Braille Monitor November 1986
(Comments by Kenneth Jernigan: This article appeared in the Summer, 1986, edition of Barricades, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa. It summarizes and presumably brings to a conclusion the story of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. During the sixties and seventies the Iowa Commission for the Blind did a great deal to shape state and federal programs and to pioneer a better way of life for the blind. As the agency passes out of existence (even if perhaps keeping its name), it will hopefully be remembered more for what it accomplished than for these final sorry chapters of its history.
But, of course, there are still blind people in Iowa who need training, library services, and employment; and there are those who will need such assistance tomorrow--the newly blinded and today's children. What will it be like for them? Barring a miracle, the prospects are bleak. However, the blind of the state have courage and determination, and the heritage of good programs is firmly rooted. Regardless of the odds, the National Federation of the Blind will continue the struggle for improvement and a return to quality. Next year the blind will go back to the legislature, and in the meantime the Executive Branch of government and the general public will be constantly reminded of what has happened and what must be done to change it. The blind of Iowa and the members of the staff of the State Commission for the Blind who stood for so long in the vanguard of the march to opportunity for the blind will not be content to stagnate forever in a backwater and sink into anonymity. In the meantime one can only view with sadness the dismantling and destruction of Iowa's programs for the blind.)
This issue of the Barricades is dedicated to the spider, that creature whose habits have caused mankind to reflect upon itself so realistically. As Shakespeare put it:
Ah, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive.
Many of us work for a boss. We have learned the hard way that the boss is always right. Even if the boss isn't right, the boss is boss and can fire or discipline us. Many of us have wished we could be our own boss. We could then set our own work rules, establish our own performance standards, determine whether we have met these standards, all without fear of being fired by ourselves.
For most of us it doesn't work that way. But Nancy Norman isn't like most of us. She is now her own boss.
When the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa fought so hard to maintain the Iowa Commission for the Blind as an independent agency in the 1986 Iowa Legislature, none of us dreamed this would result. We were simply trying to preserve the governmental structure that had long since proven its usefulness in serving blind Iowans.
With the active assistance of Nancy Norman and John Taylor, the legislature eliminated the Commission for the Blind as a separate agency. Mrs. Arlene Dayhoff, chair of the former Commission for the Blind's board, has gone out of her way on several occasions to praise Norman and Taylor for what they did in this year's legislature. We don't agree with the praise, but we certainly agree these two are responsible.
The legislature created a Department of Human Rights and placed the former Commission within it as one of the divisions. The old law (now gone) gave the Commission for the Blind the authority to hire and fire the Director. It also listed certain basic services which were to be provided to blind Iowans, and specified that all these services be provided by the same agency--for example, a library for the blind, home instruction, an orientation center, and vocational training in general. The new law specified none of this. The Division may continue to provide all these services but is not required to; and if the services are provided, they need not necessarily be in one single agency.
Even the legislators were so unsure of their creation that they decided to "sunset" it in a year.
Under the new law the overall department has a coordinator to head it; the divisions will be headed by administrators. The Governor appoints them all.
The Governor appointed Mrs. Norman as coordinator of the overall Department. Then came startling rumors, now confirmed as truths. The Governor also intended to leave Mrs. Norman as the administrator of the Division for the Blind.
The department coordinator has certain departmental responsibilities. The administrator is responsible for the day to day operations of the Division for the Blind. Mrs. Norman will perform both jobs.
The coordinator is to coordinate among divisions, reconcile budget among divisions, and approve hiring decisions. Mrs. Norman will do these tasks for the Department while holding the position as the administrator of the largest division.
She'll be her own boss. Wouldn't you like to do that?
