Senior center volume down, passions still high

  • Friday, November 30, 2007 12:45pm

Members grill board at meeting

By Chris Fyall

Enterprise editor

The loudest disagreements at the South County Senior Center have gotten, perhaps mercifully, a little quieter.

That doesn’t mean that healing at the center is complete, members said.

In fact, the conflict continued Nov. 21 at the center’s annual membership meeting attended by about 80 members. By and large, however, the comments at the meeting were civil. The center’s current leadership was encouraged by that, said interim co-director Jane Jones.

Since the abrupt and unpopular dismissal of executive director Farrell Fleming Oct. 17, the board has been in constant conflict with at least a few hundred of the center’s 1,500 members, who want a larger voice in the organization.

Many members are hoping to use that voice to remove the officers of the center’s board of directors, they said.

The current officers played a key role in Fleming’s dismissal, the membership believes. President John Wagner, who is an interim co-director, vice president Mel Steinke and secretary Mary Thomas in particular have fallen under criticism since October. Ron Ballough is the treasurer.

Every member who spoke at the meeting asked the board for the right to vote for the board’s officers, a right which is currently forbidden by the center’s bylaws.

But, as the members pointed out, the bylaws are in direct conflict with the center’s Articles of Incorporation, which promises that the officers of the board should be elected “by a majority of the voting members present.”

The board was not intending to allow the members to vote, but ultimately decided to postpone officer elections until a legal opinion could be secured, which should be in time for the next meeting, officials said.

“Before we get into a knock down, drag out fight about what trumps what, let’s get (a legal) opinion,” said board member Mike Jacobs.

The board did hold elections for six new board members, but only existing board members were allowed to vote. Neither the bylaws nor the Articles of Incorporation grant that right to the general membership.

Over 20 candidates stood for the six seats. Only four of them were nominated by the existing board.

“Things are calming down. We have been approached by some of the seniors who would like to see this resolved,” Jones said. “We are getting a lot of good feelings. We are moving on, and we are moving forward.”

The board’s grassroots committee has continued steps to engage seniors, and the board continues to monitor a suggestion box, she said.

Other people involved in the conflict said there hadn’t been much time for healing.

The quieter meeting was due more to its date and time ¿ it began at 6:30 p.m. the night before Thanksgiving ¿ than it did with anything else, said board member Liz Windgate.

“I would hope that the next meeting is not on the eve of a holiday, but at a time when the members could come,” Windgate said.

The timing of the meetings has been a source of irritation for the members since October, and multiple members referenced it during their comments Nov. 21.

The civility of the meeting might have more to do with effort than anything else, others said.

“Everybody is trying very hard to be civil and to make that effort towards compatibility,” said Rose Cantwell, one of the membership’s leading voices for change. “But that doesn’t account for these major things that we are still in disagreement on, and we still have every plan to gain those rights.”

The resolve for change is as strong as ever, Cantwell said.

“We want to gain the right to vote and to see that the bylaws are reconstructed,” she said. “We want to see that the law and the Articles of Incorporation are used as they are intended.”

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