A Homeless Person’s Understanding of the Recall: In Solidarity with Their Elders

 If you’re like me, you’ve been trying to sift through a lot of information to figure out what really is going on with the recall of 3 parks commissioners on the recent ballot. After receiving my ballot, I saw a bunch of posts on Ashland Peeps arguing in favor of voting NO, but nothing for YES. I ended up having to do more research that I had wanted to do. I will share what I’ve learned here, but I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow rehash of what went down. If you want very specific details, you can go to www.ashlandrecall.com, where they have posted their biggest grievances, you can click on “Timeline” for a blow-by-blow account, and you can even contact someone there to answer your questions, if you like. I am going to try to “nutshell” it, if I can. I have not been involved personally in any of this, I feel their voice has been lacking, so this is to give the YES side of the story.

Basically, there were a series of meetings held by Parks commissioners in regards to the Senior Center. The Parks commissioners have their version of what happened, the citizens who participated, particularly seniors and the Senior Center staff, have a different version. As you can see in this article written by a participating senior, Jim Bachman, some statements to the public made by Commissioner Gardiner were downright misleading, according to the personal experience of those who attended. A lot of controversy has come up over how the meetings were not held in good faith- without intent to include, listen and value input from those to be most affected by these dealings. The NO camp would say it is all being overblown and nothing of great malfeasance occurred that would warrant a recall. There were some violations of law, in particular the public was never properly notified of the first meeting in January; and despite people requesting repeatedly for meeting minutes to made public, it took 7 months for them to print minutes from January, for example. Jim Bachman also points out, very clearly, other ways in which the public was being sleighted by the commissioners, please read if you would like particular details: http://www.dailytidings.com/…/guest-opinion-another-view-of… . You can also refer to the page “Broke Meeting Laws” on the recall page for more detailed information. I highly recommend you read these for a better understanding of the grievances behind the process. http://www.ashlandrecall.com/ashlan…/broke-meeting-laws.html

Personally, I think it’s important to note that the process was found appalling by our seniors, but I don’t think it’s the most important part of the story. Even if the committee had done exactly the same, if they had managed to actually restructure the Senior Center to become a much better, much more efficient and helpful resource, I doubt there would have been so much outcry. The biggest part of the incompetence, in my mind, is the outcome of the commissioner’s heavy-handed and inexplicable decision to lay off the perfectly well-performing Senior Center staff. Those advocating for a YES vote say that they were never given a satisfying answer as to why they even did this in the first place, despite asking again and again. Rumors that there was mismanagement by the staff are unfounded. The commissioners only gave a couple loose responses- #1, that the budget was not being handled properly, and #2, that they wanted to do some restructuring. In the case of the first assertion, when people began looking closer at the budget, they found that the Senior Center was operating perfectly fine within their budget, but that other Parks and Rec budgets are being terribly mismanaged, to the point that it is projected they might have to dip into the General Fund. So this invalidates the first reason (and is another point being used to show incompetence).

The second reason still has no satisfactory reasoning, but HAD they, in their infinite wisdom, restructured the Senior Center successfully, it would have suited enough. Instead, it has been a miserable failure. They laid off the Senior Center director Christine Dodson, with no satisfying reason (Dodson denied the accusations and is currently in litigation over these claims by the commissioners, and so, unfortunately, is unable to talk about it with the public right now), and had slated 4 other staff members to be laid off in 6-7 weeks later. Those staff members preemptively resigned in solidarity with Dodson. Since then, it has been story after story of a new, inexperienced staff unable to perform well, resulting in the very real-time effect of suffering, confusion, and lack of support to the elderly, some of the most vulnerable citizens in our community. For the past 7 months, to be exact. Some people want to argue that the seats will be up for re-election in November, and we should wait until then, instead of a recall. In real-time, that means 9 more months of woefully inadequate care and help for our elderly. Whereas, if recalled, the City Council will have to appoint new commissioners within 2 months. What the YES camp is asking for, most particularly, is for the former staff members to be re-hired.

The part that disturbs me the most about this whole business, is how voiceless the seniors have felt during this process. When you get a group of senior citizens so upset and angry that they actually go through the major process of trying to recall elected officials, we really need to take note. This feels like their last resort to being heard and holding their officials accountable to not hearing their needs and taking them seriously. What worries me even more, is if, adding insult to injury, a NO to the recall succeeds- not only will our seniors feel unheard by their elected officials, but by their community as well. I can’t imagine this is how Ashland wants to be treating its elders?

Facebook Post by Kate Wenzell