Give the committee time
Claudia Ballard’s Jan. 26 letter to the editor suggests that the best approach to meeting the needs of Ashland seniors would be restoring the Senior Center and associated programs to exactly how they were prior to early August 2017. I do not take exception to much of what she wrote, but do question a few assertions.
I am concerned that she and others leading the Support Our Seniors (SOS) group are allowing mission creep away from what their name suggests. Instead of supporting all of Ashland’s seniors, they have become narrowly focused on “supporting our past practices” without being open to other ideas.
Claudia Ballard writes: “It might be noted that the commissioners have appointed an ad hoc advisory committee formed in an effort to give them some cover in their ongoing determination to eviscerate the senior program.”
I find this statement troubling. Nothing in the public record, since the ad hoc committee began its work, supports the notion that it is providing “cover” for the APRC. To the contrary, this past Monday the committee made substantive interim recommendations in an open public meeting that go well beyond Director Michael Black’s August proposals. The Ashland Senior Program Advisory Commitee is not going to rubber-stamp anything.
Ballard further writes that: “... the committee was instructed by the commissioners not to even consider restoring the highly commended senior program of decades’ duration, nor to consider rehiring ...”
As a former public school personnel manager, I completely agree with this directive as it relates to management preserving its sole right to make personnel decisions within the framework of city, county, state and federal legal requirements. Christine Dodson has reportedly engaged legal counsel to represent her with claims related to her employment and its termination. The committee has correctly agreed to not deliberate on these issues. It has no standing to do so.
I ask that Ballard, SOS and its supporters give the committee time to complete its work before passing judgement. My wife, Jackie, and I are the co-founders of United Seniors of Ashland. We sincerely believe that the best way to improve livability in Ashland for seniors — and everyone else — is through constructive engagement with one another. We are in this together.
New leadership needed
It's a common occurrence for people from out of town and/or out of state to come to Ashland and immediately realize what a charming, cultural and educational place it is. The spirit of community is immediately noticeable as well as the incredible opportunities that are available for all ages. This applies especially to the senior citizen population, who find this a comfortable and comforting locale. This atmosphere used to apply particularly to the Senior Center with its professional staff who truly represented the spirit of Ashland. Here the seniors were able to receive all the benefits that one confronts in the aging process, i.e. compassionate staff, social activities and friendship in a homelike setting.
However, a new director for the Parks and Recreation Department was hired. He had the authority, but to all appearances seemed to lack the logic and sensitivity to Ashland that was so noticeable to the aforementioned visitors. For example, the compassionate staff that is one of the most important components of any senior center was gone overnight.
Within weeks the Senior Center became a hodgepodge of professionals who were trying to meet the needs of the senior citizens in an institutional manner by being available on specific days rather than on a daily basis. This method tends to become an item on someone's schedule rather than a personal knowledge of each individual available any day of the week.
What is not comprehensible is the fact that the parks commissioners knew that the Senior Center, a centralized, community-oriented place that was beneficial to the senior citizens, already existed. There was no need for change, yet they went along with the director, who to all appearances didn't grasp the Ashland community spirit.
The inability of these parks commissioners to speak up on behalf of the Senior Center and the needs of the senior citizens is reprehensible. The recall petition is the required statement that provides the message that we are truly a community who cares deeply about the senior population. They have given much and now have chosen to reside in an area that is beneficial for them at this vulnerable stage of life.
New leadership in the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department is a must before power and authority take over to create even more havoc!
Solution looking for a problem
The crisis we've been going through regarding the Ashland Senior Center started as a solution looking for a problem. There was no problem. The Senior Center operated just fine the way it was, especially because of the outstanding work of Director Christine Dodson and her capable and dedicated staff. But the management style of Michael Black, the director of the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department, is akin to that of a bull rampaging through a china shop. In most cases the bovine approach is counterproductive. In this case it was inexcusable.
I cannot fathom why Black would want to make the changes he made. Certainly a review of the program would have been justified. A review at defined intervals is a valuable management tool and should be used for any program, public or private. But when our Senior Center program proved to be working well, with its clients served successfully, the review should have ended there. It didn't.
At this stage the obvious solution is to hire Dodson back if she is willing, and then she could re-hire her staff if they are willing. Many people — not just the seniors — are very supportive of Dodson. She is exactly what is needed to solve this ridiculous non-problem.
Much damage has been done to this once-successful program.