[Hpn] URGENT STREETWISE UPDATE AND ACTION ALERTFEB 8, 2001 (third attempt!!) attempt!!)

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Sat, 10 Feb 2001 17:43:56 -0700

This was the original posting that "StreetWise has come a long way" was
attached to. I can see it still hasn't made it on the list, doubtlessly
because with the attachment the message exceeded 40k.

It also has an abrupt ending, but I can appreciate that it may have been
written in an environment that's pretty hostile to justice. These folks (the
vendors and editorial staff) need our support because they are being
exploited in the interests of commerce.


FEB  8, 2001

Following is an account of the current situation at StreetWise newspaper.
For background information on this crisis situation, see the letter at the
end of this email, which resulted in the firing of much of the editorial
staff;  the Feb 8 edition of the Chicago Reader Hot Type);  and
Call 773-544-0804 or 773-275-961 for details, or respod to Karilyde@aol.com

We have called a protest during the Board of Directors meeting, Tues Feb 13,
from 5pm-7pm, outside the StreetWise offices, 1331 S Michigan Ave. Call
773-544-0804 or 773-275-9561 for more info

At 9 p.m. on Wednesday night, Feb. 7, the StreetWise operations manager
called the four members of the StreetWise editorial staff who had been fired
and locked out in the preceeding two days, asking that they return to work
that night to finish the paper.
On Feb. 6, executive director Anthony Oliver had promised in the Chicago
Tribune that the paper would come out on time, without the editorial staff.
former StreetWise editor was flown in from California for this purpose, but
management realized it was impossible to put the paper out  without the
staff.At a meeting Thursday morning, Feb. 8, operations manager Diane Kenner
refused the staff’s requests for statements that there would be no more
retaliatory firing and no censorship of the paper. Despite the denial of
their requests, the staff elected to complete the paper in good faith for
good of the vendors. Kenner refused to clarify whether Associate Editor Kari
Lydersen and Commentary Editor John Wilson, who had been terminated on Feb.
7, were still in fact fired. Kenner actually made the statement to Lydersen
that as a “freelance writer,” “You mean nothing in this organization.”
Apparently she was unaware of the fact that Lydersen has been a part-time
salaried Associate Editor for over two years and a member of the staff for
almost four years.
Then John Ellis, the former editor flown in as an editorial consultant,
informed the staff that by order of the Board of Directors, Oliver and
were to have no say in the paper and no contact with the editorial staff
until the scheduled Monday meeting between the staff and Board of Directors
The staff did in fact finish the paper by deadline, turning out a product
that they feel proud of. As production chief Gomez was leaving the building
to take the disks to NewsWeb for printing, Oliver violated the Board’s
by demanding Gomez surrender the disk.
The staff was also told that Oliver called a meeting in which he announced
the staff was called back because they had sabotaged the software and they
the only ones who could open it. This is a blatant lie.
The staff is extremely upset about this violation of the Board’s orders, the
lies told by Oliver and the potential for censorship that Oliver’s action
The staff also feels betrayed in that we agreed to put out the paper,
our requested protections against future retaliation and censorship, only to
have Oliver violate the terms of our agreement and slander us. In light of
recent events, we are fully expecting further retaliation in the near
Please contact the Board of Directors to express your concern about these
Their contact information is listed below.

Executive Director ANthony Oliver
312-554-8341 or 312-554-0060
Fax: 312-554-0770
Board of Directors:
President Pam McElvaine
Black MBA Magazine
312-236-2622 ext. 8276
Fax: 312-236-2631
Vice President Peter Wilkins
iBEAM Broadcasting
Fax: 773-281-9850
Treasurer Judd Horowitz
Fax: 847-677-9331
Secretary Rhiannon Schmieg
Fax: 847-605-4356
Vendor Rep Greg Pritchett
Fax: 312-554-0770
Gail Waller
Fax: 312-642-3547
Zemira Jones
ABC Radio President and General manager
Fax: 312-782-6349
Bruce Crane
Crane Carton Company
Fax: 773-722-3510
Congressman Danny K. Davis
Fax: 773-533-7530
Mark Blankenstein
Fax: 425-799-4336
Willa Holden 
United Airlines
Fax: 847-364-0103
Bob Szafranski
PCI Communications
Fax: 312-558-5425
Dan Hynes
State Comptroller
Fax: 312-814-4682

