Council calls for changes at town’s senior center
Council calls for changes at town’s senior center
NORTH PROVIDENCE – A representative for the town’s senior center complained to the Town Council last week about town officials deactivating their fuel cards, not repairing vehicles, and failing to remove snow in their parking lot, among other issues.
Though council members agreed with new senior center board member Albert Peterson that town and senior center officials need to work out their differences and find a solution going forward, they didn’t appear sympathetic about the changes.
Council President Dino Autiello and Councilor Manny Giusti were especially critical of the actions taken by officials from the Salvatore Mancini Resource and Activity Center, questioning why they would choose to sue the town two years ago instead of just providing answers that council members asked for.
“I feel like this council has been used as a chess piece,” said Autiello. He explained that senior center officials have repeatedly “run to the Town Council” when there have been repercussions for their actions.
Autiello said he’s done a lot of research and found that the more than $500,000 the town provides to the senior center is more generous than the amounts given by any other community. It might be time to scale activities and services back, he said, a “hard decision,” but maybe one that’s necessary to bring the town “in line with what other communities” provide.
Town officials keep hearing that it’s “all about the seniors, all about the seniors, but my question is, is it all about the seniors?” asked Autiello.
As an example of the problems between the center and the town, the council president pointed to the senior center director, Karen Testa Leone, actively working against Mayor Charles Lombardi during the last election cycle.
Autiello said if he did the same thing to his employer, he would probably be fired. He said his criticism wasn’t aimed at Peterson, as a new board member, but others who have been in place for the past three years of conflict. He said he’s not happy about continued posts on social media criticizing town officials.
“It’s gone too far now,” he said.
Lombardi said officials are still providing the $40,000 or so the town owes the center each month for its operating budget, but he said they’re cutting back on some of the extra services they began providing four years ago. He questioned how senior center officials could have the “audacity and gall” to ask why they’re not still getting free gas. He said he will no longer give them “more money to take advantage of the taxpayers.”
Peterson acknowledged some deficiencies in communication with the town, but said now that he’s a member of the board, officials can count on better cooperation going forward. Effective communication is needed for “immediate resolutions” to various issues impacting seniors, he said. Those issues also include health benefits not being approved for one new employee, he said.
Peterson said the town is refusing to repair a senior van, forcing senior center officials to use a spare van with no heat in it to transport senior citizens.
Peterson said elected leaders should start coming to monthly meetings of the board. Some council members, including Raymond DeStefanis, said they would take him up on the invitation.
Autiello said the council needs more than just an invitation to board meetings. He said officials need more authority over expenses and more say on the board of directors, perhaps with the mayor and council appointing three members each. He said he’ll push for some changes during upcoming budget discussions.
“Anything is possible if we’re willing to sit down at the table and work together,” Peterson replied.
Senior center board members said they’ve provided information on the center’s financials to town officials when it’s been requested, but Giusti said the “big problem” is that information provided is always incomplete, leading to more questions. Giusti said he’s “not looking to bury you,” and that he loves the senior center, “but give us what we ask for.”
“Any question that is asked is going to be answered,” Peterson promised.
Town officials asked how much town funding the senior center has expended on two attorneys to fight their case over money previously withheld by the town. Peterson said he didn’t have the information with him but would get it to officials.
Lombardi again reiterated that he has no intention to hurt the center and that “the only thing that could happen is that it will become better.” He said his goal is to have no senior citizens have to pay for bus rides, lunches, card games, or any other programs.
“There’s enough money being distributed to the center so seniors that attend shouldn’t have to pay one penny for anything,” he said.
Lombardi again stated that he believes it’s time to make the senior center an official town department instead of allowing it to continue as a nonprofit organization.