January 1978 Report from Florida’s District V Mental Health Task Force Investigation
So far we’ve heard from former and current (at the time of the investigation interviews) Board members and parents who had children in Straight, Inc. at an earlier time. Next, we will look at what current and former Straight, Inc. staff members/employees had to say to the investigators.
Interviews of People Who Were Still on Staff During this Investigation
Thirteen (13) members of the current staff were interviewed. Investigators questions elicited the following responses:
- Only Jim Hartz held a college degree, Hartz has a Masters in Psychology. Two (2) had completed two years of college, two were attending college and the remainder had high school education.
- All staff stated that they had accurate job descriptions.
- All staff seemed to understand the grievance procedures.
- There did not appear to be any written personnel policies.
- The senior staff meets weekly and the entire staff meets once per month.
- No one felt that there was any job discrimination.
- All staff felt that the Board of Directors was cognizant of the operation of the Center.
- Three (3) of the staff have undergone on-the-job training, three have had JWB Listening Training (author’s note: JWB – Juvenile Welfare Board).
- All felt that the Administration was supporting of their efforts.
- No one reported any client being retained in the program against his will.
Interviews with Previous Staff Members
Next, four previous employees of Straight, Inc. were interviewed: Mike and Diana Shanahan were interviewed on Dec. 14, 1977 and Ron and Debbie Solanes were interviewed on December 20, 1977. The following was reported by those interviewed:
- None of those interviewed had received any in-service training at Straight. Only one had any previous experience in drug abuse rehabilitation.
- None were aware of any written personnel policies.
- Actual salary was less than promised salary.
- Many times required to work in excess of 40 hours with no compensation.
- Required to take clients home with them if no foster home available.
- Were instructed that they were not to attend Board meetings or go to the homes of Board members. The reason given was that “there were some things the Board members did not need to know.”
- All felt that they were used to set up the program and then the administration’s position changed to “you are not needed any more, there’s the door.”
- Client at times were held against their will in that they were physically held until they had calmed down and were no longer upset and compulsive.
- Two former staff members observed Helen Petermann hold a client by the hair and slap him repeatedly; when one of them attempted to stop her, he was told by Mrs. Petermann to “get out of here.”
- All felt that clients were verbally abused during “come down” sessions.
- Two reported that the majority of the foster home inspections were written up where as no visit was actually made to the home.
- All reported that client records were falsified in that they were not accomplished timely and routinely, but that many were done long after the due date, based on memory. Pat phrases were used solely to make the records look complete.
- Several clients who had extensive emotional problems were refused referral to outside professional treatment by Jim Hartz.
Included in this report is the Deborah Solanes written resignation to Jim Hartz on Straight, Inc. letterhead dated April 22, 1977, in which she outlines specifically why she is resigning.
Please accept this letter as my resignation as a staff member of Straight, Inc.
While I do appreciate some of the opportunities I’ve been given at Straight, Inc., I feel that it is in my own best interest and the best interests of the program to leave rather than to support some of the policies that have been in effect for some time now.
In order to better clarify my position, I would like to list some of my reasons more specifically:
- A health insurance package was promised and not delivered.
- Initially I was offered an annual salary or $6,500. After 8 months my salary is $6,350.00.
- The original staff members were told there would be promotions from within. To date this has not happened.
- Putting adult staff members in positions of authority, I believe has undermined the effectiveness of the younger staff members.
- You’ve objected to my off-duty friendships with other staff members. I feel that I have the right to associate with whomever I please, provided my choice of friends does not reflect unfavorably on the program.
- After working 50 – 60 hours per week for a prolonged period of time, my dedication to the program was questioned, an attitude that hurt me personally and that I find unacceptable.
- I feel that you, as Director of the program, have relinquished your authority to adult staff members and your relationship with the younger staff members, like myself, has suffered accordingly.
- In a recent staff meeting, my effectiveness as a group leader was questioned, I believe unfairly. You appeared to agree with the unfavorable comments.
In view of the above, my decision to resign is the only logical course of action to take.
Please understand that this decision is being made only after a great deal of soul searching. If my criticisms seem harsh it is only because I sincerely want Straight, Inc. to be around for a long time.
