Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Middletown Senior Center- Pointing Fingers

I've been offering a critique of the local Senior Center using their own records. Declining membership, increasing costs, ignoring State "sunshine" regs all point to systemic problems. It's fine to say that changes are needed, but unless you know what's causing the problems, any type of "fix" is temporary and likely ineffective.

The first place to point is the Senior Center Board itself which is 9 members appointed by the Council every two years, although the town website really doesn't specify the time- just like it doesn't actually list its officers. This group is entirely composed of seniors active in the Center. Exactly what is their function? Strictly advisory? Management? It makes a difference. Why only seniors on the Board? A broader composition would be desirable for many reasons. One of which might be better computer skills to enable the actual State filings.

Another would be some business experience enabling them to evaluate their Director and take charge of their own budget, rather than just react which is what's happening now. This group seems to view itself as a support group rather than an administrative group. So which is it and which should it be? While not doubting their overall dedication to the center, just having an advisory group which seems to offer mighty little advice, doesn't seem to be quite enough. If, indeed, the group is solely advisory, it doesn't have to file minutes with the Secretary of State, although the town does require it to have minutes AND approve them (and meeting notices/agendas).

A finger should be pointed at the Senior members of the Center itself. They are supposed to be meeting on a monthly basis (State requirement) and don't seem to be. Instead of actually trying to explore new options and models for their group, they seem to let their legs walk to another Center.

I can't really blame them here. Newport's King Center publishes a newsletter with 12 pages (printing paid for by sponsors) & packed with activities- some free, some not. Middletown's consists of 9 pages and much of that is long announcements. The King Center also has an informative website with fouteen - 14- pages! All for the same ten bucks. Daily activities (some free, some with charges are extensive). And it's 1-3 miles away. How many of our residents actually choose to belong to other Senior Centers?

Ready another finger for the Town Admin. & Town Council- the buck stops here. They are the "overseeing body." Ultimately, they are responsible for the Senior Center. I do believe there is a reason for their laxity here, but more on that later. Right now it seems as if the T. Admin. evaluates the Center Director & the Department. (maybe?).

"I am going to talk to the Town Clerk about distributing the Committee handbook to everyone involved in a Town Committee, and will discuss the matter with all Department Heads at our next meeting. Ultimately complying with the law is the responsibility of the Committee members, however I will ask the staff to help the committees improve the quality of how meetings are run, and how agendas and minutes are prepared. In this specific case, I do not think the Senior’s were trying to ‘flaunt’ open meeting statutes."

While it may rest "ultimately" with the Senior Center Board to comply with State law, it is the responsibility of the Town Admin. to ensure that departments and department heads are complying with the town's own regs (to obey state regs). And beyond him, it is the responsibility of the Town Council. Otherwise, what's their purpose?

Point another finger at all the rest of us who ignore the Center because their budget is relatively small and we don't want to aggravate our seniors (55+). $186,000 was their recent town budget cost with $86,500 (almost half) for personnel costs. This doesn't include any expenses deducted from General Funds; e.g., painting nor does it include any State grants or other sources of funding for the Center.

With about 4200 eligible seniors in Middletown, there are 379 paid members- 10%. Yet 15 yrs. ago the membership was over 500 when the population was lower! We are now spending almost $500/member. In 1994 it became a town department with $27,000 budgeted (this came from the Senior's own funding). Previous to that the Seniors raised their own funds (quite sucessfully, I might add), & the town appropriated $5,000. Using my hand-dandy inflation calculator that translates into 2009 dollars of appx. $43,000. Oops. And the Center is no longer throwing any outside finding into the general fund now paid for by -US!

BTW, the Barrington Senior Center support a center in a t0wn approximately the same size as us. for appx. $110,000.

The finger also needs to be pointed directly at the Director. But since I aim to keep these articles short and to-the-point- that will be next time.

Two more articles coming. One on the Director and another on the future, far more than I originally thought. But as I kept digging, more and more questions presented themselves along with more sources of information.
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