Recall that Board members Mr. and Mrs. Henson wanted to help open Straight, Inc. because they were under the impression that this program was going to be similar to The Seed Program (I will cover The Seed Program in-depth in future posts) only without all of the negative aspects of The Seed. Straight, Inc. was supposed to be a kinder, more gentle version of The Seed. So, it is easy to understand why Mr. Henson was voicing concerns to the Officers and to fellow members of the Board of Directors of Straight when he saw that things were opposite of what he had expected.
Also call to mind that a former client’s parents wrote a letter to the Board of Directors and the Advisory Committee to inform them of their removal of their daughter from Straight, Inc. on January 30, 1977, and some of their reasons for this removal. The letter included statements not only about how they thought that Straight’s staff and its administration used ‘cruel gestapo tactics’ instead of using love, empathy and sensitivity; but also how (the executive staff members) Jim Hartz and Helen Petermann told the parents to stay away from the Henson family, “People like the Hensons were nothing but trouble and they did not know what they were doing.” They also told these parents that they would be real sorry if they associated with the likes of them.
On December 4, 1977, the St. Petersburg Times newspaper published and article, STRAIGHT: Six directors have resigned, but drug program officials say lives are being saved. It is stated in the first sentence that six corporate directors have resigned to protest its management and treatment techniques. ‘One director has accused the nonprofit corporation of “misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance.”
misfeasance – the willful inappropriate action or intentional incorrect action or advice.
malfeasance – the willful and intentional action that injures a party.
nonfeasance – is the failure to act where action is required—willfully or in neglect
Director Jim Hartz and Board President Melvin F. Sembler called the resignations insignificant and stated, “These individuals don’t know how a board functions.” Sembler said several of the former directors were invited to discuss their grievances and a board meeting; but the declined,” according to the news article.
However, according to the interview with one of the directors that resigned, he wrote a letter about his concerns which prompted an executive meeting. At that meeting, Betty Sembler read the issues then said, “You son of bitch who do you think you are to question anything my husband does?” And she continued yelling as he walked out the door.
When a former volunteer told the reporters about Mrs. Petermann maliciously kicking a youth, both Hartz and Petermann flatly denied that it took place and Petermann is quoted as saying, “I sure wish they (disgruntled former directors) would get off my back, they would love to see this (program) go down the drain.”
Hartz is quoted as saying this about the directors who resigned, “They couldn’t get their own egos out of the way. They just wanted to run the whole thing. They were upset that the program could be run so well without them. This board has come through some growth problems, and people have left. These people were trying to be so damned picky. Any group would have this problem — go to any church board.”
Hartz also referred to this topic of the directors’ resignation as “digging up…garbage.” He said he tried to make the complaining directors happy – “we did everything we could.” Then he compared them to small children, “If they didn’t get their candy, they would go home.”
The young counselors Debbie Solanes, 19 at the time, and Diana Shanahan, 20 at that time, who were members of Straight’s founding para-professional treatment staff, were also not immune from suffering consequences when they also resigned protest, according to a December 22, 1977 St. Petersburg Times article. The girls claimed their former boss “maliciously” had them fired from jobs with a Clearwater retirement home, where their new supervisor coincidentally had children enrolled in Straight.
Hartz allegedly instructed the administrator to fire the two women or he would not permit the administrator’s children “to visit with their mother,” the suit says. Hartz was unavailable for comment but the retirement home administrator denied the allegations. She said the two women frequently discussed their dispute with Straight while on the job, and “it was disruptive,” but the firing was not done at Hartz’s orders.