Seniors Centre Management Board has to decide if they want to run the place or serve as advisers.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  April 27, 2012   The city sent over two of its coolest cats to meet with  Senior`s Centre Board of Management (BOM).  Burlington  city manager Jeff Fielding  and Chris Glenn,  Director of Parks and Recreation,  made their way into the centre without getting beat up by a senior wielding an umbrella and set out the city`s position on the relationship it needed and the responsibilities the BOM have to meet.  It may not have been what the Seniors Board of Management (BOM) wanted to hear.

There is nothing fancy about the place. It's simple, serves the purpose with a bus stop almost outside the door and plenty of parking. And the kitchen will rustle you up a sandwich if you're hungry. The Seniors like it the way it is.

The Centre has a membership of 3,000 – if you’re over 55 – pay the $35. annual membership fee and you’re in – and you can find people to play pool with all day long if you like.

The meeting ended with the city people agreeing to get back to the BOM with a document that will set out what the city has to have and how the city feels everyone’s best interests can be served.

The Seniors have not been certain that the city is really listening to them and the way they want to see their Centre run.  Up until very recently the liaison between the city and the Centre was Kathy Lamb,  but after years of service Lamb retired from the city, and both the Centre and the city haven’t quite adapted to the change yet.

Last August city council approved a few small changes in the Senior’s Centre constitution with very little comment.  Then things began to go wrong.

The city sent someone over to the Centre to talk about “governance” and the centre membership didn’t have a clue – what did governance matter to them?

The Centre is run by a Board of Management that until  recently was running quite smoothly – then there was a sudden turn over of the BOM`s membership – seven of the twelve board members have resigned in the very recent past.

A couple of years ago the city realized that it had to look at the operating agreements between various citizen driven operations in buildings that the city owned.  Who is responsible for what and who pays for what were questions the city was asking – and they didn’t like the answers they were getting.  There wasn’t a consistent policy that applied to every organization.

Chris Glenn, on the right, leads the Parks and Recreation department as Director and is tasked with the challenge of bringing the various organizations that use city property under a Master Agreement that is consistently applied to everyone. It should have been done four years ago.

Some time ago the city decided that it had to have consistency with all the groups it works with and began meeting with the different organizations to put together an operating agreement that  sets out who is to do what and when they are to do it and who is paying for what and how much they are paying.

During the past 18 months the city has been working with the numerous organizations that use city facilities and sometimes deliver city programs.  Several of these organizations have had arrangements with the city that were not much more than a handshake and the city wanted to change those relationships to one where everyone was working from the same master agreement that was tailored to meet individual needs.

The Burlington Gymnastics Club went through the process awhile back; the Burlington Soccer Club has gone through the process a number of times.  The city found that there were all kinds of agreements out there; some well documented while others appeared to be no more than a handshake and an understanding.

When the city met with the Seniors it didn’t go very smoothly.  There was a bit of an uproar and apparently many changes at the BOM management level with people resigning and different view points attempting to prevail – it was never quite clear what the Seniors wanted.

Changing the nature of a relationship is never easy. While the Senior’s Centre BOM may feel they are being picked on by the city, that is just not the case.  What the city is doing, and really should have done some time ago, is have all the organizations that deal with the city coming under the same policy.

Parks and Recreation had to go through a painful re-organization and make changes at the very top.  Those changes took time but they are now in place and the policy decisions made a number of months ago are being implemented.

The Seniors Centre is a safe place for older people to meet and socialize with their friends - a critical component of the social network for a city that has a growing senior population.

The BOM began to realize the city was looking for some changes but they could never get a handle on just what it was the city wanted to change.  The BOM asked the city to put the changes they wanted in writing so they could respond.  And then the Seniors waited – and waited.

Many on the BOM were getting anxious.  Personality conflicts began to come to the surface.  Different operating styles were clashing.

The city needed to have the Centre comply with the policy that was put in place close to a year ago.

