The Ashland Senior Center's manager would have expanded duties and the center would once again become a separate division within the Parks and Recreation Department if a committee's recommendation approved Monday is implemented. But it could cost the city an additional $100,000.
Following an outcry from Senior Center participants over staff and structure changes made in 2017, the ad hoc Senior Program Advisory Committee passed recommendations to adopt a manager job description and to overturn a Parks and Recreation Department reorganization that put the center under the Recreation Division.
“The most common comments (from the listening sessions) was for a qualified manager,” Chairwoman Jackie Bachman said. Also high on the list of requests was more focus on seniors’ welfare rather than on the recreational aspect of the center.
The parks department has been bombarded with complaints from seniors following the decision to dismiss the center's manager and institute more direct oversight by Parks and Recreation managers. Four part-time employees shortly thereafter resigned from their positions.
The four-page job description recommended Monday for the Senior Center manager has a long list of duties, including developing a long-term strategic plan and policies, establishing and maintaining partnerships with governmental and nonprofit agencies, fostering “an environment of camaraderie” and recruiting, training and supervising staff at the center.
Parks and Recreation Director Michael Black said the committee was asking for a higher upper management position, compared with the previous manager job.
With new responsibilities and duties in place, Bachman said, higher pay might be needed to recruit the right manager.
She proposed working with Parks and Recreation and the city to come up with an additional $100,000, beyond the center’s personnel budget of $151,000.
The job description, based on the existing job and a dozen other manager job descriptions from senior centers that resemble Ashland’s, was deemed too ambitious by several members, including City Councilor Stefani Seffinger.
“Some areas seem overreaching,” she said, pointing to such duties as developing long-term plans and implementing collaboration with other departments in the city.
“I have a hard time sorting out what the priorities are reading through this,” said Peggy Byrnes, senior center patron and committee member. “I can’t tell the most important duties of this person.”
Committee member and Parks Commissioner Jim Lewis, echoing requests from fellow committee members, asked to add a specific line in the job description referencing an outreach program. Committee member and Rogue Valley Council of Government representative Laura O’Bryon explained that social service is an umbrella term that covers outreach efforts, but ultimately agreed to amend the description.
Anne Bellegia, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute program director and committee member, noted that in searching for a new manager, candidates' experience should be prioritized over “artificial factors” such as degrees.
Black said the draft recommendation would be reviewed by the city's human resources manager before heading to the Parks Commission for approval.
The recommendations called for the manager hiring process to begin "as soon as possible," but Black suggested it wouldn't be that simple.
“We can’t tell you when ‘as soon as possible’ will be,” Black said, adding there are a few more processes to be completed before Parks and Recreation could start the hiring process.
The committee also agreed to recommend an organizational structure shift, which would reverse a decision made by the Parks Commission to put the Senior Center under the Recreation Division during the 2017-19 budget cycle.
“Seniors could recreate in many other places in town,” Bachman said, making a case to have the Senior Center as a separate division reporting directly to the parks director.
She added that an independent audit recommends the same structure.
Many senior center patrons have criticized the new structure, saying the commission was indicating the center's primary purpose was recreational, while many of them use the center for social services.
The recommendation for the center to revert to its own division passed unanimously after Black indicated support, saying the Senior Center “can make it work” either as a separate division or as part of the Recreation Division.
The next ad hoc committee meeting will be at 3:15 p.m. Feb. 12 in the Council Chambers, 1175 E Main St. Committee members have said they intend to forward their recommendations to the Parks Commission in March.
— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.