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Harriet's Tenured Perspective - as Read by River Smith on May 19
May 22, 2000
5:39 pm
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An offering of my perspective, by Harriet a former
Administrator at The Free Clinic:

What is most distressing for staff and volunteers now is the Board's and Marty's willingness to fire Jane over communication difficulties. Those difficulties may have been real, but it was a solvable problem, because basically everyone is interested in the same mission. The Board/Marty didn't want to invest the energy, and chose their own comfort over the benefit to the community. The board are all volunteers, some of whom have volunteered for decades and have seen the Clinic go through a number of crises, financial and otherwise. Some of them donate substantial sums, and raise even more money-all without any recognition or thanks. This needs to be appreciated as some evidence of good intent. They may honestly not have the time or energy to get involved in helping Marty and themselves cope with the challenges presented by Jane or other vocal staff.

If they could have come to the staff with their needs and concerns, the staff could have had the opportunity to offer some constructive solutions. Unfortunately, out of fear, habit, ignorance, or the simple difficulty of articulating feelings and needs, the board has chosen a philosophy of management that incorporates top down control.

The clinic has a history of staff input on board committees-in fact, the original purpose of the board was just to support the staff by keeping the police from closing down the Clinic. The guiding principle of the Clinic is that all people are valuable and worthy of respect-so naturally, being at the bottom of a pyramidal authoritarian structure is not something that could be accepted by Free Clinic staff without the staff being given enough information and explanation to buy into the structure. What was the Board thinking? They figured the feisty crowd at the Clinic would grouse about it and then adjust or leave-and this is the grousing stage. It's our job to turn this situation into something constructive.

So what do we )staff, volunteers, friends) want?

First, reinstatement of Jane.

Second, a commitment from the board to have two way communication.

Third, help with Marty.

Marty must have something to offer-his familiarity with the clinic, his history of relationships with outside agencies, funders, media, his ability to work with the board, probably some administrative strengths. But clearly, something about his personality and/or management style is a problem for a significant number of staff and volunteers, and has been since he started.

This director has a lack of interest in communicating and sharing information, and a certain interest in being in control. He lacks the ability or willingness to explain his feelings, thinking and decisions to that staff can understand them and by sympathetic to them, doesn't see the staff as a part of a team to be consulted, is willing to separate staff from the board, and historically has found a way to get rid of people when it suites his personal reasons even though those reasons are disconnected from the staff person's value to the clinic or the community.

He seems to inspire frustration and mistrust instead of camaraderie-on the part of a group of people who are exceptionally giving and caring. So there must be something significant in their needs that is not being met.

The board is justifying it's current management approach (if we can believe the newspaper quote of Adam Fishman, Board President), "…because of the size of the organization, the complexity of the health care industry, and the increased demand of our funders for more detail and record-keeping and accountability".

The patients seen now may be sicker than in the past, requiring more pharmaceuticals. What is the connection between the need for money to pay for meds, and the need for more administrative staff with less staff participation on board committees? Funders have always pressured the clinic for names, addresses, and insurance information. How is today's pressure any different? So different that more administrative staff and less staff/board contact are called for?

May 25, 2000
11:59 am
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MORE FROM HARRIET

What about the size of the organization? Statistics from the month of January, 1979 show patient visits of 3,116, and a newsletter written 5 months later notes that there are about 50 people on staff at that time. We managed very nicely then with an administrative staff consisting of the director, his right hand, and the program directors.

The well respected Foundation Center publishes a book called "A Nonprofit Organization Operating Manual", which states in part (p 64) "More than one organization has been put in jeopardy by an unsupervised CEO who managed to turn off key program directors or support people by bureaucratic habits, or by arbitrary or unfair decisions. Unless there is some channel or vehicle for key staff people to communicate serious concerns to a board committee or officer, the organization may be headed for real trouble." This concept of a 501Ó3, and Adam Fishman's concept of "…trying to bring the Clinic up to today's managerial standards for a 501Ó3" seem strangely disconnected.

Where is the board getting their input from? Who is actually making the decisions?

The board still hasn't made the transition from blanket support of the director to actually supervising or having oversight over the director-and seems unwilling to make that shift now. In fact, in firing Jane, closing off staff participation in committees, and allowing the staff to be punished for approaching them, the board has essentially given the director more license to act with impunity.

It seems there are a lot of questions to be answered about what the board and Marty see as the clinic's future direction and why, and a rethinking of that includes input from staff and volunteers, many of whom have been around as long as some board members, and many of whom have fresh thoughts to offer, as do some board members.

I hope that concerned folks will focus their energy on some specific, doable requests and present them (through phone calls, in writing, through media, or however)…in a way that is most likely to evoke the desired response! We need a vision of how this can be resolved.

Here's a quote from Reverend William Sloane Coffin in his book The Heart is a Little to the Left: "Naturally enough, the powerful and wealthy tend to see themselves as the village elders. Their primary preoccupation, however, is with order rather than justice, and history has shown that concern for disorder over injustice generally produces more of both…At the same time, I think we can perceive everywhere in the world a halting yet steady progress toward greater human rights. If, without defensiveness, we can face and discuss rather than avoid or deny controversial issues, good results are all be inevitable."

I also strongly recommend Marshall Rosenberg's book Nonviolent Communication (there's also a website: CNVC.org)

Also, staff, even though you are very frustrated and angry, please be kind to each other. Please model to each other the kind of sharing of information and patient respect for differences of opinion that we want to the director and the board to employ.

May 27, 2000
7:19 pm
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I'm quite interested to hear a report of the Friday 5/26 meeting. Where was it ultimately held? Who chaired the meeting? What, if anything, was resolved?

May 28, 2000
9:58 am
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I'll break it down into short snippets:

1) Marty was concerned about our meeting at The Free Clinic & interrupted River while he was in a supervision meeting to voice his concerns about our meeting there. River asked Marty to wait to speak until he was done w/ his meeting.

2) Marty & River talked. Marty asked if volunteers would be meeting or protesting at the FC that night - River said he couldn't make promises about what we would decide to do. Then Marty informed River that volunteers would be allowed 10 minutes of air time to speak with The Board of Trustees on Wed. May 31.

3) We gathered at The Free Clinic

4) We were asked to leave by security

5) We moved to The Unitarian Church on the corner of Lancashire & Euclid Hts (small brick building on Lancashire).

6) We discussed what we thought the main problems were & how we would like to present those to the Board.

7) Jane arrived - everyone applauded

8) We made decisions about who would speak & what the topics were

9) Meeting broke, and we worked

10) Everyone dispersed by 10:00-10:30pm.

June 8, 2012
8:08 pm
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Proud Supporter said:

I'll break it down into short snippets:

1) Marty was concerned about our meeting at The Free Clinic & interrupted River while he was in a supervision meeting to voice his concerns about our meeting there. River asked Marty to wait to speak until he was done w/ his meeting.

2) Marty & River talked. Marty asked if volunteers would be meeting or protesting at the FC that night – River said he couldn't make promises about what we would decide to do. Then Marty informed River that volunteers would be allowed 10 minutes of air time to speak with The Board of Trustees on Wed. May 31.

3) We gathered at The Free Clinic

4) We were asked to leave by security

5) We moved to The Unitarian Church on the corner of Lancashire & Euclid Hts (small brick building on Lancashire).

6) We discussed what we thought the main problems were & how we would like to present those to the Board.

7) Jane arrived – everyone applauded

8) We made decisions about who would speak & what the topics were

9) Meeting broke, and we worked

10) Everyone dispersed by 10:00-10:30pm.



This must have been so stressful.
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