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December 21, 2002

Update on GLAD

December 19, 2002

By Tom Willard

A few weeks ago I sent out a posting called "How to Fix GLAD." The time has come to send out an update. Those of you who have been following the GLAD story may wish to keep reading. Those who are not interested are welcome to skip over this story.

Before I go any further, I wish to express my appreciation to the people at Deaf California News and USA-L News for sharing this information with their readers. Such services play a unique and valuable role in promoting discussion of issues in the deaf community. This is especially important now that many of our deaf publications such as Silent News and Deaf Nation are no longer active.

I am learning more and more about GLAD and its sister agencies in California, and I feel that a lot of people thrive on the darkness and shadows of a deaf community that lacks a strong tradition of good journalism. As a longtime journalist myself, I have every intention of continuing to shine a bright spotlight on GLAD until this agency gets things straightened out. As always, I will be careful only to report the facts (and an occasional opinion) and let the readers decide things for themselves.

To those who are joining the story in progress, I am one of many people over the past few years who have been wrongfully terminated from GLAD. Several have sued the agency and settled out of court, with gag orders that prevent them from discussing matters. In contrast, I am very much enjoying the freedom of speech that allows me to speak out about GLAD and will continue to speak out as long as necessary to enact some real and positive changes that will make life better for deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the greater Los Angeles area.

What is new with GLAD these days? Here are some updates on a variety of topics:

NOT WELCOME: In retaliation for my recent criticisms about GLAD's management, the folks at GLAD has spent considerable time, energy and money in trying to prevent me from visiting GLAD's Deaf Community Center. I refuse to go along with these efforts for a number of reasons, including 1) GLAD is publicly funded and they cannot banish people just because they don't like them; 2) I have not broken any rules, violated any laws, or threatened anyone; 3) I continue to remain friends with several of the deaf seniors who live on the third floor at GLAD; 4) my role as editor of L.A. WAVES magazine requires access to deaf-related programs, services and facilities.

Recently I made a big batch of soup, too much for my family to eat, so I decided to share some with a few residents at GLAD. No big deal, it's what friends and neighbors do (I live just a few blocks away). The residents seemed happy to see me and glad to get the soup. I had been there only a few minutes when a couple of GLAD staffers came up to the third floor and confronted me, telling me to leave immediately or they would call the police. I said to go ahead and call because I wasn't doing anything wrong. It was not the first time they had made such threats. The next day I called the police myself to report GLAD's continuing harassment against me.

GLAD even had a lawyer send me a threatening letter, to which I replied in part: "Your letter raises an interesting issue: can a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that is publicly funded attempt to blackball an individual solely for criticizing the organization's management? I don't think so, and I contend that you are infringing on my freedom of speech, the deaf community's freedom of the press, and the GLAD residents' freedom of association." So far there has been no response.

MEMBERSHIP: It is ironic that I was the person responsible for running the GLAD membership program, but now they will not let me be a member. I paid my dues three months ago, shortly after I was terminated, because I wanted to receive the GLAD NEWS and monthly mailings. In three months, they have not sent me a thing, nor have they refunded the money I paid for membership.

WEBSITE: Has anyone seen the GLAD website ( lately? A while back, they removed the welcoming photomontage at the top and left the space bare, so you had no idea what the website represented. Finally they realized their error and added their logo and the agency's name to the top of their home page. It is a remarkably ugly display, with the logo looking as if it has gone through a washing machine. As for the content of the site, they continue to post their defensive and self-congratulatory messages in response to community criticism, while the "coming events" section is blank. As always, it is all about GLAD, with practically no useful information to be found about the L.A. deaf community.

DOOM AND GLOOM: On a recent visit to GLAD, I noticed the phone system to connect with the third-floor residents was broken and a folded magazine was inserted in the main doorway, which had to be taken out and replaced every time someone came through the door. A large sign greeted visitors, demanding that everyone sign in. This was never the case before. Also a new framed sign is posted on the wall, "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone." Has anyone ever seen such a sign posted in a social services agency? To me, it is a blunt symbol of GLAD's dysfunctional ways. The place seemed almost deserted, and the staff looked cold and unhappy. The information table, which I used to keep stocked with plenty of flyers as Information and Referral Manager, was practically bare. Most shocking was the receptionist, whose appearance has changed dramatically since she was hired earlier this year. The stress of being on the GLAD frontline is obviously getting to her. By the way, GLAD was closed all day today in order to make electrical repairs. The staff gets a day off in the middle of the week while the residents must suffer with no electricity.

