Braille Monitor October 1985
by Marc Maurer
Federationists are aware of the highly political and unjust activities which culminated in the firing of Ramona Walhof as Director of the Idaho Commission for the Blind. These events were reported extensively in the March and May, 1984, issues of the Braille Monitor. It was apparent then that there were violations of the open meeting law, concerted and deliberate attempts to prevent blind people from participating in decisions affecting their own lives, and a blatant effort to penalize blind people for membership in the National Federation of the Blind.
Mrs. Walhof's firing was motivated by efforts to seek revenge. It was, and it still remains, highly political. Her dismissal is a matter being considered by the courts. The outcome is uncertain, but one thing has been demonstrated beyond any doubt. The organized blind in Idaho and throughout the nation will not simply fold up and quit. The political pressure and the urge for revenge in Idaho against the blind continue, but the spirit of resistance and the unquenchable determination of the blind to be free are alive and well.
When Mrs. Walhof was fired on February 3, 1984, three other people who were members of the National Federation of the Blind held administrative positions at the Idaho Commission for the Blind. They were: John Cheadle, Deputy Director; Frank Smith, Chief of Field Operations; and Ray Martin, Chief of Orientation. The day that Mrs. Walhof was fired and Howard Barton was hired to replace her, Howard Barton fired John Cheadle without cause. He said that Mr. Cheadle had been a supporter of Mrs. Walhof. In other words, his charge against Mr. Cheadle was that Mr. Cheadle had been a diligent and faithful employee.
Within a few days a temporary restraining order had been issued, which removed Howard Barton from the directorship of the Commission for the Blind.
He was not reinstated as Director until July 6, 1984, five months later.
Before the end of July, the Commission for the Blind board held one of the most bizarre and astonishing meetings ever to occur in the history of that agency. In a closed-door session each member of the Commission staff was summoned before the Commission board members for an interrogation. Those who held membership in the National Federation of the Blind were told that they must pledge their loyalty to the Commission for the Blind board. They were told that they must subordinate any interests they had in outside organizations. Frank Smith and Ray Martin were told that they must cease any activities with any organization which might be contrary to the views and objectives of the Commission for the Blind. When Mr. Smith and Mr. Martin were asked to pledge that they would not engage in any activities contrary to the views of the Commission for the Blind board, they told the board members that the actions they had taken as staff members and administrators of the Commission for the Blind had always been calculated to serve the best interests of the blind of the state of Idaho. Furthermore, Mr. Smith and Mr. Martin told the board that they had always used their best efforts to further the goals and objectives of the Commission for the Blind and to carry out the directives of their superiors in furthering these goals and objectives.
In late August of 1984 a rumor surfaced that the board of the Commission and the Director had secretly made a plan to eliminate the positions of Mr. Smith and Mr. Martin in the administrative structure of the Commission for the Blind. The Commission for the Blind board met on September 5 and discussed administrative reorganization for the first time. The discussion took a very few minutes. Howard Barton proposed that the position of chief of the orientation department and the position of chief of the field operations department be eliminated. These two positions would be combined into the position of chief of rehabilitation services. The stated reasons for the change were: enhanced administrative efficiency and cost savings. No one questioned the capacity of Mr. Smith or Mr. Martin to do the work. They were both first-class employees with excellent records. The Commission for the Blind board acknowledged this fact.
Mr. Smith and Mr. Martin sued the Commission for the Blind for retaliating against them because of their membership in the National Federation of the Blind. In this lawsuit the following facts have so far been discovered: In April of 1984 Howard Barton told staff members of the legislative auditor's office that he thought the administrative structure of the Commission for the Blind should include a chief of field operations and a chief of orientation. In late July of 1984 (less than four months later and within one week of the time that the Commission for the Blind had demanded in a closed-door interrogation session that Mr. Smith and Mr. Martin pledge their loyalty to the Commission and give up outside organizational interests) Howard Barton went with a board member of the Commission, Jack Ugaki, to the Idaho Personnel Commission to ask that the Personnel Commission begin the paperwork to eliminate the positions held by Mr. Smith and Mr. Martin. Howard Barton had administered the Commission for the Blind as its Director from 1975 to 1982. During all of these years the structure of the Commission had included a chief of orientation and a chief of field operations. The plan established to replace Mr. Smith and Mr. Martin was considered by the board of the Commission for the Blind and adopted on September 5, 1984. The job announcement for people to apply for the position created by this plan was issued on September 4, 1984. In April of 1984 one of the Commission board members stated to the legislative auditors in a meeting which he thought was "confidential" that Mr. Smith and Mr. Martin should be fired because "neither of them are qualified for their job, and they are such rabid supporters of the NFB and Walhof that I don't know whether they could be effective and cooperate in an effort to try and rebuild the Commission back to where it should be." He went on to say that Mr. Smith and Mr. Martin would have to be "got rid of." Yet, the reorganization of the Commission for the Blind, according to the administration of the Commission, was intended to promote efficiency and save money. No effort was being made, they said, to "get rid of" Mr. Smith and Mr. Martin.