One of Mrs. Norman's attempts in the 1986 legislature to bring about radical change while disguising it as preservation was her advocacy for retaining the old Commission policy-making board of three commissioners under the old name "Commission for the Blind." Preservation of the name was Mrs. Norman's particular touch. She insisted that, if the name were kept, then things would go on just the same. In reality, she hopes that, with the "Commission" name still in use, the blind of the state will not notice that the agency structure has been radically changed. We all know the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. The Wolf dressed up like grandma in hopes that he could fool Little Red Riding Hood into coming close enough to be eaten. The same way, Mrs. Norman hopes to dress up the Division for the Blind in its old name so no one will notice there has been a change under neath. ("My, what big eyes you have.")
Mrs. Norman goes on and on about how she kept her promise to the blind by preserving the "Commission for the Blind." ("My, what a big nose you have.")
She has now taken this fiction one step farther, insisting that no one will run the Division for the Blind but the "Commission" board as usual. ("My, what big ears you have.")
Of course, everyone knows that policies are made by the person who has the power to hire and fire. That 's why we would all like to be our own boss; we'd never face the fear of being fired. The legislature endowed the "Commission" board with the power to make policy for the Division for the Blind. But it transferred the power to hire and fire the Division administrator to the Governor's hands. The "Commission" then can make whatever policies it likes. The administrator can do as the administrator likes, so long as the administrator pleases whom? Not the so-called policy-making board. The administrator can't be fired by them for disobedience. The administrator must please the Governor, who can do the firing.
When you hear someone insist there has been no change, that the "Commission" board is still there, and that the "Commission" board still makes policy for services to the blind, the most responsible response is: "My, what big teeth you have."
But surely, you might say, the Division for the Blind must follow federal law. Even if its administrator is her own boss, even if the "Commission" board can't run the place, still federal law applies. After all, we all learned in grade school federal law is the law of the land. State law can vary from state to state; federal law is single, unified, and equal in its application across the land and brushes aside any inconsistent state enactments. Surely the Division will be governed by the minimum federal legal requirements.
Unfortunately, services to the blind in Iowa seem to fall into a Bermuda Triangle of sorts. Nothing is what it seems to be. Good old bits of everyday wisdom disappear to no-one-knows-where: If something is working fine, why meddle with it? A person shouldn't be his or her own boss for that is like setting the fox to guard the chicken house. Things should be named by their true names, or there is bound to be lying and deceit among men and women.
All these bits of wisdom have disappeared. And along with them has gone the former truth that federal law is supreme and runs throughout the land.
On May 29, 1986, Mrs. Norman wrote to Mr. Isaac Johnson, Regional Commissioner of the Kansas City federal regional office of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, which is the immediate supervisor of the Division for the Blind in its expenditure of about $2,000,000 of federal funds (about two-thirds of the Division's budget). Mrs. Norman referred to the long-standing federal rule that administrators of programs for the blind must work full time on one job and inquired if she could simply ignore the rule. She stated that the Governor of Iowa wanted her to and asked for Johnson's help in doing so.
One would think that a federal official would be justified in responding sharply to such a piece of impertinence. Mr. Johnson wrote back on June 3, 1986, in very even-tempered prose (see reprints after this article), stating that the Governor's wish did not comply with federal law and laying down the rule that Mrs. Norman could not be her own boss for a period longer than sixty days.
Then the fun began. Various staff members in the Governor's office have stated repeatedly that Iowa has a letter from the federal government allowing Mrs. Norman to be her own boss. When questioned about the letter, they refer you to the June 3 letter written by Mr. Johnson which says exactly the opposite. A part of the Governor's office seems to have strayed into the Bermuda Triangle.
Mrs. Norman herself has repeatedly stated that Mr. Johnson has told her it would be all right for her to be her own boss for at least a year. Of course, by the mere effort of opening her mouth and emitting controlled sounds, Mrs. Norman can literally say anything. Mrs. Norman's startling assertions that a federal regional official has specifically approved a violation of federal law have been backed by no stronger evidence. But she insists that Mr. Johnson is ready and willing to do the Governor of Iowa "the courtesy" of allowing him to run his state as he pleases.
