2018-09-06 / Front Page

Town, seniors group seek accord

Nota asked to craft document on how to move forward
BY TIM RIEL

The town will begin working on a memorandum of understanding to outline the “use and authority regarding 6 West St.,” which has housed the senior center since 1994.

The town council unanimously approved a measure Tuesday that directed Town Administrator Andy Nota to work with his legal team on the document.

No details were offered, although the Friends of Jamestown Seniors, the nonprofit organization that co-operates the site with the town, has reiterated its desire to “retain sole and ultimate decision making authority on all such matters” regarding the building, from office use to rental oversight.

The property is owned by the Patrons of Husbandry, a fraternal organization whose local chapter is Conanicut Grange No. 21. Bob Sutton, former town administrator, represents the owner.

The town and the nonprofit are colessees. This partnership, which began in summer 2016, quickly turned into a power struggle. That led to a joint working group to mend the relationship. After the board met three times between April and July, an August meeting was scheduled. It was abruptly canceled by the friends, however. Tom Tighe, president of the nonprofit organization, e-mailed the town two days before the meeting with no explanation.

According to their attorney, Kristen Maccini, the reason was because the seniors “believed no more detailed explanation is necessary before presentation to the town council.”

According to Councilwoman Mary Meagher, who represented the town on the working group alongside Nota and Councilman Gene Mihaly, this decision was premature. First, she believed more work was needed before presenting to the full council. Councilman Mike White said the hour-long discussion Tuesday was evidence of that. Second, Tighe was not a member of the working group.

“This was a little disconcerting,” Meagher said.

Kristine Trocki, the lame duck council president, was confused by Maccini’s requests. She said it seemed like the nonprofit organization wanted public money while retaining veto power over decisions.

“The friends are a volunteer group, which doesn’t usually have authority or control over a department,” she said. “I don’t know what you’re seeking. I don’t understand the real issue.”

Trocki also expressed concern about Meagher’s recommendation to remove the town from the lease at 6 West St.

“I’m not sure that would ever happen,” she said. “There are consequences to that.”

Sutton has said there is “no way” he lets the town off the lease.

The council also charged Nota with creating a list of proposals regarding severing ties between the senior center and the parks department.

Instead, a newly formed department head would oversee a separate department exclusively for senior services. This employee would report directly to Nota. Under the current system, senior coordinator Betsey Anderson reports to Andy Wade, parks and recreation director.

According to Maccini, this is not a ploy to oust Anderson from the position.

“She is doing a wonderful job,” Maccini said. “They would like for her to be head of the department.”

According to Nota, this change would mostly be symbolic. Although the director of a senior department head would report directly to him based on this proposal, Nota said he would continue to rely heavily on the parks and other departments to provide services and support.

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