2018-04-26 / Front Page

Seniors, town row remains unresolved

’16 memo outlined relationship; friends still want to cut ties
BY TIM RIEL

The spat between town staff and members of the senior center was illustrated by last week’s discussion on which side should choose the color of a new floor.

A joint working group of the two sides met for the second time last Thursday in an attempt to reconcile their differences.

This group was created by the town councilors in March after a lawyer for the Friends of the Jamestown Seniors submitted a list of grievances it had with town staff.

During their inaugural meeting a week later, the sides began reviewing those matters, although a power struggle regarding the parks and recreation department’s oversight loomed over the conversation.

For the follow-up meeting last week, Councilwoman Mary Meagher recommended tabling the list. There was, however, a brief debate about three administrative meetings between the two sides in which a decision could not be reached about the floor at the center.

The wood grain, senior Ellie Chase said, was too dark. While that floor suited the recreation center because there are four large windows, there is less light in the West Street building.

Meagher suggested dealing with the broader concern “that seemed to be lying under the surface.”

“The list will distract us from the larger issue,” she said.

The working group consists of Meagher, Councilman Gene Mihaly and three members of the nonprofit organization that operates the senior center, Chase, Nancy Beye and Heidi Moon. Legal counsel for both sides, Peter Ruggiero and Kristen Macinni, respectively, and Town Administrator Andy Nota were appointed nonvoting members.

Meagher said there seems to have been ambiguity during the conversations that led to the partnership. According to minutes from a December 2015 meet- ing, which was eight months before the town became co-lessees of the Conanicut Grange building, the seniors indicated they needed assistance, while the town recommended consolidation. That wording, however, could be misinterpreted, Meagher said.

“What assistance were the seniors seeking?” she asked. “And what did the town mean by consolidation? The terms of this relationship have just not been articulated.”

Nota, however, presented an August 2016 memo from the recreation director outlining the roles of both sides. Following a meeting with Ed Holland and Tom Tighe, board members of the Friends of the Jamestown Seniors, that email from Andy Wade was sent to former senior coordinator Ellen Vietri. It outlined her position’s transition from a private hire to a municipal employee.

“In an effort to streamline and clarify the role,” the memo states, “the following list of responsibilities were discussed and agreed upon.”

Along with specific hours, among the coordinator’s duties were developing a slate of programs, budgeting, advertising, staffing, collecting time-cards, maintaining the website and attending board meetings of the Friends of the Jamestown Seniors to report updates and to seek input.

The seniors, however, were responsible for upkeep, maintenance and repair of the facility, the memo said.

While the current board of seniors may not agree with these terms, Nota said, the memo proves the town was thorough during the partnership process.

“There was open communication with board members at the time,” he said.

Despite the memo, Moon during last week’s meeting emphasized her board’s interest in more autonomy. She said the contribution of taxpayer dollars does not “automatically translate” to the town’s 50-50 share of the Conanicut Grange.

“The town needs to understand that these services require a lot more than programs and a meal site,” she said.

Moon also said the town “would be wise to discontinue the relationship between the seniors and rec department,” although the senior coordinator could still remain a paid position on the municipal payroll.

In reference to building management, Nota said Bob Sutton, landlord of the Conanicut Grange, is more comfortable with the town as co-operator.

“He wanted to make it clear that he was not interested at all in revising or renegotiating the lease,” Nota said. “As representative of the grange, he is very comfortable with the fact that two organizations are involved.”

Ruggiero recommended the seniors take the next step. While the previous board might not have ratified the memo in summer 2016, there was at least some agreement in place. He suggested the seniors look at the list of responsibilities to see if this board agrees.

No third meeting was scheduled. Meagher told the seniors to meet and discuss the memo, and then contact the town when they are ready to continue the discussion.

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