PHYSICAL FACILITIES: GLAD finally fixed the huge pothole in their main parking lot, but none of the other problems in the building or on the grounds have been repaired. The kitchen that underwent a $50,000 renovation in the spring of 2001 continues to be off limits for reasons unknown.

GLAD AND L.A. WAVES: Shortly after my termination from GLAD, I decided to launch a new bimonthly magazine called L. A. WAVES to serve the deaf and hard-of-hearing community of Los Angeles. Some people thought I would use this publication to maintain a vendetta against GLAD, but instead I went out of my way to ensure that there would be news from GLAD in the premiere issue. I even met with GLAD's Director of Community Relations to explain my intention to look forward, not backward, and to take the high road. (Yes, the first issue did include an article about the Sept. 21 rally outside GLAD, but I felt that this was legitimate news.) In response, GLAD has done nothing but make trouble. For instance, in October they refused to include my subscription flyers in their monthly membership mailing. These mailings are a service I created when I worked for GLAD to help keep people informed, and outside organizations may include their flyers for a fee. I called one day to see if I could include my flyers and was told 'yes' if I delivered them by 1 p.m. I did as instructed, but later learned that my flyers had not been included, nor were they returned to me or placed on the info table as I had requested. Apparently the community-minded and environmentally-conscious folks at GLAD just dumped my 650 flyers in the trash, preventing their members from learning of a new publication which many would have found interesting. In another incident, I learned that GLAD had hired a new director for its CODIE office in Riverside and I contacted her for an interview. She was pleasant and forthcoming, but shortly afterwards she clammed up. My appointment to photograph her was abruptly cancelled and she said she could not send me a picture of herself on orders from GLAD management. There have been other incidents and it leads to the question, should I continue to include GLAD news in L.A. WAVES even when they harass me and have lawyers send me threatening letters?

GLAD AT THE DEAF EXPO: GLAD was one of the sponsors of the Deaf Expo and I was amused by the shirts worn by their staff. The shirts were black (a fitting color) and contained a rip-off of the "Got Milk?" slogan ... "Got GLAD?" I'm sure they thought they were quite clever, but if you think about it, the slogan was sadly appropriate. The "Got Milk?" campaign is unique in advertising because it is based on deprivation. In most commercials, you have a need that is resolved by using the product being advertised. In "Got Milk?," people want milk but can't get it. Consider the man in the body cast or the ants at the picnic. They are frustrated in their attempts to get milk. Likewise, people may want GLAD but they can't get it -- because of the organization's incompetence and its relative lack of programs and services.

During the Deaf Expo, GLAD hosted a short presentation on stage that spoke volumes -- in an unspoken way -- about the agency. The first part of the presentation consisted of GLAD Interim CEO Sheri Farinha Mutti standing front and center on stage talking about the agency while a series of staff approached her from behind, pretending to be clients with problems. They must really like this skit because they had already done it at their awards luncheon last spring. Every time a "client" approached Ms. Mutti, she seemed to express subtle displeasure that her presentation was being interrupted. She grudgingly turned to face the person who tapped her shoulder and listened to what the person said -- something like "I need a job, what should I do?" Her stock answer to each request was "Go to GLAD." It was supposed to illustrate the variety of services provided by the agency, but the message sent by Ms. Mutti through her body language and curt response was "go away and leave me alone." Then a few members of the board of directors got up and introduced themselves. I was amused by former CEO Marcella Meyer description of herself as a "goodwill ambassador" for GLAD, considering that she has been widely criticized for her ongoing attempts to control the agency from which she retired four years ago. The whole thing was a one-way presentation, with audience members given no opportunity to comment or ask questions. Boy, this is one organization that could sorely use a public relations consultant.

DSS AND TOM LEE: GLAD gets a major portion of its funding from the California Department of Social Services. Specifically, GLAD contracts with the Deaf Access Assistance Program to provide services to deaf people in the greater Los Angeles area. This Office of Deaf Access is run by a gentleman named Tom Lee, who assumed the position a couple of years ago. I have never met him and I recall that he made only one visit to GLAD in the two years I worked there. Many community advocates have contacted Mr. Lee for assistance with the ongoing problems at GLAD, but Mr. Lee has been remarkably detached. The more I think about it, the more I wonder: Who the heck is Tom Lee? Why does the deaf community put up with a hearing person who cannot sign in this important position? Exactly how many positions in the California state government are truly open to a deaf individual? Virtually none, except for the position of Chief of the Office of Deaf Access. So how did Tom Lee get this job? Who is he? Where did he come from? Why is he so out of touch with the deaf community? Frankly, I think he should be dumped, and a strong deaf leader installed who can bring order to the chaos of the current system of state support for the deaf agencies in California.

