Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Carnegie Director accused of failing to deliver taxpayer funded services to the poor.

Tuesday evening was cold and Vancouver's poor were huddled inside the Carnegie Centre. But when it came to indoor services, they were left out in the cold so to speak.

A steady stream of Carnegie members were trudging up to the third floor computer room to put their names on a waiting list to get an hour on a computer. What else do you do on one of the coldest nights of the year? Some people had a few hours to kill before the shelters opened at around 11 p.m. Some people had actually ventured out into the uncharacteristically low temperature for the sole purpose of getting to Carnegie to put their name on the computer waiting list. But there was no waiting list. The door of the computer room was locked. The lights were out.

Carnegie Director Ethel Whitty was aware that the lights were out. She saw it herself. She walked to the washroom directly across a narrow hallway from the darkened computer room. What did Whitty, to whom taxpayers pay $104,000 a year to manage delivery of Carnegie services to the poor, do?

She took off out the door.

It was 6:50 p.m., a peak hour for computer room use. As Whitty ducked out, she was looking PC perfect in her Cowichan sweater with a little pack sack slung over her shoulder. But there was something so not PC about leaving roughly 44 poor people who could have accessed computers out in the cold.

How did I calculate 44 people? You can figure it out by the number of computers available and the time allotted to each person during the four hour evening shift. Those much in demand computers are never idle.

When my friend D.J. later learned of Ethel’s exit, he joked, “She had shopping to do. She has $104,000 burning a hole in her pocket.” He knows who she is; he recalled her being pointed out to him in the Carnegie cafeteria. She was eating a veggie burger. PC perfect.

There was no excuse for leaving people to twiddle their thumbs in a small Community Centre with a wage bill approaching a million dollars annually. But the excuse is always the same: an unpaid volunteer didn't show up. Carnegie has multiple staff persons responsible for "co-ordinating" volunteers. So where's the co-ordination?

Why can't Carnegie management manage to deliver services? It would have taken Whitty no more than 10 minutes on Tuesday evening to get the computer room up and running before she trotted out the door. She could have offered a Carnegie member a few cafeteria food and coffee vouchers in exchange for monitoring the computer room for a few hours. (Artists do this weekly at Carnegie to persuade people to sit to have their pictures sketched.) The computers are bolted down so there is little danger of anyone stealing one. Whitty could even have sat in the computer room herself. She and her Assistant Director Dan Tetrault cost the taxpayer roughly $200,000 a year, so why can't they consistently keep open the few services offered in the building?

The computer room is scheduled to be open from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m every evening. People count on staff to honour that schedule. When one woman got to the top of the third floor stairway and was told by her boyfriend that the computer room was closed, you should have seen the disappointment on her face. She just groaned. If there's one thing the poor want more than agitprop theatre, more than safe fixing booths with movie star mirrors framed with light bulbs, it is access to computers and the internet. But Carnegie does not provide many on-ramps to the information highway, which of course could help the poor find an off-ramp from the poverty industry.

The closing down of any key service at Carnegie puts excessive pressure on other services in the building. When Whitty walked out and left the upstairs computer room locked, people 40 years of age and over trekked to the basement to put their names on a waiting list to access the three precious computers in the Seniors Lounge. This led to an extra long waiting list of frustrated people in the Seniors Lounge, a room which was at standing-room-only capacity on such a cold night.

What happened on Tuesday evening with Whitty leaving the Computer room locked up when the poor needed something to occupy them is an ongoing problem at Carnegie, to the point where there was talk last summer of pushing for a forensic audit. Tuesday evening was the second time in the past week that Carnegie members have been locked out of the computer room. And that's not counting last week when Whitty locked members out of the entire building for 3 hours on welfare day so that she could have a meeting with her staff. Gringo fleece taxpayer can never be guaranteed that his or her tax dollars are translating into services promised to the poor.

Fed up at seeing the underclass idling outside yet another locked door, one Carnegie member expressed a wish on Tuesday evening that the taxpayer could be here to see this. Hey, that's a line in a Bruce Cockburn song: "Wishing you were here on the coldest night of the year."


Anonymous said...


Friday, December 01, 2006 10:11:44 AM

Anonymous said...

why don't you do it?

Friday, December 01, 2006 10:13:51 AM

carlm04 said...

you do the job

Friday, December 01, 2006 10:15:41 AM

reliable sources said...