The seniors have been waiting for a written response form the city without fully realizing what it is the city has to do. There will be an agreement worked out,  but in the end it is going to come down to either the seniors taking full responsibility for the operations – which includes paying their staff and being responsibility for the liabilities that come with that level of management – or the current Board of Management can become an Advisory Board and the city will run the operation.

The city would much prefer that citizens run as much of the program they benefit from as possible.  That is the model Burlington uses.

There was quite a fluff when it was suggested a number of months ago that there were big changes in the wind – all, well you know what, broke loose and there were meetings with very large turnouts and the city didn’t do as well as it might have in settling the concerns of the seniors.

Lawn Bowling Club is right beside the Seniors Centre. In good weather plenty of opportunity to get out and get some exercise and fresh air. The Library is a very short walk away. Much of what Seniors need in the way of civic services are in the immediate area.

The Senior’s didn’t do all that well either.  They have seen seven of their 12 board members resign in the very recent past.  This is not healthy and tells the people on the city side that the senior`s don’t really have their act together.

It takes very little to have a senior on the phone to their council member who usually gets an earful.  On one occasion a petition was put together with 500 signatures.  The meeting that resulted had 300 people turning out.  The Senior`s don`t take prisoners.

Don Crossley, a Burlington senior and local newspaper columnist,  was expected to play a modifying role but that didn’t work out.  Joe Lamb was brought on Board and Joe Veitch appears to be heading up the Board of Management.  Joe Veitch is known for telling developers what he thinks – twice if they didn’t get it the first time.  But he hasn’t been as vocal, at least publicly, on the current BOM problems.  Veitch just might be the problem and not part of the solution.

The building the Senior`s Centre is in belongs to the city and is made available to the seniors.  The city is never going to let any form of private development take place in that area.  The city puts on programs at the centre which seniors pay for.  The Seniors have a major say in what the fee schedule is for the  programs.

The Centre has a kitchen, which is important to those who go to the Centre.  There is a cook who runs the kitchen.  That person is paid.  The BOM has an agreement with the city whereby the lady in the kitchen is on the city payroll because it is much easier to have the city handle all the paper work.  Nice arrangement and one assumes the kitchen help picks up all the benefits that come from being on the city payroll.

The BOM uses its funds to pay the person who works in the kitchen.  Because the Centre’s BOM doesn’t have an accounting department they put together an arrangement with the city to have the kitchen person put on the city’s payroll with the Centre picking up all the costs.  We assume that all really means “all” the costs – including the very healthy pension benefit program.

Burlington's man in Ottawa, Mike Wallace on the left smiles with Don Crossley and Joe Veitch, on the right. The two Seniors play a large role in running the Seniors Centre. Wallace stay very close to the place - they are a consistently solid Tory vote.

The problem the city has with this is that there is a person on their payroll over whom they have absolutely no control – they don`t even know exactly what the woman does and have no oversight on how the kitchen is run.  Arrangements like that are “old school”; a leftover from the days of the hand shake agreements and not the way the current, more professional, city staff want to see things run.

That Board of Management has a bank account in which we are advised there is a significant amount of money – much of which comes from bequests that are made to the Centre.  It is always nice to see members of an association leaving something for the people they spent time with and enjoyed.  The Board of Management (BOM) doesn’t choose to say how much money there is in that bank account.  The transparency the BOM expects of the city also has  to apply to the BOM, who are concerned that the city will want to see more of that money used to cover expenses the city is now picking up.

The city thus, finds itself having to work with citizens who have earned their retirements and now want to use the leisure time they have in a place that is “theirs”, while the city wants to introduce a level of governance the seniors are not familiar with and for the most part don`t want to have anything to do with.  They want things to remain just the way they were – which is not the real world the rest of us have to live with.

Councillor Sharman has held two public sessions with Senior's as part of his effort to understand their needs and develop policy that Council can put in place to serve this vital community. At most of the sessions Sharman holds, his Dad is often in the audience.

