Senior Program changes necessary but not well handled

    I wish we, Ashland Parks Commissioners, had handled the roll-out of the restructuring of the Senior Program differently. I’d like to explain what I mean.

    Parks Commissioners’ restructuring decision and change process were not articulated clearly enough and, even though there were multiple public meetings, many felt left out of the process. For my part in the communication breakdown that caused distress and anxiety for Senior Program participants, I am truly sorry.

    Along with the Parks Commissioners, there were others who contributed to the distress felt by Senior Program participants. They include those who spread accusations and claims without verifying their accuracy, causing needless alarm among vulnerable and concerned citizens.

    To cite a particularly troublesome example, among the Senior Program subcommittee recommendations was one that proposed closing the program for a period of time while restructuring occurred. This proposed idea, never approved, had a life of one day, before the full commission squelched it. Yet this erroneous claim lives on to this day as a central reason for the recall election. At the Aug. 9 Parks Commission meeting, I amended the subcommittee recommendations to ensure no break in services and to create an advisory board to ensure public involvement in the restructuring process. The recommendations, with my amendments, were passed unanimously by parks commissioners.

    It is frustrating when the truth continues to be lost in an attempt to persuade. The Senior Center was not closed even for a day. The long-term health of the Senior Program is being strengthened as evidenced by the work of the ad-hoc Ashland Senior Program Advisory Committee, made up of senior program participants and experts in senior related matters.

    Although I wish the Senior Program changes had been presented to the public with more sensitivity, I stand by the approved, amended recommendations. The former Senior Center served a limited clientele very well. Yet there were serious problems that required addressing without delay like the practices of allowing volunteers without background checks access to seniors, and providing financial and estate planning advice to seniors from non-professionals.

    Elected to oversee all Ashland parks facilities and programs, commissioners concluded that taking the Senior Program in a more inclusive, professional direction required significant restructuring and full cooperation from staff. Layoffs occurred after Senior Center staff made it clear they were not willing to take direction from parks commissioners, their policy board.

    I have no motive to do anything except what I was elected to do — support and oversee all Parks and Recreation programs. As a senior, as registered nurse who proudly works with seniors, and as a member of a progressive community, I support senior programs, especially programs for at-risk seniors. My record has been to maintain and strengthen Ashland’s Senior Program. As long as I am a commissioner, that will continue.

    We as a community need to rise above national political trends and base our decisions on verifiable facts and common sense. And if Ashland’s voters allow me to continue to serve them by voting no on the recall, I pledge to redouble my efforts to ensure robust public participation and transparency in all Parks Commission decisions.

    — Rick Landt is a member of the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission.

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