Letter to the City Council: Do Your Job, Empathize with Those Who Elected You, Keep the Social Services at the Senior Center

During last week’s study session, Councilor Slattery wisely pointed out that adequate public notice is “a very big deal.” In a government supposedly of, by, and for the people, it is indeed.
If only Parks and Recreation Department (administration and commission) had followed that rule in its zeal to “reorganize” their only blended social services program—the Senior Center—into a more familiar and thus more manageable for them recreational program.
If only the mayor had properly attended to his responsibility to set the tone and direction of our mayor-council governing body for the good of all of Ashland’s people rather than the desire of a single department.
If only some past mayor-council had recognized the essential difference between recreation and social services, and not violated the integrity of the Parks and Recreation Commission by putting them in charge of the Senior Center, a complexly blended social services program outside the area of their expertise.
If only the current mayor-council would have corrected this violation of program management ethics—that is, to never impede a program’s ability to achieve its goals—Ashland’s current and future elderly would not experience a loss of opportunity for the longer, healthier, and more satisfying lives a true senior center provides. (See: National Council on Aging; National Institute for Senior Centers.)
Many citizens are asking, “How can this ‘reorganization’ be happening in a caring community like Ashland?” The answer can be found in both social science and psychological research and analysis: The longer that people hold governing power, the less empathetic they are liable to become.
Chris Honore’s recent Daily Tidings commentary notes that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s statements about the Dreamers reveal “an absence of truth and compassion.” Dana Milbank’s column in the Mail Tribune (9/24) notes the writings of Matt Aibel on the current state of psycho-social research show “the personal and the political are in reality not distinct” and that “dearly held self-representations distort perception, alter judgment, resist disconfirming factual  evidence, and remain impervious to rational argument, a phenomenon well-documented in the political and social science literature.” And are at work in Ashland today.
And so, chances are that Mayor Stromberg, Director Black, the elected commissioners, and others will persist in their adamant belief that a Senior Center is but a host for recreational opportunities for old people, and that this “reorganization” will bring only improvement, no matter what anyone else says.
Unless the City Council sees the truth and compassionately deems otherwise, this fundamentally flawed “reorganization” of the Senior Center will come to pass, to Ashland’s loss.
-Alice Finley