The new position was supposedly created to save money. However, examination of the facts shows that after the reorganization, exactly the same amount of money would be spent both on salaries and other program expenses at the Commission for the Blind that was spent before the reorganization with one notable exception. The new position created at the Commission for the Blind to replace Mr. Smith's job and Mr. Martin's job would have a salary cost greater than any of the positions ever created at the Commission, except the Directors. When this position was filled, the Commission for the Blind would be paying out more money than it had before the reorganization--all in the name of efficiency and cost saving. There are a number of other circumstances that demonstrate the insidious nature of this surreptitious scheme. The job of rehabilitation chief was announced on September 4, 1984. The applications for the position were sent to the Idaho Personnel Commission. The Personnel Commission ranked these applications. Five people were to be considered for the job. These five people were Harry Herbert, Ray Martin, Ed Easterling, Frank Smith, and John Cheadle. Of these five people, three (Ray Martin, Frank Smith, and John Cheadle) are NFB members. A fourth applicant, Harry Herbert, could not be hired by the Commission. The Commission administration was aware that Mr. Herbert had previously been employed at the Commission for the Blind and that he had been discharged for cause. The Commission administration was also aware that there was sworn testimony which would be made public about some very compromising activities of Mr. Herbert which involved clients of the Commission for the Blind. Therefore, of the five top applicants for employment at the Commission, one (Harry Herbert) could not be hired. Three (John Cheadle, Frank Smith, and Ray Martin) were members of the National Federation of the Blind. One applicant remained, Ed Easterling.
In order to be employed as the chief of rehabilitation at the Idaho Commission for the Blind, applicants must take and pass an employment examination. Howard Barton drafted the questions to be used by the examining board. One of the applicants spoke with Howard Barton about the job as rehabilitation services chief before taking the examination. As might be expected, that person's name is Ed Easterling. Howard Barton (under oath) could not remember the conversation with Ed Easterling very well, but he did remember giving him a large number of books and other materials about blindness. Of course, one of the requirements for the job of rehabilitation services chief is a knowledge of blindness. Ed Easterling had no such knowledge and no experience with blind clients.
After having this talk with Howard Barton, Ed Easterling felt that it would be helpful to go to the library at Boise State University to study management. Of course, management was one of the subjects on which Ed Easterling would be tested in his application for the job at the Commission for the Blind. Ed Easterling had virtually no education and no experience in management.
It will not come as a surprise that Ed Easterling was hired for the job. This happened even though all three of the applicants who hold membership in the NFB had more knowledge of management and of blindness than Ed Easterling.
Obviously, this is only part of the story. Attempting to punish the blind for demanding independence only strengthens the resolve to defeat the prejudice, the ignorance, and the hate. Mr. Smith and Mr. Martin have sued Howard Barton and the members of the Commission board. But the struggle for independence does not depend on the slow and painful machinery of the justice system. It depends on the will of the blind to face the truth and demand equal treatment. It depends on the spirit within us which cries out that the blind will not be second-class. The sham being conducted at the Commission for the Blind is not made any prettier or any more palatable by the hypocracy of those who created it and have the audacity to call it service for the blind. No matter what they call it, it is still a sham, and the dissimulation is no less hypocritical and the hurt to the lives of blind people is no less painful.
The blind of Idaho have gathered strength from the need to prevent the injustice being practiced at the Commission for the Blind. In the long term vindictiveness cannot triumph. We who are blind have a right to speak our minds as we please. We have a right to join with each other for common support and for the strength of collective action. There is no governmental or private agency on earth that can keep us from doing so.