THE CEO VACANCY: When the calendar turns at midnight on Dec. 31, it will mark the fifth calendar year that GLAD has had to endure an "interim" CEO. Ms. Mutti was appointed to a three-month term back in 1999, but the board of directors has been unable to fulfill its primary responsibility of hiring a permanent CEO. Only recently have they begun to advertise the position and interview candidates. In response to my "How to Fix GLAD" posting, Pearl Swan Youth posted a reply on Deaf California News urging me to apply for the position. Several other people have said similar things, so I decided to send in an application for the position. In my letter, dated Dec. 3, I said in part: "It is no secret that GLAD has experienced difficulties in recent years. Challenges faced by the organization have included low staff morale; ongoing budget deficits; lack of respect from the community; absence of needed programs and services; and deterioration of physical facilities. It raises the question: Why would anyone want to take the reins of such an organization? In my case, the answer is simple: Because I care, and because I can turn things around." Is anyone surprised that GLAD has not even responded to my application?

It is unfortunate that this organization, which receives millions of dollars in public funds each year while begging the community for donations and support, will not give us the slightest say in who will run the agency in the future. That decision is made solely by the board of directors, which consists primarily of people who have been handpicked by the present and former CEOs. How much better it would be if they would open up the process and let the community be involved in a true spirit of democracy; instead, it seems more like a communist system from the past where a small group conspires to maintain their power over the majority. GLAD is so unwilling to let the community have its say that they cancelled the General Council meetings last summer and fall, and no plans have been announced to hold the next scheduled meeting in January. (These meetings, by the way, are mandated by the organization's bylaws.)

HERB'S VIEWS: I cannot begin to understand the thinking of Herb Larson, who serves as president of the GLAD board of directors. He seems totally unwilling to resolve any of the problems confronting this organization. He complained to his fellow board members that I was a "thorn in the side" of GLAD and added "The fact that he is a good writer doesn't help either." I've been complimented on my writing skills over the years but this is the first time that my "good writing" has been perceived to be a negative thing. Obviously GLAD prefers to deal with critics who cannot write or are not willing to be outspoken and critical. Mr. Larson also seems proud that the board has ignored me. Unfortunately, this is typical of the board's response to everything. They've ignored the need to hire a new CEO, they've ignored their obligation to raise funds, they've ignored the deterioration of the facilities, they've ignored the "five former presidents" and the Deaf Community Alliance. I wonder when they will realize that ignoring things is not a practical approach to resolving problems? Mr. Larson also said about me, "He obviously has no idea what GLAD or the Board has been or is doing. Or what we can do. Or why we cannot do what probably should be done." Well, whose fault is that? GLAD has a Public Relations Director and a Community Relations Director, yet they do an atrocious job of telling their side of the story. Here is my challenge to you, Herb: Take my essay "How to Fix GLAD" and go through it publicly, point by point, and tell us why you can't do what should be done. At the same time, if you are going to accuse me of "telling all sorts of lies that are being printed in so many different publications," would you please have the courtesy to back up this allegation with facts? I challenge you to point out even one thing that I have said about GLAD that is not true. I've made a point to be clear and accurate in my communications and will continue to do so.

IN CONCLUSION: I strongly believe that people in the deaf community need to know -- indeed, have the right to know -- the kind of things that go on at GLAD. It is your own tax money that finances this organization and GLAD has an obligation to be accountable to the community it serves. At times I think the whole thing is hopeless, that the problems are so deeply ingrained in GLAD's culture that nothing will ever get this agency straightened out. Yet I continue to reserve the hope that somehow a strong, caring and imaginative leader will emerge and somehow win acceptance from the current board of directors to take the reins of this organization and set it on the right path. Wouldn't that be the best Christmas present for all of us? Meanwhile, I have every intention of remaining a thorn in their side. GLAD in recent years has shown us only too well the importance of having watchdogs and critics on the outside to make sure the general community knows what is going on. It's funny -- they call themselves GLAD, but in reality their services are bad, their people are mad, and the whole thing is just, well, really very sad.

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