Citizens, watch out. When a governor can do as he pleases without the restraining hand of law, then it is time to bar the door.
Mrs. Norman states she will spend one day in five working on the Department of Human Rights matters, and four days in five on the Division for the Blind. That is, except for phone calls and other necessary business of the Department, which she will handle whenever she must. She says that Wednesday will be her Department coordinator day, but you can be sure she will go to a legislative hearing, budgetary session, and any other meetings she likes to represent the Department on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. In other words, Mrs. Norman has thought up her own eighty-twenty match and carefully qualified it so that she could simply do as she pleases.
Observers of Mrs. Norman's work habits say that it is more like fifty-fifty and has been that way for quite some time. How could it be otherwise? Since December of 1985 Mrs. Norman has been working (against the strong and effective work of the organized blind) to bring about the destruction of the Commission and its blending into the Human Rights Department. Since the legislature created the Department, Mrs. Norman has been working to bring it into being. And she has never liked the day to day work of running the state agency for the blind anyway. That was always the task of her deputy. Since the deputy left, the job of running the agency for the blind has been left to the gremlins.
Mrs. Norman has been glad for excuses not to fuss with the boring details at the Division for the Blind. What she likes are the opportunities to rub shoulders with other state officials as head of an important agency and the opportunity to receive compliments from persons working at the Division. She also likes to come in late and leave early. Don't try to find her in her office before 9:00 a.m. or after 4:00 p.m. You'll be disappointed. With enough time budgeted for rubbing shoulders and receiving compliments between 9:00 and 4:00, she can spend the rest of her days on overall department work without disturbing her schedule much. Fifty-fifty should be about right.
An interesting question has arisen concerning Mrs. Norman's remuneration for all this work. She states that she told Ed Yelick, the Governor's reorganization man, that she had been doing the work of departmental coordinator since December of 1985 and that she is glad now to be paid for this work, starting July 1, 1986, when the Department officially came into existence.
In light of such a statement, some have speculated that Mrs. Norman should return her salary from the Iowa Commission for the Blind from the period of December, 1985, through June, 1986. If she has not been doing that job and has been doing some other, it is only fair for her to be paid by that other boss, the Governor, and to let the money mistakenly paid by the Commission come back to blind people for use in improving their lives.
The authorized salary for the administrator of the Division is $41,000. The authorized salary for the coordinator of the Department is $44,000. Does she therefore get $85,000 for the added difficulty of being her own boss?
While Mrs. Norman wrestles with this difficulty, the Division staff are in quite a different kettle. Staff who are classified as "nonprofessional" are now covered by the snares and tangles of the state personnel law. They may or may not be automatically members of the state employees' collective bargaining unit. Nobody is sure about this, but they may be unionized without ever voting on it. They are now subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act and its six-minute rule. You can't work more than an eight-hour day any more. You can't volunteer. You can't even eat lunch in your office. You can't come in early or leave late, even if you want to. You have six minutes' leeway, and that's it. After that, you're in trouble. Otherwise, you will qualify for overtime compensation, and the Division isn't about to pay that. If you want to work overtime or want to change the configuration of a particular day's work, you have to get permission from a supervisor two weeks ahead of time. So supervisors at the Division, in addition to their other duties, must now control desks and work areas and enforce the dread six-minute rule. It makes for wonderful working relationships and does amazing things to dedication and the desire to complete one's job.
The professional staff, on the other hand, will not be covered by the Department of Personnel unless there is an agreement between the Division and Personnel to cover them. Mrs. Norman has already shown great elasticity in her makeup. She vowed to keep the Commission as an independent agency. It isn't. Now she vows to keep the professional staff from coverage by Personnel. I'd worry if I were there. As an indicator of her success in keeping Personnel away from professional staff, Mrs. Norman will tell you that the Director of the Department of Personnel has no "immediate" desire to extend coverage to the professional staff. "Immediate" itself is a pretty elastic word.
