An Open Letter to Disability Network West Michigan Board of Directors

On January 29, 2015, advocates received a letter from Disability Network West Michigan’s Board President and Executive Director via registered mail. You can read the letter in its entirety below. This is my response – presented publicly, since private communication between advocates and Board members has now been prohibited at the President’s request.

In Response to Your “Respectful Request” That We Be Silent

Disability Network West Michigan Board of Directors,

It’s not ok for you to treat people this way. 

Since January 1, 2015, Disability Network West Michigan has: driven the only disability rights advocate from your Board; held a secret Board meeting while advocates waited at the location you appointed and announced; implemented a moratorium on communication between advocates, Board, and staff; and sent a registered letter ham-fistedly attempting to intimidate the very community you are responsible to serve.

I’m not ok with any of this, and I will not be silent. 

A few notes on the claims made in your letter:

  1. The idea that discussing consumer control at your Center for Independent Living is “negatively impacting your ability to meet the needs of your consumers” is absurd. If you cannot properly run a functioning Center for Independent Living that operates within the law, please step aside.
  2. You have not “listened to us respectfully on numerous occasions” and I will not be silent as you attempt to paint yourselves as the victims in this situation.
  3. Your assertion that the DNWM Board is operating with 51% people with significant disabilities is simply not true. Your current Board stands at 37.5%.
  4. It is not my job to prove that you are out of compliance with the law. It is your job to be in compliance with the law, and to be able to demonstrate that. So I ask you, if DNWM is in compliance with the law, where is your Board roster? Where is the supporting evidence we have been requesting for over five months?
  5. I think the organizations you list as having “concurred that your organization is and has been in compliance with the law” may be surprised to hear that. Unfortunately, assertions like these prove that you do not have a firm grasp of Independent Living.
  6. CILs have a responsibility to develop and maintain a relationship with the local disability community. The Muskegon disability community is here – on your doorstep. We are telling you that the CIL’s relationship with the community is broken. It’s time to listen.

Despite all of this unpleasantness, we stand ready to work with you. Please reconsider your position and reengage with our community, so that we can build a fully functioning Center for Independent Living that is able to represent the interests of the Muskegon disability community. I look forward to a renewed commitment to working together in advancement of our mutual interests.

Eleanor Canter
Co-Signatories: Darma Canter, Frank Minor, Brian Dian, Andrew Mitchell, Paul Jones, Joan Osterberg

Enter your name below to be added as a signatory to this letter:

Cease and Desist Letter from Disability Network West Michigan Center for Independent Living to Muskegon Disability Rights Advocates

January 23, 2015

Darma Canter
1898 Orshal Road
Muskegon, MI 49445

Mrs. Canter:

As the new Executive Director and Board President of Disability Network West Michigan, we wanted to reach out and address your concerns over our organization’s compliance with the law and our commitment to inclusion.

Disability Network West Michigan Cease and Desist Letter to Muskegon Advocates (fully captioned in article)Our mission is to “advocate, educate, empower and provide resources for persons with disabilities and promote accessible communities.” In everything we do, from the programming we offer to our recent search for a new Executive Director, we strive to fulfill that mission while complying with the letter – and spirit – of the law. After learning of your allegations, we have reviewed our operations, our bylaws, and our recent search and discussed the with the National Center for Independent Living [sic], Disability Network/Michigan, Michigan Statewide Independent Living Council, individual independent living centers in our state and our own legal counsel. We believe, and they concur, that our organization is and has been in compliance with the law.

Disability Network West Michigan remains committed to being a consumer-run organization as defined in the Workforce Innovation Opportunities Act of 2014. Our board is – and has been – comprised of at least 51 percent of individuals with a wide range of disabilities. At least 51% of our employees have – or have had – disabilities as defined by WIOA. As an organization, we remain focused on executing our strategic vision to ensure that accessibility will be an accepted civil right.

You and other members of Peer Action Alliance have made disparaging allegations verbally, in writing and online that are negatively impacting our ability to meet the needs of our consumers. While we welcome input from the greater Muskegon community, we find that your approach is not conducive to a constructive dialogue. Our employees and board members have listened to you respectfully on numerous occasions and tried to address the issues you have raised, yet our efforts do not seem to meet your demands.

We respectfully request that you refrain from using language that is slanderous or libelous when talking about Disability Network West Michigan. This includes public presentations about our organization, written communication or online discussions. Should you choose not to do so, we may be forced to take additional steps to end the slander and libel.

We would further ask that you address any further concerns to Temera Collier only in writing. You may also choose to reach out to the Administration on Community Living [sic] at, One Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC 20001, or other grant making entities that require compliance with the WIOA to share concerns about our compliance with the standards of being a CIL.

Regards,

Michael Hamm,
Board President, Disability Network West Michigan

Tamera Collier
Exective Director, Disability Network West Michigan

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