The seniors are however, probably the best organized political constituency in the city.  When aroused they mobilize themselves and make telephone calls.  There is a reason why  Councillors Dennison and Sharman have held two hour sessions with seniors groups – those folks vote and they are quick to tell you what they aren’t happy about.  Asking them to take the long view and think about the future, gets you that look that goes with a raised eyebrow.  They don’t want to listen.

It is going to take a very skilled set of administrators at city hall to clearly understand the needs of the seniors and then come up with ways to communicate with them.  It is not going to be easy and city hall staff are going to have to do this one on their own – they shouldn’t expect any help from the council members.  That would call for a level of political courage we are just not going to see.

We are told that as we get older some of us revert to what you might call childhood behaviour.  When children refuse to listen to reason – for whatever reason – good parents were firm, consistent and fair.  And that is what staff at city hall are going to have to do.  A lot of patience needs to be added to the mix as well as more than a dollop of respect for the seniors.  They have paid the price, the social structure we have is something they built and they want that structure to be there for them now – today, not in six months or a couple of years.

The problem is that the structure the city built has several serious structural flaws that have to be fixed.  They know that and are setting out to do the necessary repairs and re-structuring.  But the BOM doesn’t appear to like it one bit.

The city will do what it has to do, which is to bring some order and consistency, to the assets it has.  Seniors may not like the new approach but it is a more financially responsible way to run a city.  It will take some getting used to – but in the end everyone will be better off.  Will it get messy – probably.


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3 comments to Seniors Centre Management Board has to decide if they want to run the place or serve as advisers.

  • Ivy McCarthy

    I am really incensed Pepper Parr with your derogatory remarks regardng the members of the Burlington Senior Centre. While your state that your column is written in a “Cheeky and Irrelevant style” unfortunately it is most probably read by many other than seniors in Burlington and giving them quite the wrong impression of how the membership regards its Senior Centre.

    I don’t know if you are aware of the background of the Senior Centre, its early beginnings in the Local Arena and how the now Senior Centre came into being and might I add through a lot of hard work by many seniors as well as the City.

    Unfortunately,in the early 1990’s this same Senior Centre was in dire straits with membership under 1000 and morale at its lowest.

    Very wisely, the then Mayor asked the members to list their complaints and how to resolve them. After nearly two years of deliberations the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by the Centre and the City resulting in a a 50/50 Partnership to handle the Centre. The membership elected a Board of Management (BOM) and since that time the membership has soared to nearly 3000 with some members even taking charge of some of the many programs that the Centre now offers.

    Surely you can see that this system of governance has and is working. The BOM realizes that over the years amendments have to be made with changing times but the membership certainly does not want to go back to the old days when seniors had little or no say in their Centre.

    As we come under the umbrella of the Parks and Recreation Division we want to work with them in a constructive manner. The membership wants to give as much of its time and other resources as possible to the Centre so that the City can be as proud of its Burlington Senior Centre as the membership.

    If you want to continue to write about the Burlington Senior Centre Membership, please continue to do so but be ever mindful that you are writing about a caring, responsible group of people who are proud to be citizens of Burlington. Indeed one day, when you are old enough, you might want to enjoy this wonderful facility so cabably run by this joint governance

    First Chair of the Board of Management, and proud to have held that title.

    Editors note:
    If membership is available to those over 55 I was eligible 17 years ago.

  • Penny Hersh

    This article contains many inaccuracies. I would like to know where you got your information? I would also add that your comments concerning Joe Veitch are incorrect. Joe has always maintained a very positive attitude .He is firmly convinced that we will be able to work with the City collaboratively to find a positive outcome for the the members of the Burlington Senior Centre and the City of Burlington. He, along with the BOM are working very hard to make this happen.

    Perhaps you should have focused more closely on how Parks and Recreation have dealt with the BOM regarding this issue in your article.

    Penny Hersh

    • Eric Howard

      Penny Hersh is absolutely correct. Your article is disjointed and poorly written. It is shocking that someone who advertises himself as a professional journalist would have, off the top of his head, written such a disingenous and misinformed babble of incorrect facts coupled with half truths to create sense of authenticity to your comments.