Letter sent to the Board of Directors Mon. Feb. 5, which resulted in the
firing of Commentary Editor John K Wilson, Associate Editor Kari Lydersen
and writer Rayford Allen and the forced leave of absence of Editor Charity
Crouse and production editor Allan Gomez:

Monday, Feb. 5, 2001

Dear members of the StreetWise Board of Directors:

We the staff, vendors and supporters of StreetWise have invested a
tremendous amount of professional, emotional and personal resources into the
publication. We are extremely proud of the quality product we put out and
the wide-ranging support that we have throughout the city, as evidenced in
the many complimentary letters and comments we get constantly. We remain
passionately concerned about the livelihoods of homeless men and women
around Chicago. Regrettably, however, recent events have forced us to send
you this letter in a desperate attempt to prevent an already crisis
situation from further escalating. This situation threatens not only the
output and reputation of the organization, but the reputations of all of
those associated with the organization and its Executive Director, including
members of StreetWise’s Board of Directors.

During the last year, Executive Director Mr. Anthony Oliver has claimed to
promote the organization’s mission of “empowering men and women who are
homeless or at risk of becoming homeless as they work toward gainful
employment and self-sufficiency” to those outside of the organization or in
positions of authority over him within the organization. Yet, he has
consistently used the staff and vendors’ orchestrated dependency on him as a
means to manipulate and exploit the collective talents and skills of
StreetWise staff, volunteers and vendors and put the organization at risk.
This letter will attempt to address three critical areas: poor
administrative and economic management that has imperiled the organization
and potentially put it at liability; a pattern of exploitative labor
practices and unethical policy implementation; and critically low staff
morale as a result of one-way communication flow and deceptive management.

In the last three weeks, various members of the organization have been
trying to ignore calls by outside reporters, inquiring as to the
circumstances behind the firing of Editor-in-Chief Jalyne Strong and
allegations of a cover-up by members of the Executive Committee of the Board
of Directors for these and other matters pertaining to prior staff. Members
of StreetWise have subsequently been informed that the organization has been
threatened with a wrongful termination lawsuit and staff could be called as
potential witnesses in an unemployment hearing and other litigation, putting
the organization at liability and creating a conflict of interest for
current staff. 

Several members of StreetWise knew that Strong had initiated grievance
proceedings with the Executive Committee against Mr. Oliver on Jan. 8
including allegations of misappropriation of funds and harassment, and that
she expected retaliation. During her departure on Jan. 12, Strong announced
to members of the editorial department that she was being forced to leave
the building by Mr. Oliver, and other staff members claim that they were
told to prevent Ms. Strong from re-entering the building. On Jan. 22, Ms.
Strong was required to get a police escort to collect her personal
belongings. We have also been informed that the Executive Committee has yet
to officially respond to her grievances; several lawyers have told us that
her firing violates both federal labor law and StreetWise’s own Employee

Further legal or media investigations would find that abuses are rampant
within the organization. Mr. Oliver’s mismanagement, unconstructive
leadership style, and refusal to deal forthrightly and directly with staff
have yielded consequences that we believe to be damaging to the immediate
and long-term viability of the organization. Turnover at StreetWise is
astronomical. Of the six key full-time staff members with supervisory
responsibility that began the transition to weekly, only one remains. The
signatories of this letter represent the overwhelming majority of remaining
staff and contractors that were employed at StreetWise since it increased
the price to vendors by 10 cents. This employment situation has created a
work environment overwhelmed by disorganization and lack of continuity, and
made it difficult to retain qualified and committed individuals.

StreetWise DC, launched with the intentions of being a monthly newspaper,
has been scaled back first to a semi-monthly and now to a quarterly
publication because of Oliver’s refusal to address production and other
resource needs both in DC and Chicago. Additionally, editorial contributors
to prior DC issues are still awaiting payments for their articles and
pictures, while recent actions by Oliver have left the DC operation without
confirmation on when the next issue will be available for distribution.