You wrote:

The taxpayers pay a wage bill approaching a million dollars annually at Carnegie, but when services are not delivered, Joe and Jane taxpayer are supposed to buy the "Blame the volunteers" excuse?

Here is a scenario that is not atypical: On the Saturday that the opera was playing, the 3rd floor Learning Centre was locked even though it was supposed to be open that day. People arriving to develop computer literacy skills in the Learning Centre were turned away. Rika, a paid staff person who has a supervisory role in relation to the Learning Centre, was standing outside the locked door chatting with people in costumes and face masks. She could have simply sat in the Learning Centre herself to keep it open. Or she could have scurried around and found other people to sit in there to keep it open. A supervisor's job is not to stand outside a locked door.

Maybe Rika was on a high that day because a Japanese-Canadian magazine had just made her the cover girl -- there was a close up of her smiling face on the cover (courtesy of government grants, of course). In an interview with Rika published in the magazine, she was identified as an 'Education and Arts' Co-ordinator at Carnegie. During her interview, she threw in a reference to her 'work responsibilities' as though she was a committment and responsibilities kind of gal. That magazine came out the day she stood outside the locked door and allowed students to be turned away.

But Rika is not unique in letting Carnegie services slide. I recall a day when the service disintegration at Carnegie was so severe that every service on the third floor was closed "because there are no volunteers". The offices on the third floor house the Carnegie Director, the Assistant Director, the volunteer Co-ordinator, the Volunteer Co-ordinator's assistant, the Eduation Co-ordinator, and an array of other employees -- but services were dead. Carnegie management staff have, to some extent, lost connection to the fact that they were hired to deliver services to the poor. Carnegie members refer to management as the "Carnegie Circle Jerk" for a reason.

Friday, December 01, 2006 12:39:48 PM

Anonymous said...

Instead of bitching and complaining on a blog why don't you get off you ass and do something to facilitate the kind of changes you want to see around Carnegie? The author of this blog flogs the same dead horse day in and day out about how bad the services are at Carnegie but does nothing to change them. Get a life already!!!!

Friday, December 01, 2006 6:59:15 PM

Anonymous said...


Friday, December 01, 2006 9:12:57 PM

Anonymous said...

what village lost their idiot?

Friday, December 01, 2006 9:16:07 PM

reliable sources said...


You write:
“Instead of bitching and complaining on a blog why don't you get off you (sic) ass and do something to facilitate the kind of changes you want to see around Carnegie?”
Why is it that when the taxpayer pays an almost one million dollar annual wage bill at the Carnegie, including almost $200,000 for the Director and Assistant Director – and an operating budget on top of that -- you expect someone off the street to come in to “facilitate” the delivery of basic services. What you refer to as “the kind of changes you want” are not complicated; just keeping doors of basic services unlocked would suffice.

Believe me, for years, people have been trying what you suggest. But how do you get results on the basic problem of under performing staff – the Director, Assistant Director, Volunteer Co-ordinator, Asst. Volunteer Co-ordinator, Education Co-ordinator, and Seniors Lounge Co-ordinator – at Carnegie. Most of them are well aware that their asses will be covered quicker than you can say “Canadian Union of Public Employees.” In the case of the Director and Asst. Director, the City Manager Judy Rogers and Mayor Sam Sullivan, have been aware of the problem for some time.

The City can’t fire Director Ethel Whitty and she knows it. They terminated a previous Carnegie Director, Marilyn Sarti. (She seemed competent enough, actually, but there are a lot of politics around Carnegie, not to mention the fact that she and her ex-husband who wields influence at Carnegie weren’t exactly on an extended honeymoon, and she had made the mistake of speaking up about a sexual harassment issue.) She sued the City and the settlement was hush hush. The City doesn’t want another pay- through-the-nose settlement with Whitty. Like the advice, tinged with misogyny, that divorce lawyers give: “It’s cheaper to keep her.”

Saturday, December 02, 2006 7:45:29 PM

truepeers said...

Love your blog, RS; i'm much pleased a friend sent me this way today; this is what blogging is all about and why it just might change our world. It's great to see you have some people pissing their pants, as if someone pointing out some basic facts about a lousy work and social ethic were like a heretic from the dark ages, which is apparently where CUPE spends a lot of their spare time. Err, I mean workplace time; spare time is for shopping and!

Keep in touch...

Saturday, December 09, 2006 8:44:58 PM

reliable sources said...


Your encouraging feedback is much appreciated, especially after being called a "turd" and a "snake".

Sunday, December 10, 2006 8:27:32 PM