Senior Center: Who’s the Boss?
An editorial by Wanda Castel de Oro

Remember the old tv show “Who’s the Boss?” That’s what I’ve been wondering lately while observing the last two meetings at the Fillmore Senior Center.
Two gatherings have been held; May 19 and June 2, 2008. I prefer not to call them meetings since that would imply authority, continuity and decorum. These Board meetings are supposed to be run by the Board, according to their bylaws and Ms. Cardona’s repeated declarations. However, the first meeting was headed by City Finance Director Barbara Smith, Community Facilities Supervisor Annette Cardona and Board President Bill Brunet. Smith and Cardona did all the talking, in that order. They also led the June 2 meeting, along with Board members Loretta Dunehew and Nick Robles, who came in 20 minutes late. Not that I fault Mr. Robles. It was the first meeting he had attended in four years and didn’t expect to see a room full of irritated people waiting to hold someone accountable for the center’s decline and financial waste. Mr. Robles said someone had called him a few days before and told him it was “very important” that he come to the meeting. He said he was “surprised” to see the people there; heck, he said he didn’t know he was still on the Board after four years. He said he knows it’s been four years because he stopped attending after his heart attack. “I was used, to tell you the truth. I feel like a damn fool.” Mr. Robles is both right and wrong. He was used; but he is not the fool.
Knowing they had to avert blame, someone was stacking the deck, or the head table, if you will. Who called Mr. Robles after four years to come sit at the Board table and pretend it was business as usual? That’s called usury of the elderly at its worst. They are just lucky he isn’t my father.
So who’s the boss? The City or the Board?
Before I go any further rumor has it the Bylaws have been amended, so maybe you can have a meeting once every four years and still call yourself a Board. I would call it a Stealth Board, to go with the Stealth Bylaws, which no one can find. Attempts by me and several others to actually obtain the amended Bylaws have failed. That sound you hear coming from city hall at midnight may be typing.
Ms. Cardona announced at the June 2 gathering that the Bylaws were “in Lori’s computer” and would be made available at the center. That would be Lori Nunez, the center’s Stealth Director. I saw her once… When I asked why she was not at the gatherings I was told she was “in the kitchen” filling in for Lucille Rivas, who is on medical leave from the center. I asked if they couldn’t get someone to fill in in the kitchen for one hour so Lori (who is the contact person for the seniors) could hear their concerns. Both City Finance Director Barbara Smith and Ms. Cardona said Lori didn’t need to be there, the Board is the decision-maker.
I spoke with Mr. Brunet Tuesday; he also told me he had not been to a meeting of the Board of Directors in four years. He said he was sent a notice in the mail for both meetings. He also said he was unaware that May 19 was an open meeting, expecting to see only Ms. Cardona, and Board members Loretta Dunehew and Nick Robles. He was blindsided, my word not his.
He said someone had inquired to Ms. Cardona about the bylaws after the June 2 gathering and she told them to call him, otherwise known as passing the buck. He said he had “no idea about any bylaws”. He could be working for the city.
Mr. Brunet also said the only time he was contacted by Ms. Cardona in the last four years is when she would call him to sign papers for money, because he’s the President of the Board. I can see the paper sliding over in front of him now. He also said, “We [the Board] didn’t handle any money.” Both he and Mr. Robles really wanted to make that point—and I don’t blame them. Mrs. Robles said she was “treasurer in name only.”
Board member Loretta Dunehew told me it had been at least a year and a half since she had attended a meeting.
I wonder how the city was able to apply for grant money, and receive city subsidy/redevelopment of $20,000, without a “real” Board? The center is an incorporated entity; doesn’t that require a Board that actually meets? Isn’t it kind of an un-Board? And don’t even let me hear the word “Quorum”.
Too often, because of vulnerability which sometimes comes with age, this particular demographic group is taken advantage of, even in this benign way.
Ms. Smith was at the June 2 gathering to explain the center’s budget to the audience and the un-Board. Ms. Smith is professional, well spoken and benevolent; you could hear it and see it when she answered the elderly audience. My only question concerning Ms. Smith is why was she at the first gathering on May 19 and why did she lead it? And while I’m asking, why was City Manager Tom Ristau at that earlier meeting? He’s got a city to manage. Maybe I just answered my own question.
Let me say that the city has been very generous to the center. Redevelopment monies, insurance, and maintenance are provided by the city to the center. The center would not be open without the city’s assistance, unless of course, Ms. Cardona made it a priority in her job to seek more grants and funding. How ironic.
Why Ms. Cardona still draws 10-percent of her paycheck from the senior center revenue when she has done as little as possible to earn it, I don’t know. The Board doesn’t exist, the building has been empty except for a small number who participate in senior nutrition (1-6) and new grants have not been received in years. Have they been sought? Someone at the June 2 gathering asked about the distribution of the grant money for the center; is a certain percentage earmarked for service vs. salary? The answer was no. Ms. Cardona said, and I quote, “It [grant monies] can be used all for salaries if they want to.” I contacted a representative at United Way and unfortunately that statement isn’t too far from the truth.
Gayle Washburn presented an expense sheet based on the 2008-09 city expense report (not yet adopted at the time). Her figures reflect a Total Personnel & Operating expenditure of $133,255; Total Overhead(Y) of $118,187; % Overhead = 89%. That translates to 11% going towards direct service to the seniors, or $15,068. When Ms. Washburn presented the 89% Overhead to the attendees, there was no comment from the head table.
What I saw at these two gatherings is a group of energetic, intelligent, informed citizens who want a place to gather as a community and enjoy each other’s company. They want activity and companionship and fun. And I think they are going to get it. This group of citizens is going to create an active, vibrant Board and get the senior center back to what it was pre-Cardona.
One of the bylaws allows for the attending audience to vote in Board members. The audience Monday seemed eager to take that avenue at the next gathering on June 23, 2008. I strongly support that option.
Finally, before the end of the “meeting” people started to mill around. When one woman asked a question of Smith and Cardona, she was told they couldn’t answer the question because the meeting had been adjourned. Actually, there was no adjournment, the meeting just fizzled out and dissolved, much like the center itself.