Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Carnegie Managers Cashing Pay Cheques for Half a Million Dollars decide the Poor should Pay an Extra 25 Cents for Meals

It is common knowledge that Carnegie Centre managers whose wages collectively top half a million annually, received a 25% raise over 5 years. And now these managers have ordered each poor person to pay an extra 25 cents for a meal at Carnegie Centre. Ethel Whitty who was making well over $100,000 even before the latest raise, has announced to the poor that they will now have to pay $3.25 for meal, rather than $3.00.

And the decision-making powers of the half million dollar management -- Ethel Whitty, Dan Tetrault, Brenda Procten, and David McLellan -- have resulted in major shrinkage of the amount of food on the plates served to the poor. For months now Carnegie members have been asking, "Who shrunk the meals?" The meals have become noticeably smaller as the wages of the half million dollar management have become noticeably larger along with the tax bills of home owners. I recall the amazement in the voice of Dean Obreau a few months ago when he was describing how little food was on the plate he had been served at Carnegie Centre. He died a few weeks later. No word if malnutrition was a contributing factor. RIP.

The Friday night before last, I bought a dinner and I couldn't believe it: there was a scoop of carrot-spinach salad (hardly any spinach) with dressing, and a bowl of beans, almost like a soup. There was a sugary dessert too (although they put less sugar in their desserts than most cafeterias) but I asked to substitute a banana.

The place was deserted. When I grabbed a tray and stood by the steam trays deciding what to order, I was the only one there, where there would have been a line-up in the past. I sat in the dining area, eating and looking around. There was nobody to talk to; many of the people I've known over the years have been barred, never to return. It felt like Stalin's dining table, where historians report it was not uncommon for somebody who had been a regular to suddenly get extinguished under suspicion of not being a party-liner, never to return.

An extra 25 cents per meal is a lot to ask from people who have $150 a month to live on after their rent is paid (some have as little as $50 after their rent is paid; others have several hundred if they are on a disabled welfare rate.) There has been no 25% raise for welfare recipients or for the working poor.

Here's an example of Whitty's management wizardry, why she is, to borrow a phrase recently used by Penny Ballem, "paid the big bucks". Earlier this year, before deciding that the cafeteria couldn't function without the poor forking over an extra 25 cents per meal, Whitty hired two new cafeteria cashiers at union wages. Those jobs were previously performed by volunteers (getting work experience.) The new cashiers, Teo and Brent, are arguably less personable than the volunteers were. Teo has been named in a criminal complaint about activities at Carnegie.

I knew Whitty must be in a financial squeeze when a few months ago I saw the wheels of her propaganda machine turning. A two page colour spread appeared in the Province newspaper promoting the Carnegie cafeteria as the best thing for the poor. (There had previously been a big spread in the Vancouver Sun when the Carnegie street workers/police informants were facing cuts.) It was such puff piece that "Advertisement" should have been printed in small type at the top of the page. The reporter quoted cafeteria co-ordinator Catriona Moore saying there should be more cafeterias of this type in the City. A colour photo of Moore in the kitchen accompanied the story.

Whitty was also interviewed for the piece and couldn't conceal her attitude that Downtown Eastsiders are lepers: "They come, we accept them, we feed them." Here's the truth: "They come, we abuse them, and we are feeding them less and less."

The cafeteria is one of the few services at Carnegie, a Centre with a budget of over $3 million. (The Learning Centre is run separately by Capilano College, and the Carnegie Library is run by the Vancouver Public Library.) Most of the $3 million goes to Whitty and her paypals. How many highly paid City staff does it take to turn on a television in the basement day after day after day? None actually; they've delegated that job to a volunteer.

Time to trim the fat and put the food back on the plates.

Confidentiality Laws Ignored under Carnegie Director Ethel Whitty

It was a test. When a barring at Carnegie occurred in April 2010, a decision was made by the victim not to tell anybody. The goal was to expose the level of disregard for privacy law under Ethel Whitty.

Word spread fast. Within days, all staff in the cafeteria knew and soon the customer base got wind of it.

Five months have gone by. This weekend, the victim of the barring reportedly heard residents of her apartment building, one of whom works at Carnegie, talking about it.

An estimated 200 Carnegie members a year are victims of this reckless disregard for British Columbia's tough privacy laws.

Carnegie staff even attempted to get the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog to print material about female Carnegie members. They wanted women who had been barred or spoken up about undemocratic practices inside Carnegie to be identified -- they sent the DTES Enquirer the names of these women -- and they wanted them publicly labelled "barnyard animals" and "nudie lesbians". City Manager Penny Ballem was aware that this was occuring. So was Councilor Raymond Louie.

Whitty vigorously enforces privacy laws when it comes to staff at Carnegie, but not the clientele. At one point Whitty attempted to pass a motion at a Board meeting to prevent the names of staff from being mentioned at committee meetings where a complaint lodged against them was being discussed. When then Board member Rachel Davis objected, Whitty asked her why staff where "fair game", to which Davis responded that she resented the implication that she was viewing staff as prey to be hunted.

Contrast Whitty's protectiveness of staff with her attitude that a Carnegie member can be told that they are barred by a dumpster diver or some other person on the street who was told by Carnegie staff or who overheard Carnegie staff talking about it. One guy learned while eating dinner at the Evelyn Saller Centre that he was barred from Carnegie. Another guy dropped in to Carnegie to buy a tea and heard Security boss Skip Everall openly conspiring with a coffee shop volunteer to bar a member. "You're barred,", the tea buyer told the member on a Saturday night outside Carnegie. A meeting was held with Whitty about that breach of confidentiality; two years have passed and Everall has not been held accountable and Whitty has yet to even respond to the complaint.

The privacy of Carnegie staff is so fiercely protected that if a member lays a complaint with a security guard about physical aggression by a staff person -- there is plenty of staff aggression; ask the skateboarder who got thrown onto the marble floor by 3 security guards for bending the rules by using a pull-cart to return his library books -- they will be scolded by Security boss Skip Everall for doing so. Everall considers reporting staff to a security guard to be a breach of staff privacy. Complaints about staff must must be directed to Assistant Manager Dan Tetrault, Everall has asserted, and if a member feels at physical risk by a staff person, they are expected to wait until Tetrault docks his yacht and returns to work on his next scheduled shift. Security guards at Carnegie offer class-selective security, just as privacy laws are applied in a class-selective manner at Carnegie.

Whitty can't have it both ways. Carnegie is classified as a social service provider rather than a community centre, possibly as a means of maximizing funding, getting grants, etc. But most people use Carnegie as a community centre, dropping in to get a bite to eat in the cafeteria, use the Music program, check out books or use computers in the library. There are no social services being provided. But there is a social service mentality encouraged by Whitty and the staff; Whitty pushed to hire a security boss from a mental hospital, which revealed how she wanted people treated. The social service agency classification though would require that Whitty and her staff be particularly vigilant in ensuring that personal information about members is handled in a manner consistent with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. She ignores the Act.

Whitty has a license to practice as a social worker. Time it was revoked.