Whatcom County Opportunity Council Board Shenanagins
Shortly after arriving in Bellingham almost 40 years ago I was appointed by the university president to serve as the university representative on the Board of Directors of the local poverty program called the Whatcom County Opportunity Council. The Board was composed of 1/3 public service agency bureaucrats, 1/3 elected officials and 1/3 persons representing populations in poverty. I was a bureaucrat. I quickly saw that the organization needed some serious changes and, I felt, one of the first was to get rid of an officious, incompetent and grossly insensitive Executive Director.
Well the chance to do something about this came shortly as there was to be an election of officers for the Board of Directors. Most of the board members representing the poverty populations had become friends of mine and they wanted me to run for President against the person nominated by Rabi Gartner, who was a one-person nominating committee. The Rabbi was very upset when I declared that I would stand as a candidate for the office of President and not accept his recommendation that I be listed as candidate for Vice President. I was breaking precedent and this was deemed inappropriate by many of the politicians and agency bureaucrats on the board. To resolve the issue three of the ‘influentials’ that had a lot of impact on how the organization was run called me to meet with them over coffee one morning at a local restaurant.
I was asked what it would take to get me to ‘back off’ and not run against the official candidate. I responded that I would do so if (a) the board agreed to have a consulting firm come in and conduct a training session on how to operate as an effective board of directors and (b) the official nominee would have to walk up the street to the office of the organization and tell the Director that he would be fired regardless which of us were elected. The official nominee for the position of President of the Board of Directors was called and within 30 minutes did just as he was instructed so when he then joined us at the table and told us what he had done I accepted the position of Vice President on the official slate.
At the next meeting of the Board of Directors all hell broke loose when the official ballot was distributed and those who supported me for President found out I was not running against the official candidate but was accepting the nomination as Vice President. My buddies thought that I had sold out. The new slate was voted in and the first order of business was to begin the process for removing the executive director and the second order of business was to plan for a retreat for a week-end of board training.
When the board members gathered for the retreat the new Board President felt that there would be too much conflict in the room as many of the members were angry that he was the President rather than me. He felt he could not handle the conflict that was going to occur so he asked that I chair the gathering, which I did. I began by iterating the order of the day, how we would proceed with the training program but was interrupted by a Native American board member who stood up and asked in a loud voice why I had ‘jumped ship’ and allowed myself to be bought off by the conservative old guard. He wanted to know what kind of dirty back-room shenanigans were going on. So, with the Executive Director who was on his way out of the organization not in the room I explained what happened. “So what?” he responded, “The Executive Committee hasn’t really changed, it is still a bunch of white bureaucrats.”
“Well”, I said, “Let us see if we can change that. With the new board now in place we need a nominating committee to prepare for any Executive Committee vacancies so I name you Tom (Native American), Don Jose (Hispanic) and Mabel (welfare mother) as the new nominating committee. “This is all a sham” was the response. “There are no vacancies to fill!” “Oh yes there is.” I responded. “I herewith resign as Vice President of the Board of Directors” and as I said that I turned around and on a large sheet of newsprint on a pad attached to the wall in front of the room I wrote “I Resign.” I gave it to the new member of the official nominating committee and told them that by the end of the day I wanted their official nominee and we would vote on it immediately so the position could be filled before we went home. That is how the organization got a Native American as Vice President. He moved on to the Presidency the next year and did a good job. The training session went smoothly after that brief interlude.
The University Year for Action Program
The trainers we had brought in to help train the Board of Directors of the local poverty program were from the Federal Region VII ACTION office in Seattle. This was the office that oversaw all of the various ACTION programs (including the OEO –poverty programs) in five or six states. One morning I got a phone call at my university office from one of them. “Drake, do you think your university would be interested in running an off campus program similar to VISTA but getting students involved in community service agencies while still getting academic credit and training in the field they are working in?”
“Sure,” I said, “Put us down as interested.” I was informed that I would be contacted again when decisions would be made as to which universities would be invited to submit a proposal for consideration in the initial round of grants. I immediately called Ralph Munro, head of the Washington State Office of Voluntary Action, and asked him about this call. “Oh,” he said, “that is the University Year for Action” program. I just came back from Washington, DC, where I helped design it. Drake, you should call Jerry Brady, National Director of the program and convince him that Western Washington University should be in the first group of universities to be funded.”
So I immediately called Washington, DC and got through to Jerry Brady. “How many schools are going to be funded in the first round?” I asked. “Eleven.” “How many are already selected?” “Nixon announced the program at Little Rock, Arkansas so the first program will be there. No other commitments have been made as yet.” I continued, “Put Western Washington University down as the second to be funded.” “Whoa, slow down.” Brady said. “First you have to fill out all the necessary forms.” “OK, send them to me. How long will it take for you to respond once we have the forms filled out?” “We will take no longer than you take to fill them out.” [NOTE: The Director of that first UYA program in the nation was Dr. Robert Ross who later became President of WWU and I became his Special Assistant for Internationla Programs.]
