There will be no changes made at the Ashland Senior Center, including no new manager hired, until recommendations are received from the committee reviewing its operations. 

With the March deadline for the recommendations from the Senior Center ad hoc committee looming, committee Chair Jackie Bachman urged members to start drafting their ideas, using their expertise and knowledge in working with seniors.

“We are in the middle of bringing in information, but we could already start formulating some areas in the draft recommendation given your specific expertise and knowledge,” Bachman said. “There’s some urgency in getting our work done and doing it well.”

That urgency has grown. The Parks and Recreation Commission, which oversees the senior center, won’t make any changes — including hiring a new manager to replace dismissed manager Chris Dodson — until a recommendation is adopted, Recreation Superintendent Rachel Dials said.

Dodson was fired in August after managing the center for 14 years. Dodson has retained a lawyer, who described her dismissal as “wrongful" and "vindictive."

Other Senior Center staff members were also let go, with operations shifted to Parks and Recreation personnel. The forced departures, combined with conversations about improving the center's financial footing, set off a storm of protest among seniors, who feared the loss of programs. Parks and Recreation Commission members say there are no plans to cut programs.

For now, there are no plans for any changes, pending the committee's proposals.

“We are holding off on everything until the recommendation,” Dials told the committee members. “We are working on the (manager's) job description. From hearing your comments … we are incorporating those into the job description.”

Parks and Recreation Director Michael Black had said in an October meeting that the process of hiring a new manager would start quickly, although noting it would take months to finish.

Based on Bachman's recommendation, the ad hoc committee will develop its report partly through use of a self-assessment, called Standards of Excellence, created by the National Council of Aging and National Institute of Senior Centers. The assessment is one of three components — along with taking public input and using expert knowledge — that will go into the recommendation, Bachman said at a Dec. 11 committee meeting.

The assessment list includes nearly 50 objectives successful senior centers should have, including such things as a mission statement, job descriptions for paid staff and volunteers, a code of ethics, statistical reports on program usage and written procedures for internal financial control.

The ad hoc committee's goal is to have a draft recommendation completed by February. Dials said the committee should make “broad recommendations” with no specific goals.

Committee member Anne Bellegia, Marion Moore, Laura O’Bryon and Commissioner Mike Gardiner supported Bachman’s proposal to use the self-assessment. Bellegia called it a good progression step for the committee.

“Having a framework like this — if we adopt it — will be beneficial even in the broadest sense,” she said. “This is the direction we want to go in that it will help identify the qualifications of the manager who will be recruited to adopt those goals.”

Other members were skeptical about the structure of the self-assessment. Committee member Mary Russell-Miller said rather than “starting from ground zero,” the committee needs to build upon what it is established.

“What I’d like to know is how these (standards) are being addressed,” she said. “I’m sure there is already some evaluation plan in place — what does that look like?”

Bachman also proposed the committee draft its recommendation to redefine the senior center into a program in which services and outreach benefit seniors inside and outside of the four walls of the building on Holmes Street.

“Every community is unique in their activities and services, but if you look at the best senior programs, there are a list of best practices they all have,” Bachman said.

Gardiner noted the senior center already meets many of the goals listed on the self-assessment.

“I think it would be easy to expand all of these best practices in our senior center,” Gardiner said. “There’s nothing that makes us go, ‘Oh, I didn’t think about that.’ We do most of these things.”

Bellegia warned that the committee should not get carried away.

“There’s a limitation on pursuing additional programs along these lines based on funding for staff,” she said. “As we are considering these expansions, it would be beneficial to be realistic about what might be possible.”

The committee later got a dose of reality in its first listening session at the Senior Center on Dec. 13. About 30 community members attended the session.

Bachman, Bellegia and Moore monitored the session, taking notes on the comments of those who attended. Values such as family, community, trust, safe place, friendship and social services were often listed regarding the senior center.

The meeting, however, turned hostile when a couple of audience members said the center became dysfunctional after the firing of the manager. They called for a change in the center’s structure within the city and asked for the “real answer” regarding the dismissal of Dodson and an improvement in communication with the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Committee member Rob Casserly, facilitator Jon Lange, Commissioner Jim Lewis and Gardiner were also at the session.

The committee will hold two other sessions from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Dec. 20 and 27. A survey will be available in print, online and via telephone to solicit more input about the center.

 — Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.