Accountability, return to active senior center demand
About two dozen senior citizens attended an impromptu meeting, Monday, May 19th, at the Fillmore Senior Center to voice their concerns over dwindling activities and financial accountability regarding the center budget and use of funds. Many complained to City Finance Director Barbara Smith, Community Services Supervisor Annette Cardona, and Senior Center Board Member Bill Burnett that the center needed to seek more funds and schedule more activities.
About two dozen senior citizens attended an impromptu meeting, Monday, May 19th, at the Fillmore Senior Center to voice their concerns over dwindling activities and financial accountability regarding the center budget and use of funds. Many complained to City Finance Director Barbara Smith, Community Services Supervisor Annette Cardona, and Senior Center Board Member Bill Burnett that the center needed to seek more funds and schedule more activities.

Talk about not going quietly into that goodnight, the Fillmore Senior Center community meeting held Monday, May 19 at 10am was attended by about two dozen feisty 55-plusers, ready to rumble over what many feel is poor activity and financial management.
The hastily thrown together unofficial meeting was originally scheduled to elect new Senior Center Board members, without public announcement. But word of mouth spread through the senior community, resulting in a lively turnout.
Three senior Board members presently serve; Loretta Dunehew, Bill Brunett and Nick Robles, with Dunehew and Robles unable to attend Monday’s meeting. Circumstances in the past year have caused the Board to shrink to three of the required five members, although Bylaws of Fillmore Senior Center, Inc., states “…the corporation shall have not less than seven (7) nor more than fifteen (15) Directors…” (Article III. Directors, Section 3.01 Number*).
Seated at the head table were City Finance Director Barbara Smith, Community Services Supervisor Annette Cardona and Board Member Bill Brunett. City Manager Tom Ristau sat silently at the back of the building, observing the meeting and taking notes. Center Director Lori Nunez spent the first half of the 90 minute meeting in the kitchen, filling in for an ill employee, then joined Ristau at the back of the room.
The meeting kicked off with Smith announcing that a quorum would not take place with only one Board member present. Cardona gave a brief rundown of future center activities to start in June, including Craft Day and Yoga.
Questions hit the ground running with resident Marie Wren asking for a verbal listing of the center’s “chain of command.” Smith stated that the center was an independently run nonprofit corporation under the administration of the City, with Cardona overseeing the operation of the facility from city hall, and Nunez on-site during hours of operation, 9am to 1pm.
The first few minutes were spent with Cardona listing coming activities, with many in the audience asking why activities had dwindled, then ceased in the last two to three years. Cardona explained that it was hard to get instructors to come to Fillmore, stating “they are busy and have children” and “travel” as obstacles.
The crowd protested when Smith said the meeting wasn’t called to answer questions, and stated, “If you want to make public comments you can come up and give your name and address and give us some ideas. There’s no quorum to really answer the questions. If you want to meet with Annette one on one or a group of you, you can certainly do that. I don’t know if Mr. Burnett wants to accept those questions now or not.” The audience reacted negatively to this suggestion and continued to lob questions at the head table.
“I just do the accounting. The Board is in charge of the senior center,” Smith stated, with the city overseeing it, as it does with the Veterans Memorial building. After the meeting, several seniors asked the Gazette why the city finance director and city manager were there if the Board is in charge, and why Smith answered the majority of questions, even suggesting appointments with Cardona, who sat silent during that particular exchange.
Many attending the meeting suggested bringing in quality instructors without going outside Fillmore or spending a lot of money. Volunteerism was a key word throughout the meeting.
Resident Dave Roegner offered to teach a computer class; Sarah Hanson said there are “people willing to offer their time.” She suggested local artists could show their work at the center as a fundraiser for more programs, perhaps joining with the popular Art Walk. A golf tourney was suggested to help fund more activities.
A book club was recommended as was an exercise class, and arthritis class, which at one time in the past drew a large following. Several residents suggested the former arthritis class instructor had been paid by the Arthritis Foundation. A craft class was also a one-time popular attraction with a reported 30 participants who paid a nominal fee to the instructor. But according to one frustrated senior, when the instructor had to resign for personal reasons, “she just simply wasn’t replaced.”