I’ve gained a great deal of personal satisfaction from whatever contribution I’ve been able to make to the program. Regardless of your personal evaluation of my performance, I feel secure in the knowledge that I’ve done my very best to help and support the program. Hopefully my efforts will not have been in vain.
In return Jim Hartz wrote this on April 25, 1977:
To: Deborah Solanes
From: Jim Hartz
In view of the situations past and much careful consideration I have decided to accept your resignation dated April 22, which is effective April 30, 1977.
I thought that several statements in your letter of resignation were out of context or misrepresentation of facts. However, I hope you will continue to strive for your full potential and be willing to exhibit those qualities necessary for such fulfillment.
I feel that your decision is in the interest of the program, and only hope for the most for your future and future employment.
Again, good luck in the near future and visit us as you can.
James E. Hartz
And the final correspondence was dated April 30, 1977:
TO: Deborah Solanes
FROM: Jim Hartz
Enclosed please find you payroll check for period ending April 30, 1977. Also included in this payment you will find one extra weeks pay. This covers any vacation time accumulated during your past employment.
We wish you the best of luck in the near future, and hope you will come visit,
From all the staff and kids at Straight,
James E. Hartz
Here is the final interview that I could find conducted during this 1978 investigation with staff members.
Michael and Diana Shanahan agreed that in the beginning the Straight Program was a very good program and was working well. They stated they felt after having gone through The Seed and being involved in The Seed they were able to bring the best things from The Seed Program to the Straight Program and do away with the things that they felt were objectionable in that program. The Shanahans both advised that the element of fear was not in the Straight Program in the beginning and they were able to relate to the kids and felt a very close relationship with a lot of the clients. The Shanahans felt the clients were responding to this type of treatment knowing that someone cared and was willing to help them through their problems.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Shanahan felt the program began to develop problems when Mrs. Petermann was appointed Staff Supervisor and given authority over all staff members in the program. They advised that she was preoccupied with sex and that she, in fact, talk a lot about sex in groups. Diana Shanahan advised that at one time while conducting a rap group Mrs. Petermann got down on the floor in front of the group, which consisted of girls and demonstrated various sex positions to the girls in the group indicating those were positions used in various parts of the world.
It should be noted that this was later corroborated by Mrs. Henson who advised that the ____ daughter was in that particular group and observed what Mrs. Shanahan had stated.
The Shanahans both advised that it was clearly understood by the staff that no one under 18 could leave the program by just walking out. Mike Shanahan advised that Jim Hartz said that if a kid went outside the building we couldn’t stop them but if they were still in the building we could stop them anyway we wanted to within reason. Mike said he asked Jim Hartz if he meant just don’t hit them and knock them down and he said that Hartz replied, “No, use equal force but just don’t tell anybody.” Shanahans stated that on many occasions Mike was called upon to help drag a client for failure to participate in running or exercise programs within the program or to subdue a client who had become unruly.
The Shanahans felt that after Mrs. Petermann took over the program the element of fear began to creep into the program and become a part of it. Diana Shanahan advised at one point she saw Mrs. Petermann slap _____ in the face several times after she picked the child up by his hair. She then took him in a room and hit him several more times and Ron Solanes tried to stop it and was told by Mrs. Petermann to “get the hell out, I can handle this.” According to Mrs. Shanahan this took place around 8:30 to 9:00pm during the month of July , however, she did not recall the exact date. Others present beside Diana Shanahan and Ron Solanes was Ron’s wife, Debbie Solanes. The same youngster was made to sit in a room by himself from 8:00am until 10:00pm for approximately a week. He was fed and given water and taken back to the foster home at night. The Shanahans also advised that kids were made to scrub down bathrooms with a toothbrush or to sweep a parking lot with a small broom.
Both Shanahans both feel the program is very much needed in Pinellas County, but they have some bad feelings regarding Jim Hartz and Helen Petermann. The Shanahans feel that Jim Hartz is unqualified for his job and indicate that prior to his coming to the Straight Program he had no experience in dealing with drugs or druggies and knew nothing about them when he got the job. Both feel the program would work fine if Jim Hartz and Helen Petermann were not involved in it and in concluding the interview both felt that the fear tactics which they feel are now used in the program are very bad for the kids involved.