As I approach senior citizen status, I’m beginning to experience what it means to belong to this age group—young people look upon me with pity and I probably should schedule a facelift. On the bright side, I’m allowed to become cranky with anyone who doesn’t respect my opinion as the only one that matters.
I’ve also started to take a modest interest in things labeled “senior.” Thus I was attracted to the recent headline in the Fort Bragg Advocate News: “Senior Center Vote to Fire Bush Baffles All.”
On the surface, the senior center board had silly reasons to fire their executive director Charles Bush. He allegedly has a messy office, spends too much time in the dining room, not enough time fundraising, and refuses to fire a crabby volunteer.
Of the 9-member board, the vote came in 4-2 with 2 abstaining. The ninth member claimed that the vote was called for illegally and walked out before it was taken.
Tensions ran high at The Purity as people wondered aloud: Was Charles fired or not?
The plan to dump him began brewing over the summer. The seniors who frequent the center are highly supportive of him and none too happy with board members who favor letting him go.
After the “firing,” the board president was spat upon one afternoon while walking through the halls of the center. Another time, she found her car had been keyed. She received a death threat. All board members suffered harassing telephone calls.
How could I not be captivated by a story that included death threats, crank calls, car keying, senior citizens spitting on one another, sex, drugs, alcohol and adultery?
(The sex, drugs, alcohol and adultery claims have not been corroborated—so it’s probably best not to repeat them.)
Suffering from a lack of drama in my life (new puppy notwithstanding), I decided to attend the senior center board meeting on September 27th.
I arrived 15 minutes early to find people pouring into the vast dining room faster than Charles Bush could haul out chairs to seat them.
I looked toward the open kitchen and saw two people stirring a large cauldron. Others plucked feathers from chicken carcasses. The thick scent of tar hung in the air.
The room was packed with a growling gray-haired mob, worrying stones in their pockets and hoping their aim was as good as in years past. I estimated 10,000 people, but it was probably closer to 200.
A weary looking vice-president attempted to call the meeting to order amidst problems with the sound system.
Angry cries of “I can’t hear you!” and “Put the microphone up to your mouth!” reverberated throughout the room.
The glitches were worked out. The vice-president’s first announced was that the president (who had previously been spat upon and received death threats) and three other board members would not be at the meeting. The crowd grumbled.
What would become of all that tar, all those feathers?
The collective expression of the five board members present was a mixture of fear and disdain, self-protection and disgust. They would not cower before a bunch of peon vigilantes.
Charles pleaded with everyone to simmer down, to treat one another with respect. This harkened me back to the days when my daughter Laine attended Redwood Elementary. Each Friday, the student body gathered on the playground for “Friday Opening.” The short session ended with everyone reciting the Redwood Oath: Be kind. Be safe. Be responsible.
The crowd grudgingly shifted from feral to nearly calm. A half hour was set aside for public comment. Each person who wished to was allowed a few minutes to express his or her opinion. The opinions were overwhelmingly in favor of keeping Charles as executive director.
At the close of public comment, four letters of resignation—from absent board members—were read into the record. The crowd gasped.
Another letter of resignation was read, then one more. The crowd gasped again as the two grim-faced quitters got up and walked out of the room.
In less than one hour, the Redwood Coast Senior Center Board of Directors went from nine members to three. I have not witnessed such drama since “Dynasty” went off the air.
The senior center should have no trouble filling the vacant board seats. Perhaps the person who spat on the former president will apply. And the one who keyed her car. And the one who issued a death threat.
The final three seats can be fought over by those who made the threatening phone calls.
Before each board meeting, the principal of Redwood Elementary can lead a recital of: Be kind. Be safe. Be responsible. Don’t threaten to kill one another.