Thursday, June 19, 2014

Senior Center Update

 OK, I WENT...
Today, after a week of folks yapping at me because I chose not to immerse myself personally in the drama that is the Costa Mesa Senior Center, I decided to drive across town and visit the building to see, first hand, just what was going on.

I arrived in the early afternoon and found peace, quiet and apparent contentment among the handful of seniors visiting the Center.  As I walked past the counter just inside the door I saw Executive Director Aviva Goelman visiting with the attendant.  I know Aviva casually because a neighbor is her good friend, so I see her around my neighborhood occasionally.  We have a cordial and friendly relationship.

I told Aviva I was there to snatch up one of those free memberships, so she pointed me across the room to the library where members of the City staff were set up.  I approached the first young woman I encountered, told her my mission and she promptly signed me up - took my name, address and telephone number for "the list".  When I asked her if that meant I was now signed up as a member of the Senior Center she, surprisingly, told me no.  I was now on the list the City was accumulating for when they took over operations of the Center on September 7th.  I was told that the Senior Center staff refused to share the membership list with the City staff, so they had to build a data base from scratch.  That seemed curious to me.

I asked if I was now eligible to take part in Senior Center activities this summer, during the transition.  I was told I'd have to check with the Senior Center Staff, but I was invited to join the festivities on July 3rd, when the City staff would be hosting the annual celebration.  Another curious fact.

So, I wandered back to the counter and asked Aviva about the membership issue.  She told me that they couldn't share the membership list because it had personal information on it.  I wondered, but didn't ask, if that was not a problem that could be easily remedied by redacting personal information.

I was also told that there was no longer split pricing on events and activities.  No longer do "members" pay less than non-members.  All the prices are the same - the member price.  And, Aviva told me that all members who had renewed their memberships in April or later would have those fees refunded to them.  That seemed like a good idea.

As I stood there chatting the new Interim Manager, Eloisa Espinoza, walked past, returning from her lunch break.  Aviva pointed her out, so I set out in hot pursuit to chat with her about the Center, her assignment and the transition.

I followed in her wake to her workspace in the library - the City staff has carved out temporary work space in that room for the time being.  I found her to be a lovely woman with many years experience operating a similar facility in Fullerton.  She confirmed that my "new" membership was NOT a membership to the Senior Center.  I was just on a list of folks that will become the core of the City's membership roster in September.

We talked about the transition, which certainly appears to be marked with tension on both sides.  I could almost taste it as I spoke with staff members on both sides.  Both sides continue to tell me they only want what's best for the seniors, but, in my opinion, for that to happen there needs to be immediate interaction by them to facilitate that transition.

Let me state here that I'm still angry about the way this has been handled, and where the City thinks it has the authority to take over the Senior Center, but it's becoming more clear each day that this change IS GOING TO HAPPEN, so all parties need to attempt to make it work - and soon.

I was told that Ms. Espinosa and Penny Loomer - also an interim manager in the Recreation Division - will meet early next week with Aviva to begin this process in earnest.  This is good news.

Later I learned that, although there are extremely critical and time-sensitive issues to be addressed by the current Senior Corporation Board dealing with the transition and possible dissolution of the corporation, there is NO MEETING PLANNED until August!  In my view, that's unacceptable.  There is so much going on that needs Executive direction - including the retention of programs; integration of new ones; the future of the staff; the transition to the new organization and the future of the corporation - that the Board should be meeting MORE often, not less, for goodness sake.

As I left I spoke with the new contract security guard, who works five days a week at the Center.  I asked him if he'd had to bust any heads of rowdy seniors since he started to work.  He smiled and said he had not, but he had called the police a couple times when transients refused to move away from the facility.  In recent months the facility has become a destination for more than a few homeless folks, which caused safety issues for the senior center members.  The presence of a full-time security presence seems like a good idea.

Later I contacted Senior Corporation Board President Judy Lindsay and told her of my visit.  She'd already had a report.  She's fully immersed in proceeding with plans to access if, and how, the Senior Corporation Board should be dissolved and has formed an ad hoc committee to work on that issue.  The Board is still working on their strained relationship with the City leadership, establishing ground rules and trying to set aside the animosity that exists and make this transition as smooth as possible.

I also spoke on a conference call with CEO Tom Hatch and his assistant CEO, Tammy Letourneau.  I told them of my visit and gave them my opinions - for what they are worth.  Since this change is going to take place, both sides need to make it work smoothly so the seniors can get some peace of mind and the programs can continue uninterrupted.  There are financial and administrative issues that MUST be addressed - contract transfers, employee departures, etc.  Hopefully, those can begin at that meeting next week.  Both affirmed their commitment to the well-being of the seniors of this city.

According to Letourneau, 416 individuals have been signed up on the City list so far.  And, 115 have signed up for the July 3rd Independence Day event that the City salvaged from the scrap heap during the turmoil about the takeover of the Center.  Both of those numbers are good news and probably give a good indication of the renewed interest and confidence in this change.

The sad part about this drama is that it probably didn't have to happen this way.  The ham-handed, unilateral way the decision was made by the City to take over the Senior Center - yes, Wendy, it IS a hostile takeover - has exacerbated an already tense situation.  The staff of the Senior Center all know they will be losing their jobs, so many of them are actively looking for other full-time employment.  This is, at least, a distraction to providing services.  That being said, in my opinion, they - starting with and guided by the leadership of Aviva Goelman - need to work hard with the new City staff to blend programs.  And the Senior Corporation Board needs to focus on the important issues facing them - both fiscal and administrative - and hold whatever number of meetings are necessary to make this transition work.  To do less will violate their fiduciary responsibility and certainly contribute to the apprehension by senior center members and the staff on both sides of the equation.

I doubt it's possible, but the Draft Agreement, HERE, attached to the staff report for the meeting on June 10th seemed - with the exception of the controversial request for indemnification - to be an excellent transition document.  I don't know if that's on the table or not, but even if it's not, the procedures outlined in it could make for a clear road map for the transition.  Both sides should consider the process defined in it, whether codified or not.

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Blogger Joe said...

Normally I'd say you're being a little hyper about the whole takeover thing, but we have a council majority which over and over again ignores the rule of law. Therefore, those of us who actually respect law and order in this city must remain ever vigilant, pay close attention, and resist each incursion. Thanks for your efforts.

6/20/2014 07:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Muffin Top Bob said...

So, the security gaurd is providing protection by picking up the phone and calling for the police to run off the homeless. Seems like a staff member already on the payroll could do that.

6/20/2014 09:44:00 AM  

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