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Friday, October 27, 2006

Council Continues to Seek Merger of Senior Citizen's Commission

At Tuesday's City Council meeting the council continued their move towards a merger of the Senior Citizen's Commission with the Social Services Commission. This is a move strongly opposed by the Senior Citizen's Commission and supported by the Social Services Commission.

For the first time, we see the rationale behind this rather perplexing move. It remains completely unclear as to why Souza has continued to push this issue other than sheer vanity. Souza's argument is that by combining the two commissions, you make a more powerful one.

He certainly to date has not made any kind of argument for why that might be. In fact, there are several reasons to argue that combining the issue would actually dilute the influence of both commissions. There would not be a single member lost, however, that means you are looking at a 12-14 person commission charged with a very broad range of issues. It seems likely that a lot of the specific issues may not get addressed and much of the work would have to be performed in subcommittee anyway (which begs the question, why not just leave it as it is if you have to hav a lot of subcommittees).

Mayor Sue Greenwald makes two very good arguments against the merger. The first, is that it is not clear that these two commissions really have compatible jurisdictions. The mayor argues that the Social Service's commission primarily focuses on issues of disabilities and the poor. When informed that they may not primarily focus on those issues, she strongly argues that they should. The Senior Citizen's commission heavily focuses on issues pertaining directly to Seniors.

While there is clearly some overlap between the duties, the overall focus is very different and seems better to remain distict except at those times when the issues converge. Councilmember Heystek suggested that they might have either liaisons to each other or have joint committee meetings when their jurisdictions overlap.

The second issue that Greenwald raises is the time of meetings. A lot of seniors, as she points out, cannot drive at night and cannot be out late. The Senior Citizen's Commission meets during the day, however, staff suggested that the meetings for the new commission would be at night--a great inconvenience to the seniors not only on the commission but in the community as a whole who might like to attend meetings. Staff's suggestion was that they arrange for rides, but that seems to be almost insulting and greatly erodes the independence of the membership and likely will erode future interest in serving on this commission.

Under fire, the Council is now suggesting they have meetings and discussion until December and then will wait to make a decision. Several suggested that at that time they might decide to keep things at is.

That seems very unlikely. While a view of the meeting reveals Souza in an amiable mood talking about the power that the merger will bring to these commissions, it is in striking contrast to his previous behavior with regards to this issue where witnesses suggested that Souza browbeat and attempted to intimidate the chair of the commission to go along with his plans.

The Senior community has responded in kind and now the council majority is complaining about the tone of discussion in the community. This is a typical game played by Souza and Saylor--they have free reign to attempt to get their way, but when people call them on it, they complain about tone and tenor.

At the end of the day, there seems to be no reason for this merger other than perhaps the ego of Souza. He named nothing concrete that would be gained by this. The senior citizen commission continues to oppose it. I see no reason whatsoever for this to be brought back at the December meeting.

Seniors would be wise to remember this effort by the council and the extent of this effort to merge the commissions.

Please view segments of the debate from Tuesday night beginning with a long talk from Souza. This is about a nine minute video clip. (It may take a little while before the link is active, please be patient).

---Doug Paul Davis reporting