Braille Monitor                                                                  December 1985


Idaho Commission for the Blind Loses Battle

by Marc Maurer

On February 3, 1984, Ramona Walhof, the Director of the Idaho Commission for the Blind, was fired. This was the culmination of a series of illegal meetings of the two sighted board members of the Idaho Commission for the Blind. The series of astonishing events which surrounded this dismissal has been extensively reported in an article entitled "Idaho: Chaos and Political Shenanigans" in the March, 1984, Braille Monitor. When Mrs. Walhof was fired, many of the staff members at the Commission for the Blind spoke eloquently of the excellent leadership which she had provided to the agency. Blind people from throughout the state were outraged. Except for those who had joined in the conspiracy to violate the state Open Meeting Law (or to procure the violation of that law), there was virtual unanimity of opinion that the dismissal was a travesty. Unjust and unfair, this dismissal was a serious blow to programs for the blind in the state. Many of the staff members of the Idaho Commission for the Blind protested that it was unreasonable for them to work in an atmosphere of oppression and intimidation. If the policy of the Commission was to reward accomplishment with illegal secret meetings, intrigue, and public humiliation; several employees felt that it would not be possible to continue working for the agency. One person who expressed this feeling quite strongly was the Deputy Director, John Cheadle. At a public meeting of the Commission for the Blind board held February 3, 1984, Mr. Cheadle said: "Mr. Chairman, members of the board: I came here (as most of you know) about a year ago. I came here specifically so that I could work with Mrs. Walhof and the blind of this state to develop the programs in this state that I believed had the potential (and I still believe they have the potential) to become the best programs for the blind in the nation. I have known Mrs. Walhof, and I have also worked in other agencies for the Blind....

"The promise for independence of blind people is at stake. It's at stake here, and it's at stake right now. There is no question about that in my mind....

"Mrs. Walhof has come closer to bringing the dream of blind people to fruition than anybody else in this state. I admire her ability as a Director, her ability as an administrator, and her ability to have real compassion and real love for blind people. I work hard at my job; she works harder at hers. I have come early in the morning; she's up before I am. I have seen her at work at 5:00 a.m. I've seen her work past midnight. I know that she believes in the abilities of blind people. I know that she has the capacity to help the blind of this state fulfill the dream of independence. I believe that the action of the board today will determine that future. Whether the dream is fulfilled in the near future or the distant future is up to the board--now. I believe that a vote to dismiss Mrs. Walhof would bring this agency into utter chaos. "...The issue here is not Mrs. Walhof. The issue is not Mrs. Walhof's leadership.... "I will not continue to work in an agency that offers no hope for blind people. If Mrs. Walhof goes, I will go...."

After the Commission for the Blind board meeting of February 3, 1984, Howard Barton, the newly installed Director of the Commission, asked Mr. Cheadle if he had resigned during the board meeting. Mr. Cheadle responded that he had not. Howard Barton then informed Mr. Cheadle that he was fired. Mr. Cheadle applied for unemployment compensation. The Commission for the Blind opposed any award of unemployment. Officials of the agency said that Mr. Cheadle had been in a policy making position at the agency. Therefore, he should not be entitled to receive unemployment benefits under Idaho law. The case was appealed through several administrative steps to the Idaho Industrial Commission. That agency has now ruled against the Commission for the Blind and in favor of Mr. Cheadle. He will be receiving his full unemployment compensation.

The principles of those controlling the Idaho Commission for the Blind fall into a clear and ugly pattern. The blind of the state of Idaho have staunchly opposed the deliberate destruction of programs for the blind in that state. Commission officials have taken every opportunity to try to intimidate blind clients and the organized blind movement. Each effort to dominate our movement has failed. The blind will not tolerate injustice or unfairness. Every time it is tried we will fight it. Though the struggle is long and the effort painful, we shall not permit our progress to be halted or our search for independence to be stifled. In this case our faith has been justified by the action of the Idaho Industrial Commission. On the 9th of September, 1985, the Industrial Commission ordered that Mr. Cheadle be granted full unemployment compensation.