A proud history of evoking an entire disability movement for equal rights is coming to shame at the Center for Independent Living. Its executive director, Jan Garrett, seems bent on abandoning doctrines of fair treatment for employees and absolute fairness, efficiency and dedication to providing excellent service above all—in favor of wielding personnel policies, overlooking inefficiencies and making the bottom line the primary consideration in decision making.
I worked there for three years, some two years ago now, coordinating an independent living services program for the disabled community. The program, with me at the helm, profitted financially and in its reputation for the first time since its inception in the ‘80s. I worked very hard to do this; did nothing illegal or unethical; kept accurate records. What I also did was to work pretty independently. As long as the money rolled in, I was a hero. The Moving On program at CIL is the only one which has to support itself and it does so with individual contracts for consumers paid for by either the Regional Center of the East Bay or The State Department of Rehabilitation, which working relationship I established while working as coordinator.
Today, I learned that I have been and it is the prevailing lore, that I was successful in my job because I was “unethical.” Last month, a 30-year employee of CIL was dismissed—his counselling service discontinued—for what were called financial reasons. Phil Chavez is a cornerstone—a lynch-pin—of CIL. I attended a board meeting following his being given notice of termination. There were many members of the community present—at least 15 of whom were present or past recipients of the counselling group he coordinated—telling how valuable the service had been to them and how could Phil Chavez be fired? He is synonymous with the Center for Independent Living.
Many months ago, another employee was summarily dismissed with no warning and no explanation. In a letter subsequently received by her, it was stated that she could no longer be trusted with inventory—i.e. she was accused of stealing. If you knew her, you knew her to not be capable of stealing. Just that simple. The accusation was never proved; she denied any such acts in a letter to the board of directors; and went on to seek other employment and early retirement.
It happens that I shared an office with this person for the three years I worked as a coordinator at CIL. Imagine, a thief and a slime both in the same office. Imagine what crimes they cooked up between them.
I am writing this letter because I am angry at having been referred to as unethical. Because I think of myself as one of the most creative people I know and certainly one of the most honest—in the ways I express myself and in just the conduct of my life. I have lived in Berkeley for almost 40 years and done lots of things; participated in a changing community and tried to contribute the best of myself, which is what I did while at CIL. If I could afford it, I would sue Jan Garrett. I would force a showdown in this old Western town. But I can’t afford it. CIL can continue to let itself be oblivious to the dictates of what is true and to its own growing disrepute and inefficiencies. It can’t afford it either, though.
It is my opinion that if Jan Garrett can’t dictate the terms, she terminates the agreement—if she can’t be successful in wielding power over an individual—if they stand up to her or don’t ask her permission to exist in their function—they go. I was not fired; my position was not eliminated; but I could no longer tolerate the environment of having me do all the work to make a program successful and then be criticized for doing so.
Iris Crider is a Berkeley resident.