Chapter 8: Controversy at Polk Center
00:00:00.06 - 00:08:23.30
INTERVIEWER: So here you are. And you are here in the midst of all this change. And the change is happening rapidly. The way your office is set up administratively, there were people who were overseeing institutions. You were keeping your eye on the developing community system. But during your tenure, there was controversy at Polk. I wonder if that's something you care to--
ED GOLDMAN: Yes. What had happened. During my tenure, the department underwent administrative changes. And it created four Department of Public Welfare regions in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Scranton, and Harrisburg. And the administrative responsibility for running all of the services, the welfare, child correction everything that the welfare department did, was then handed over administratively to each of the four regions. What that meant to me is I was no longer responsible administratively for running the institutions that had not been part of my job. And trying to have one foot in both camps, so to speak, was difficult, because I knew whatever resources we put into institutions would be not available to develop the community program. But at the same time, there's over 10,000 people living in them. And they have every right to the best life in those environments that one could construct. So I will admit when the administrative changes took place, and I gave up the responsibility for where my heart was. But that was part of where my job was. So I no longer held the reins of the institutions. And in September, after this regional system was underway, I'd gone to visit Polk. And Polk was Pennhurst. And in some ways, hard to believe, even worse. I walked the institution with the superintendent. People would be lying nude on cement floors. And he would walk over them. I was shocked. And then I saw the cages. These were cages, maybe three or four feet high. If anyone did anything wrong, they were put in these cages. I was shocked. So after I finished my tour, I met with the regional director in Pittsburgh and told him what I had seen and that this needs to change. When I got back to Harrisburg-- this was around September-- I spoke with the Secretary of Welfare and told her what I had seen. And then went off and did my community shtick, if you will. In the spring, maybe six, seven months later, the state arc, Peter [? Pallone ?] was the executive director at the time. And Pete had previously been the local art director in Montgomery County. I had known him, because I was in Philly. And he inveigled the Secretary of Welfare to go on a surprise tour at Polk with the media. She never told me she was going. So I didn't have an opportunity to at least apprise her of what she was going to be walking into and likely to see. And of course, Pete never said a word to me, which in reflection, I wish he had, so I could give the secretary a heads up. It was a Sunday. The tour was on a Saturday. It was probably May, June. It was a Sunday. And I was mowing my lawn. I lived outside of Harrisburg at the time. And it was a big lawn. And it was hot. And I'm pushing this power mower. And around mid-afternoon, my wife says, "You've got a phone call." Who is it? It's this Associated Press reporter, Byron Brown. So here I am, dripping and sweating. I go in to answer the call, because that morning, I opened up the Sunday paper. And there were pictures of the cages. And [INAUDIBLE] the secretary [INAUDIBLE] tours. And all the people in the background, legislators and press. I was shocked, because I wasn't aware that that was even underway. And he's asking me, this reporter caught me off guard. I mean, here at Temple, I was a journalism major. I should have known better. I didn't say to him are we on or off the record. He just caught me off guard. And he said, "Did you know about any of this?" And I said, "Yeah, I've been out there." He said, "Well, what did you do when you came back?" And I said what I had just repeated-- just said. So I talked to the regional director. And I talked to the secretary. And then put it behind me, since I no longer had the responsibility. And then a light bulb went off. And I said, "Byron, are we on the record here?" He said, "Yes, we are." I said, "I don't think I want to go to work tomorrow." Monday morning, when I got the newspaper delivered, from one side to the other, in 72 point type, Goldman says [INAUDIBLE] knew. And my heart sunk. It was my boo boo. I did say it. And I went immediately to her office and apologized. I wish she had let me know, et cetera. But I did say this. And she claimed to have no recollection of my talking to her about my Polk trip. And now the governor is put in to a difficult position. And I was lower on the totem pole and was asked to leave. A horrible moment in my life, because my work was unfinished. And I knew that there was a potential mutiny in the office. Everybody else wanted to quit. And I had to talk them down, because if they weren't there, then it would stop in its tracks. So it was the summer of '73, I lost my job. And I still have one of the old Patriot News newspapers from side to side. And then, of course, the story went viral, not only in Harrisburg and not only all over Pennsylvania, but pictures of these cages went national. It was a major scandal. The government doesn't like these things. And I understand. Governor Shapp that would probably not anything he wanted to see. So here I am living in Harrisburg, out of work. And I went back to my old roots. I became the executive director of the local arc in Carlisle, which is outside of Harrisburg. And from there, in 1976, I moved to California. It became pretty clear that I was not going to find the kind of work I wanted to do in Pennsylvania, because all the organizations were getting money from the state. And I was the pariah. And I had to accept that.
00:08:23.30 - 00:09:38.00
INTERVIEWER: I have actually from Mel Knowlton, a quote from his interview, actually. And it said, you had a great philosophy. And what happened was unfair, because you really cared and did all the right stuff.
ED GOLDMAN: Well, thank you, Mel. So yes, I would have stayed as long as it took. It was one of the great professional experiences of my life. Very few people ever get a chance to really make change in this world, even if it was a little area of life, in Pennsylvania. And that led to the rest of the country, just like right to education led to the federal Right to Education Act, public law 94.142. So did this start to move out into other states when they saw. Because Pennsylvania was the first state in the nation to have a statewide community service system. And Pennsylvania has been a leader in this field, in closing institutions, right to education, development and community services. That was a leader around the country and other countries, as well.
00:09:38.00 - 00:10:29.16
INTERVIEWER: Do you take some pride in your role in that?
ED GOLDMAN: Yeah, I do. I really do. I just wish it had gone on a bit longer. But what we were doing was laying the foundation. And so it's grown ever since. It's funny how bureaucracy then begins to intrude its ugly head. When I came back from New Zealand, I eventually worked for a very large agency here in the Philadelphia area. And I was shocked at how much paperwork and recording and justifications were required, as if it took more time doing that than helping people live a better life.
More Interview Chapters
- Background and Education
- Work with ARC; Learn about Pennhurst
- Work as Commissioner
- Right to Education Normalization; Systemic Change
- Institutional Change
- Woodhaven Center Community Living
- YOU ARE HERE: Controversy at Polk Center
- Pennhurst Memorial Preservation Alliance; Reflections on Career
About Ed Goldman
Born: Philadelphia, PA
Work history: Commissioner, Mental Retardation, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Executive Director, ARC, Carlisle, PA, Deputy Executive Director, ARC
ARC, Institutions, Normalization, Pennhurst, Polk, Pennhurst Longitudinal Study (Twin Study)