A Real SOS for Ashland

More than 28% of Ashland households included someone 65 or older in 2010. Thirty-five percent, or 7041 people, were 55 or older. Nearly 18%, or 3532 people, were 65 or older. All these figures from the 2010 Census give urgency to Ashland’s Support Our Seniors movement, which is challenging last August’s gutting of the Senior Program Staff at the Senior Center. The group met November 11 at the Ashland Library.

“Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission (APRC) violated public trust repeatedly,” declared Heidi Gottlieb, citing the loss of outreach on utility programs, transportation programs, activities, and community resources available to the elderly. “Our seniors are at risk,” she said. One woman’s story is that she’s able to live here only by being frugal. This includes living in a 96-square-foot space in the home of a young couple. Another story is of a couple, the wife with dementia, who were coping with the help of the Senior Center. Then he had a stroke. Now his wife, without the help of the Senior Center, probably will have to live in a $5000-a-month care facility at taxpayers’ expense.

“Seniors become more able to age effectively at home,” said Sue Wilson of Food and Friends. She said the Senior Center offered customized plans to help their clients pay utility bills, assist with public transportation, and find community resources. Now they’re given forms, which they may not be able to fill out, and pamphlets. There have been violations of public safety, invasion of privacy, and breach of confidentiality.

Twenty percent of seniors have no other income than Social Security.

Taking care of our most vulnerable seniors is a public responsibility.

The Senior Center had operated for years under budget, and now at $175,000, 2% of the APRC’s $9 million annual budget. Whereas Senior Center salaries were reduced by 32%, salaries at North Mountain Park Nature Center were increased 14%.

Trouble exploded into the daylight at an August 8 APRC subcommittee meeting when Commissioner Michael Gardiner said, “I’ve already made my decision. I made my decision before this meeting,” concerning the laying off of Senior Program Staff and the plan to move some senior activities from Hunter Park to The Grove. Many efforts by citizens to suggest ways to prevent the breakdown of a successful program were presented to the commission and council, a recall was the only action left.  Chairperson, Gardiner and Commissioners Rick Landt and Jim Lewis are subjects of recall petitions, which must be completed within 90 days and contain 1700 signatures of Ashland residents. If enough signatures are collected, a recall election will be held within 30 days.

Two of the five recall charges are, “APRC mismanages personnel, including the layoff of ‘effective, well-qualified staff’ at the Senior Center and replacing them with ‘unqualified parks employees, thus endangering our seniors’ well-being,’” and, “With ‘disregard for public concern,’ APRC voted to spend $230,000 for a Portland consultant to decide the fate and future design of Lithia Park, ‘threatening specific historic sites in our beloved crown jewel.’”

To find out more go to the SOS website – ashlandsos.com.

Ashland Chronicle Staff