We've already heard of several persons who intend to leave the Division for the Blind as soon as the conveniently can. They don't intend to mess around with State Personnel and the six-minute rule and its hypocritical elasticity.
In the past several years, under Mrs. Norman's direction, we have noticed a fantastic upsurge in the number of days devoted to in-service training of Division staff. One can expect an inservice every other week or so.
If this seems improbable, consider the training given, and planned, for the Division staff in the current federal fiscal year: 12/19-20/85--new staff seminar; 12/13/85--in-servicebyEDUTEK, Field Operations and general staff meetings; 1/22-24/86--in-service by American Foundation for the Blind, Field Operations and general staff meeting; 2/24-28/86--training seminar, Rehabilitation Administration Management, Norman, Oklahoma; 3/17-18/86--in-service covering individualized education plans, computerized law library at Drake University, civil rights, and Iowa Client Assistance Program, and staff meeeting; 3/20-21/86--regional seminar for field supervisors; 4/11/86--"Brag and Steal Day"; week of 4/21/86--hands on data processing training at South Dakota Library for the Blind; 5/7-8/86--diseases of eye seminar, Field Operations and general staff meeting; 7/17-18/86--training in dictating, Field Operations and general staff meetings.
In addition, staff members attended a workshop on interviewing and interpersonal relations held by the University of Wisconsin; the manager of the Business Enterprise Program attended two BEP-related seminars, one a five-day seminar held by the National Braille Association; twenty-six staff will attend thirty-one training sessions held by the Iowa Management Training System; four staff have taken or are taking basic computer courses; three staff are taking graduate courses in public administration; one staff member is or will take courses leading to a Master's Degree in job development and job placement; one is taking a secretarial course; the Field Operations Program Manager attends Regional Training Council meetings; the Independent Living Program holds monthly in-service training sessions; and an in-service on head injuries is planned for late summer or early fall.
These in-service programs are usually scheduled in the middle of the week for the convenience of Mrs. Norman and the presenters. This has the effect of wiping out an entire week for each field staff member who must attend.
There are three possible explanations for this extensive training. One is that training is a substitute for supervision. If everyone is told by an expert (paid good money) what things are supposed to be done, then the things will get themselves done and the supervisors won't have to mess with the untidy details of knowing, encouraging, assisting, and otherwise inducing staff to do what needs to be done. Another possible explanation is that a general indisposition for work has grown up at the Division and these in-services allow apparent work without the reality of result. Instead of being out there in the homes of blind people and the offices of employers, staff can sit around in air-conditioning and doze while somebody or other talks about something or other. It's much easier than working. Yet, a third possible explanation is that the Division staff are so hopelessly stupid at this point that they must continually be retrained or they won't have the slightest idea of how to do their jobs.
No, it is quite obvious that none of these is correct. You can't supervise by remote control. The staff (or most of them) are not lazy. The staff are not stupid. And yet the in-service spiral continues to the tune of over $17,000 a year.
One thing's for certain: With all the time devoted by staff to training, at least one staff member needs more. The Division's Program Manager for Field Operations, who directs staff training, had to submit and resubmit the training grant application three times before he got it right. "Physician, heal thyself."
At a recent staff meeting a Division supervisor made a startling and beautiful suggestion. Many staff members, she said, some of whom had been ill, were having financial problems. An emergency assistance program for the staff (a kind of welfare program) was needed. After all, she said, the staff should have the same services that clients have.
That's right. You read correctly. Division staff should receive the same services that clients do. We're certainly for that. Our only quarrel with the suggestion is that it didn't go far enough!
We see a small problem in implementation, but we believe equality can be achieved one day by beginning now to use some rather crude tools and refining them as time goes along. Here's how it should work:
The Division staff as a whole should be paid on the average what blind Iowans on the average receive in monthly income. Equal, isn't it?