I got the forms in two days and took three to fill them out. The following week Jerry Brady was out to visit our university and we got funding as the second university in the nation with that program. The Dean for Research and Grants named me as Program Director a post that I held for the next several years. The UYA program initially generated an immense amount of ill-will on campus where traditional academics felt students could not learn anything if they did not attend daily lectures taught by Dr. Ego himself. It also generated hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in grant money, something that makes university administrators drool.
Well, we worked it out and if the proof is in the pudding, we succeeded beyond our dreams. Now, 35 years later the program has morphed into what is called the Human Services Program in the Woodring College of Education. It currently has over 400 majors in that program who are getting their university degrees while working in social service agencies throughout the state and attending classes especially designed for them once or twice a week in the evenings, on week-ends or in special seminars held in their region of the state.
One of the campus academic departments that worked with us early in the program was the Speech Pathology and Audiology Department. We placed their volunteers in public schools to help the speech therapists in their work with students who needed such help. This program was deemed so successful that such an internship is now a required element in getting a degree from WWU in that field. Such is also now required for State Certification as a speech therapist in public schools.
The program almost was killed, though, when a new Regional Director for ACTION was appointed in the Region VII Federal Office in Seattle. The woman appointed to that post was a former Republican Senator in the Washington State Senate. She held our university President and Dean for Research and Grants in very low esteem because of the contumelious manner in which those two clowns addressed the legislature when giving testimony at legislative budget hearings.
A warning call came from a staff person in Washington, DC, telling me that our proposed third-year budget was to be cut by one third by Marge because of her prejudice toward WWU. Two days later the caller informed me that he was wrong, it was to be cut in half. I called Marge in Seattle and asked for an appointment to meet with her and her staff. I took with me two of my staff. Due to my “I Resign” stunt several of her staff knew me and were supportive of our proposed programs. We eventually went over every element of our program, item by item, budget figures and personnel needs. To my delight Marge not only approved our proposed plan as originally submitted but also increased some elements that she felt we were under-budgeting!
The Dean for Research and Grants took the final grant proposal to Washington, DC for submittal but while there he did some ‘adjustments.’ After his return I received a phone call from one of the D.C. staff telling me what Dean xx had done but that his call had to be confidential as the Dean had gotten him to agree not to tell me of the change. A bit later the Dean for Arts and Sciences called me and said “Drake, this is in confidence and you are to tell no one but you should be aware that Dean xx adjusted your UYA program by inserting a young lady as ‘liaison’ between your office and his.” The next day I got a phone call from the person who would be replacing me as Director of the program as I was going back to the classroom after two years of serving as full-time director. He informed me of this change also but, again, stated that I was not to react to the information as I was not supposed to know about it. So I waited for another three days until I answered the phone and a very angry Marge was on the line demanding an explanation of this change in the program after she had agreed to the one we had worked out with her and her staff. I told her that I was waiting for her phone call and now that I officially knew of the changes I would go and confront Dean xx. I asked, “Are you telling me that if this ‘liaison person’ is not removed from the grant proposal it will not be funded?” “Correct!”
When admitted to his office I asked the dean how things had gone in Washington, DC and whether he had any trouble with the grant. “No,” he said with a big smile, “Everything went beautifully.” “Well it may have while you were there,” I responded, “but the shxx has just hit the fan and if you don’t remove your pretty liaison from the grant the university will loose it as it will not be funded in its present form. And,” I added, “the world will know why.” This bully turned beet red and started shouting “Remove it. Remove it! Put it back as it was and get your axx out of here.” Plus a lot more expletives.
As I left his office he slammed the door as hard as he could. His staff in the outer office were shaking and looked down at their typewriters as I left the office. Before returning to my office I went to the Academic Vice President to report what had just happened as I was still an un-tenured faculty member and could be subject of dire repercussions. I was assured that nothing would happen to me so I went to my office and called Marge in Seattle and told her of the result of my meeting with the Dean. She commented “That didn’t take long.” I responded, “No. but I’m going home (11 a.m.). I need a drink.”
If any one in their naivete thinks such things do not happen in academia they have to be roused out of their sleep. Dirty politics and underhand dealings are not limited to Washington, DC. Such has a potential of happening where ever there is a resource available for distribution, universities and poverty programs included. I am all for ‘transparency’ and ‘public accountability’ and since I am an activist and not a mere academic I tend to get involved more often than is good for my career.
In the early 1970s when I was Director of the University Year for Action program at Western Washington University a student volunteer, Chris Avalon, told me about funds available for a program getting seniors involved in community volunteer activities. I called the national office of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and got the forms for applying for an RSVP grant. I proceeded to write the grant proposal that got the program started in Bellingham.