An Alzheimer support group for sufferers and caregivers was also described by one audience member as “very important, very crucial.”
Financial accountability questions were just underway when Bingo, or lack of it, became a hot topic, with Board member Burnett stating the popular game had stopped because people were taking the cards and there were “a lot of complaints.” One audience member asked him what the complaints were about. His answer, “Complaints. About everything.” He said the Board had voted to give up Bingo about three years ago, due to gambling.
Wren offered that the center’s Bingo games were originally intended for fun but several clusters of seniors had wanted the game to involve winnings. She wanted the game to return “just for fun.”
Addressing Finance Director Smith, Hanson said, “Barbara, I’d like to get back to the budget, if we could.” Smith responded, “That’s what I would like to do,” which drew some laughter.
Smith began going down the expense report for the center, stopping occasionally to answer more specific questions. Wren asked that the budget be passed out to the attending audience. Smith promised, “We can have them here once they are published, for people to pick up.”
Financial questions involving the fireworks proceeds, and Cardona’s salary were raised next. Smith gave a verbal breakdown of the fireworks booth monies, stating a $17,000+ profit.
She stated several times that Cardona drew “only 10-percent” of her overall salary from the senior center allotment of $46,000 for “total personnel.” Smith named Cardona’s duties as supervising the operations of the center and writing grants. She named three grants the center is currently receiving: United Way ($10,000), FEMA ($3,000) and Ventura County Area Agency on Aging (VCAAA, $23,000). She reported total revenue at $97,600, with $40,000 city subsidizing (Redevelopment Agency monies).
With VCAAA, The City of Fillmore gets a grant each year for their Senior Nutrition Program. As a successful grantee they are eligible to renew the contract each year for up to three years. The VCAAA just finished reviewing and approving applications for the next three year contract cycle (2008-11), according to Susan White, VCAAA Senior Nutrition Program funding grants manager. Cardona submits the application on behalf of the City of Fillmore along with a budget that determines where the monies will be spent. Each month the City of Fillmore submits an expenditure report and request for funds to the VCAAA for payment under the terms of the grant. Since the City of Fillmore is a government agency, there is no requirement for oversight by a Board of directors; however, as a non-profit center, Board approval is required. In the case of the City of Fillmore, the grant application and budget are approved by City Manager Tom Ristau, according to White.
Several seniors in the audience wondered out loud how a Board containing only three members and holding no meetings in a year, a violation of the Bylaws, was able to approve anything.
Turning back to operations, Jim Higgins, founder of the Higgy Foundation, strongly suggested the Board reach out to all city seniors through a task force, contacting management at local senior apartments. “There needs to be information everywhere,” Higgins emphasized. He also suggested contacting senior centers in other cities to see how they get the word out and operate successfully.
Others suggested joining forces with management at the El Dorado Mobile Home Estates, including senior center activities in the park’s monthly newsletter and distributing flyers to each coach.
Wren asked why the center was not opened as a cooling center during the recent heat wave; no explanation was offered. Several people suggested posting center activities on the Fillmore City website.
More than one member of the audience, including Higgins and Roegner, said the four hours of operations was too restrictive. Another suggested a once a month visit by the Ventura County Visiting Nurse, who already goes to the El Dorado once a month.
Martin Farrell, owner of The Gazette, promised a senior section would be devoted to center news in the paper as well as updates on its website
A June 23 meeting was announced with Gayle Washburn requesting a meeting in the interim. Burnett considered the request and said they would meet again Monday, June 2. The time will be advertised in The Gazette.
Marie Wren summed it up for everyone when she said, “We need a very active Board; taxes, food, health, recreation, transportation. It is a shame to see it [the center] just sitting on the vine, not doing anything.”
*These Bylaws may be amended or replaced by approval of the Board of Directors, as that term is defined in Sections 5032, 7151 and 7222 of the Corporations Code.
(Are you interested in serving the community of Fillmore seniors? The Fillmore Senior Center has two positions open on its Board. The Board of five meets once a month and applicants must be at least 55 years of age. Applications are now available until May 30th from Lori Nunez at the Fillmore Senior Center, 533 Santa Clara St., Monday-Friday, 9am to 1pm; or from Annette Cardona at Fillmore City Hall, Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm.)