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Angst surfaces at St. Mary City Hall over Senior Center policies

Angst surfaces at city hall over Senior Center operations

The St. Marys City Council voted on Monday to table a policy that would change the way that people use the Senior Center program.

The new policy was brought forth by the Senior Citizens Center Task Force in which the task force was put in place by Councilman Allen Rassi.

Currently, a St. Marys citizen who is 55 or older can utilize the Senior Center programs offered by the city. The new policy wants to up the age to 60 years old and older.

The Senior Citizens Task Force was created to help review and make recommendations for change to streamline operations and offer diverse programs for the seniors within the city. Another goal of the Task Force was to give suggestions for increasing participation at the Senior Center.

The policy in question came under fire by the Senior Citizen Center Coordinator, Rindy Howell, at Monday’s meeting. Howell stated that the Senior Citizen Task Force created this policy without her input and other Senior Center staff. Howell also stated that the current policy maintains AARP standards on the age requirements for being a senior citizen.

During the public comments period, Howell told the council that she has been working at the Senior Center for 18 years and was never consulted on the policy that was brought forward to the council for a vote.

Human Resources Director, Donna Larsen, who is considered the Senior Center Director, along with City Manager John Holman, said that the staff approved the policy. However, Howell stated that the staff did not approve it. Larsen has never run a Senior Center program.

“Let me just clarify; I just received a copy of this on Saturday. I have not been asked any questions. The only thing I have been asked of is to hand over my records,” said Howell.

Howell informed the council that the center decreased the age of the senior citizens in 2007 to age 55 to recruit more active seniors which placed the count of seniors at about 60 participants.

“I have been here for 18 years and never felt like I have been pushed more than I have in these last four years. No one has come to me or questioned me as to what I thought would be best for the senior center. I have totally been disrespected and totally not been included in what is going on here,” maintained Howell.

In recent months the City and the Hospital Authority have had friction over the expenditures, operations, and maintenance over the senior center and its programs. Last month, the attorneys for both the Hospital Authority and the city, along with some board members and the city manager, were to meet about how the expenditures were to be made moving forward as the Hospital Authority did not have audits in recent years.

Howell stated that she now must get approval from the City to make any recommendations for program expenditures from the Hospital Authority who funds the senior center food programs and other ancillary services as recommended by Howell.

“I no longer have the authority to go to the Hospital Authority to ask for anything unless it goes through the City Manager or his designee which is Donna Larsen,” said Howell.

Howell also brought up cases with bullying of seniors by other seniors at the center. Recently, the city installed security cameras to increase a monitoring presence inside the center.

“In the past, we had some bullying going on, and we wanted to get that stopped,” said Howell.

Howell continued to maintain that her lack of involvement has led to a policy that is not favorable to the future of the senior center and places a continued strain with the city and Hospital Authority. Howell also pointed out that a small number of people within the senior center have felt empowered to create angst within the program and they have been allowed to do so.

“I am probably at the risk of being fired, and I am probably not supposed to be talking to you tonight,” said Howell. “What have I got to lose, I do not have any respect anyway.”

Part of the newly proposed policy said that seniors will not be accommodated if they do not let the senior center know they are not coming to eat or participate. Howell stated that she is not going to turn any senior away who wants a hot meal.

The Council discussed the matter before them, and Councilman Nutter felt it was necessary to table the policy until Rindy Howell was consulted on the matter. Furthermore, some councilmembers stated that this issue should have never made it to the council and that all matters need to be resolved before coming to the council.

Senior Task Force appointee, Tonya Glazebrook, stated that the task force’s recommendations are not to cause strife within the senior center program but to streamline the program to be more inclusive and maximize efforts to improve and increase usage.

“We are looking toward the senior center of the future instead of the dozen people who attend right now. Rindy knows that she has been very involved and had hundreds of conversations with her. She knew everything we were doing and was part of the interview process when reviewing the new process,” said Glazebrook. “She has been involved.”

City Manager John Holman recommended a thirty-day cooling off period to consider the policy. The council agreed.

Councilman Allen Rassi said the purpose of the Task Force was to create a revitalization effort and improve on a variety of programs.

“I think a cooling off period is needed for everyone’s sake. I had someone make a threat to me before the meeting, and I did not enjoy that. We can make this work. We have to put aside our own self-interests,” said Rassi.

Meanwhile, the Senior Task Force has not met with the Hospital Authority regarding the functions and parameters around operations and maintenance of the senior center program.

Hospital Authority Attorney Jim Stein said in an email to AllOnGeorgia-Camden that the Authority voted to meet with the task force on January 24 which has not taken place. Councilman Allen Rassi sent an email on Jan. 27th to meet about harmonizing efforts for the seniors; however, Stein said that “ [a]lmost nine months later that has not occurred. For certain, the Authority doesn’t know the purpose of the Task Force, had no knowledge the Task Force was going to be formed.”

Stein also told AllOnGeorgia-Camden that the Hospital Authority’s audit would soon be complete, and a copy will be released to the public.

Council is expected to hear about the new Senior Center Policy in November.

Video of discussion on the policy can be heard at 19:00 minutes.

St. Marys City Council Meeting

Posted by All On Georgia – Camden on Monday, October 1, 2018

 

 

 

 

Jeremy Spencer grew up in rural South Georgia and has served as a healthcare provider, high school science teacher, school administrator, and state education official. Jeremy is currently the market and content manager for All on Georgia-Camden and Glynn Counties. Jeremy’s focus is local news, statewide education issues, and statewide political commentary for the All on Georgia News Network. Jeremy has served as an education policy analyst for local legislators and state education leaders as well as a campaign strategist for local and statewide political campaigns. Jeremy holds degrees in science and education from the University of Georgia, Piedmont College, and Valdosta State University. Jeremy has lived in Camden County for over 17 years.

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