In Chicago, recent non-negotiable policy changes jeopardize the organization
and newspaper’s financial future and reputation. Relationships established
with businesses have been damaged by outstanding debts accrued because the
funds to pay them have yet to be released. A cursory look at recent issues
of the newspaper shows that regular advertising content and revenue has
dropped dramatically, especially in the last month, yet monthly advertising
special sections initiatives have been proposed. These special sections have
recently been made editorial priorities and are questionable both in their
aim and in their potential for success. Mr. Oliver has stressed several
times recently to the editor and other editorial staff that the content of
the paper needs to be refined to be more in line with the “future vision” of
the organization, especially its emphasis on attracting advertisers who
might find critical editorial coverage objectionable. He has also stressed
in a recent management meeting and on the editor’s
 work plan outline that editorial content must be approved in management
meetings. Additional plans for providing advertisers with access to
editorial exposure threaten to damage the integrity of the paper as a
journalistic news source and raise serious questions about the objectivity
of our coverage. Attempts by members of editorial to raise this issue with
Mr. Oliver are dismissed outright and met with accusations regarding our
presumed “political agendas.” Regardless of the serious ethical questions
such planned policies raise, Mr. Oliver’s refusal to allocate the resources
necessary for the successful production of such special sections ensures
that they will flounder and already stretched staff and technical resources
will be diverted from the production of the paper, compromising its quality.

The lack of adequate support staff is a problem that afflicts all
departments, including the departments headed by newly acquired managers. A
Board inquiry would reveal that many new staff and managers recognize this
already and have attempted to address this with Mr. Oliver to no avail. For
several years, almost every department at StreetWise has been told to cut
departmental costs and redistribute increased work responsibilities among
already overextended staff without managers or staff ever seeing a budget or
any financial statement as to the organization’s progress or current
financial status. Since the increase to weekly production, members of
management had been engaged in an arduous negotiation process with Mr.
Oliver for staff increases that we said needed to be implemented before the
transition, but were told would not be secured until after it was underway.
Following this work increase and months worth of unresponsiveness, denial
and intimidation by Mr. Oliver, a November Managerial Retreat was hel
d at the recommendation of Board President Pam McElvaine after we informed
her that the organization had reached a crisis point. As a result of that
retreat, we told Mr. Oliver that staff increases had to be implemented
before any further expansion of responsibilities was even a realistic
possibility. But it was not until this past month that the promises that
were to have been implemented over nine months ago were filled, and other
staff and resource increases that are required before further expansion is
possible have been denied.

A review of recent staff, benefits and payroll allocations reveals that
vendors and entry-level employees are the ones who are most vulnerable to
exploitation within the organization and whose concerns are the least likely
to be attended to. The recurring pattern of neglecting those who are
considered expendable to the organization can be readily seen in the
inequitable distribution of pay, benefits and job security and by Mr.
Oliver’s unrelenting insistence that they perform at ever-increasing levels
of productivity without adequate compensation. This includes the members of
the Quality Assurance Team and the cashiers who have been ignored, denied or
intimidated in their attempts to address with Mr. Oliver their compensation
and workplace needs—needs that include heating, lights for their work areas
and adequate attention to other occupational hazards that could additionally
put the organization at liability.

Continuing turnover in staff and Mr. Oliver’s shifting priorities have seen
the absence of staff, support for vendor volunteers or instructors in the
Work Empowerment Center for the last five months and a recent focus on
revenue-generating initiatives that neglect to respond to the immediate
concerns of vendors. Since the departure of former Work Empowerment Center
manager Ms. Paula Mathieu, members of editorial have stepped up to assist in
the completion of projects for which funding was already secured, including
the production of a vendor poetry book that was to be produced with a $6,100
allocation from a $26,000 grant obtained by Ms. Mathieu. However, no
definitive budget has been provided for the book and amounts that have been
approved for its design and production total well below the $6,100 allotted
for it; no budget for the Work Empowerment Center has ever been produced to
account for the remaining money from that grant. Since the sudden
announcement of the organization’s restructuring—for which no
input into its viability or desirability was solicited from staff, to which
veteran management expressed skepticism and refused to support when it was
brought up at the Managerial Retreat—the organization’s ambitions have been
concentrated on developing a costly and high maintenance Socially
Responsible Advertisers (SRA) initiative. This initiative, which will
presumably benefit vendors indirectly, has been prioritized over much
discussed and developing distributions aims—aims that are more economically
feasible; serve several of the same purposes regarding partnership
development, marketing and image as the SRA initiative; and would directly
benefit vendors.

Such financially and ethically unsound measures are compounded by the fact
that at the beginning of January, the “promised” staff increases that were
delivered and that required that the personnel budget be nearly doubled
included the addition of unnecessary and high-cost upper-level management
positions, which serve primarily to create a buffer between staff and the
Executive Director, isolate departments from one another, and ensure that
the only full-time staff at StreetWise is management so as to prevent staff
from organizing against these working conditions. Oliver’s actions over the
course of the last year served to consolidate all authority and input for
making and executing vital decisions regarding the organization under him
directly, yet delegate blame for the organizations many problems among