. (10 years as a toll collector, during which I served a few years as a union officer, 25 years in management).”
Asked in the questionnaire what the most upsetting part of the job was, Stuban unloaded.
“The phoneyness,” he wrote.
“Giving us classes where we are being told we are not political,” he wrote. “That's bulls---. Jobs/Promotions are filled by the politicians, it's who you know, not what you know. Positions created for people who are not qualified. Hiring people off the street when we have qualified [personnel] in our ranks.”
Stuban also claimed that commission employees “have no morale” and that executive-level management is “out of touch with the average employees” and “only looking out for themselves.”
“Everything is a state secret, no input is asked from the until after decisions are made,” he added. “Employees are kept in the dark.”
The message was not well received by Sean Logan, chairman of the Turnpike Commission. Logan, a former Pennsylvania state senator, decided to fire back at the outgoing employee and also hit the reply-all button, writing: “Mr. Stuban . . . I don't believe we ever met, and after reading your Exit Questionnaire, I am grateful that we didn't.”
He added that the commission “couldn't be to [sic] bad of a place considering you stayed for 35 years. Best of luck in your retirement.”
Stuban told the Daily News that he found out about Logan's reply from his former colleagues.
“He did miss the point,” Stuban said. “If it was an effective company and someone told you there are problems and no morale, you don't have to believe me, but maybe someone should check into it.”
“They hire a lot of people that are dumb as rocks,” he added.
Logan told PennLive that the message was the first time he'd been made aware of Stuban's frustration and said he didn't appreciate the means of delivery.
“I thought it was a very disingenuous way to communicate your issues,” Logan said. “If he really wanted to be constructive with his criticisms and suggestions, there's a whole other way to do it.”
But he did lend some credence to several of Stuban's criticism, such as the idea that employees are kept in the dark about management decisions.
“We're running a billion-dollar, with a B, organization here,” Logan told PennLive. “We can't put everything out there.”
But he pushed back against the idea that his executives are “out of touch,” noting that Turnpike Commission chief executive Mark Compton and chief operating officer Craig Shuey “communicate very, very well with our employees and are out there in the field.”
“I would love to have received that criticism in a more constructive way because it does make you think,” Logan told PennLive. “Should I have communicated more frequently? That's a valid point.”
Stuban rose up through the commission ranks over several decades.
He retired as a midlevel manager, but he told the Daily News that he began his career working in a tollbooth.
Stuban told the Daily News that he lives along the Ohio River in western Pennsylvania and he plans to travel and volunteer at his church now that he's retired.
“I'm staying active in the community,” he told the paper.