I designed a program that would get the seniors involved in speech therapy along with the student UYA volunteers in public school speech therapy programs. This would be only one of many ways we would get seniors involved in community service activities but it was to be the focus of the new organization. Soon after the grant was submitted to the ACTION office in Washington, DC I was called back there for a meeting of UYA program directors. It just happened that there was a joint meeting of the Boards of Directors of the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) and RTA (Retired Teachers Association) being held in the same hotel where I was staying. These two organizations were among the largest voluntary associations in America at the time. The time and location of the reception was noted on the hotel bulletin board, and not being shy, I decided to crash the reception.
At the reception I was enthusiastically talking about the RSVP-UYA program for putting seniors and college students in the classroom to help kids needing speech therapy when the person I was talking to said “I would like to invite you to join us for dinner.” I responded, “Don’t you need permission of someone to invite me to join you?” “No,” he said, “I am the President of AARP and you will be my guest.” [How’s that for crashing a party?]
During dinner he introduced me to the assembled dinner guests and said “Dr. Drake, why don’t you take three minutes and tell us about your program ideas for Bellingham.” At the end of my comments he turned to a man seated next to him and stated “This is the kind of program we want to see funded.” That person happened to be the Director of all Senior Programs for ACTION at the national level. After dinner he asked that I call on him the next day, which I did. Our program was funded, of course.
When I ran for a seat on the Bellingham City Council a year later I used the slogan “The greatest untapped resource of the community is the talent and good will of its citizens”. Once on the council I created the Civic Partnership program for placing citizens in volunteer positions with city agencies such as the Park Department, Library, Police Dept., etc. That program was funded with money from the city budget. Later it was expanded to include county programs and was combined with a new struggling Voluntary Action Agency to become a single organization. I helped get on-going city funding to help pay for staff. About a decade later it joined the RSVP in a single office.
Today, some 35 years since its founding, the local RSVP program has over 4,300 registered volunteers who, in 2007, volunteered over 100,000 hours of community service. The Whatcom Voluntary Action Agency had over 1,200 volunteers last year donate more than 280,000 hours of community service. I think we can say that these two agencies that I helped create many years ago are an outstanding credit to our community.
I feel that my impetus for the creation of this type of program came out of my experiences with the scrap paper drives and the drives for aluminum pots and pans and other metals held by Troop 59 of Manasquan, New Jersey that I participated in during the years of the Second World War and following. This was the Boy Scout oath and law in action. It is community resource mobilizing at its finest. It is taking Boy Scout values into the wider community giving all citizens a structured way to help their fellow citizens.
One thing has to be noted though, and that is the self realization that my talent lies in dreaming up these organizations, designing their structure, getting the funding and giving them a kick-start and then getting out of the way. I am not an administrator. I am the guy that has the vision and who happens to have some expertise. in community sociology, knows something about community systems analysis, etc. and can put these things together. But I also have the sense to leave them alone once they get started.
I also quickly get bored doing the same thing time and again. I want to create new programs, take on new projects and have new adventures. It seems that my attention span is between two and four years, then I quit my job, my “temporary” assignment, my current activity and head off in a new direction. During my 23 years at Western Washington University I served as a classroom teacher, Director of the Center for East Asian Studies, Director of the University Year for Action Program, Special Assistant to the President, Founding Director of the China Teaching Program (for training professionals to teach English as a second language to co-professionals in the PRC). I ended my career at Western Washington University as Director of International Programs.
RX for Foreign Dignitaries
For about 30 years I served as host for the United States Information Agency ‘International Visitor Program.’ This was a program that brought foreign dignitaries or influentials to the United States for a 30-day tour of the country to better know the US, its people and culture. If they wanted to visit to the Northwest I would get a call as I did one day “Drake, would you be willing to host a 3-day visit by the Minister of Fisheries of Morocco? “Sure, send me the resume and I will organize his appointments.”
When I got the resume and found out the interests of Minister A, I called one of the members of our Port Commission, Ed Griemsmann, who was a retired Air Force pilot. Ed agreed to escort Minister A on his tour of the local fishing industry, the largest freezer plant in the world, the Alaska Ferry terminal, etc, etc. I had pointed out to Ed that Minister A had listed in his resume “President, Private Pilot’s Association of Morocco.” “That’s interesting,” said Ed, “I’ll take him up for a ride.” Ed owned a bi-plane that he kept at the local airport.
On the afternoon of the last day of Minister A’s visit Ed asked if he would like to go for a ride in a bi-plane. “Oh, that would be nice.” He innocently replied and went with Ed to the airport. What Ed did not tell him was that he was a stunt pilot. I leave it to your imagination what Ed did with this distinguished foreign dignitary! Rolls, loops, dives, drops, flying upside-down, etc. “A” claimed he thoroughly enjoyed the ride but I did not know how much until I got a phone call from someone in the State Dept. several weeks later.
“Drake, you did it again. We had an interview with Minister A before he left for Morocco and found out that after a 30-day tour of the United States all he wanted to talk about was Bellingham. Tell me, Drake, who the hell was that pilot?”
Maybe we should do the same with all visiting Ministers of State! It might help our foreign relations. Thanks, Ed.