But it'll be hard to do at the beginning. So let's start equalizing with known, already available statistics. Let's use, instead of the entire blind population, just those closed rehabilitated in the most recent fiscal year. That's easy enough to determine.
While the real beauty of this proposal is its equality, there are other attractions as well. First, to implement equality completely, we'll need to start gathering statistics on blind people, but these statistics are not now readily available. We can start with the rest of the Division's clients. It should be fairly easy to set up a system to record income and changes in income for clients. This could be factored into the equation as soon as the data come on line. Next, we'll have to arrive at a method of fairly determining the income of blind Iowans not on the caseload. This would include former clients who were closed as rehabilitated prior to last year. One method of determining the annual income of all blind Iowans would be to survey everyone every year. Of course, we would have to include the blind people in this state who do not work at all.
The more accurate gathering of statistics is not the only attraction of this equality proposal. The other charm of the proposal is that it ties the for tunes of Division staff more closely to those of the blind community. It's like the theory of employee stock ownership. When employees themselves are part owner of a company, they'll work harder to make sure the company does well since this will insure that they themselves will prosper. In the same manner, the Division staff's average salaries will be tied to the prosperity of the entire blind community. The sky would be the limit. Once the equality commitment is made in earnest, it must be kept forever. As the income of the blind rises due to hard work of Division staff, then the income of Division staff will rise as well. If the rise is slower or even more nonexistent, the Division staff's salaries will be correspondingly affected.
There is much talk these days of privatizing the public sector. We think the Division's supervisor has found an even better way. Bring private sector incentives into the public sector under the great and glorious goal of equality for all.
Mrs. Norman, we think the staff supervisor who brought up this idea should get a raise. Or, rather, her salary should be classed higher than most in the new equality matrix. After all, we wouldn't want to pay all the staff the same. Merit must still have its due.
With all this to examine, someone might react by asking: "For why? Why do these people engage in such contortions of logic and common sense? What is their goal? Why?"
It is a valid set of questions. Why allow someone to be her own boss, misrepresent governmental structure, flout federal law, spend what time she pleases being paid as she pleases? Why compel staff to adhere to the six-minute rule and be governed by State Personnel and attend interminable and useless inservice training sessions?
There is a simple answer to it all, attributed to Wordsworth:
"For why? Because the good old rule
Sufficeth them--the simple plan
That they should take who have the power
And they should keep who can."
The following is correspondence between Mrs. Norman and Isaac Johnson:
Isaac K. Johnson
Rehabilitation Services Administration
Kansas City, Missouri
Dear Mr. Johnson:
The Governor has asked me to serve as the Head of the Department of Human Rights. . . .
Enclosed is a rough copy of the reorganization bill. It is the Governor's intent that I retain the duties of Director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Because Federal regulations say that the Vocational Rehabilitation State Plan must state that there is a full-time Vocational Rehabilitation Director, I need your advice as to how to meet with the Governor's wishes and stay in compliance with the regulations. Perhaps the Governor could appoint me as the Acting Director, and an Acting Deputy Director could be appointed at some time in the future.
Your assistance is greatly appreciated.
Nancy A. Norman
Commission for the Blind
cc: The Honorable Terry E. Branstad
Kansas City, Missouri
Dear Ms. Norman:
We are responding to your letter of May 29, 1986, indicating that Governor Branstad has requested you to serve as the Head of the new Department of Human Rights and also retain your duties of Director of Iowa Commission for the Blind. You requested assistance from this office on how to meet the Governor's wishes and remain in compliance with the Federal Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Regulations.
You are correct on your interpretation of 34 CFR 361.8 which requires a full time director for the VR Program. Should the Governor wish to appoint you as interim or acting coordinator of the new Department of Human Rights, we recommend that an acting administrator of the Division for the Blind be appointed within 60 days of your assuming duties as interim or acting coordinator of the Department. If we can be of further assistance to you or the Governor, please let us know.
cc: The Honorable Terry E. Branstad