Submitted by Barry Austin
Before the City built the John D. Spreckels Center, it hired an organization that was known as the “Senior Center” to run that facility which was a much-remodeled old house. Once the Senior Center was demolished and the John D. Spreckels Center was built, the City took over the management of the facility and most of its activities. Thus, the need for the prior organization went away. As with many bureaucracies, the City has continued to fund the old organization (Coronado Senior Association, aka CSA), despite the fact that it no longer serves any real function.
On three occasions I have pointed out to the Mayor and Council exactly how little the CSA is doing, how many problems it is actually causing, and how the $34,200 per year of taxpayer money granted to the CSA could be much more effectively utilized in other ways to benefit Coronado seniors. Yet there seems to be some kind of secret inertia that keeps this Energizer bunny gravy train going.
At the Council meeting last week (4 December), I advised the Council of some current facts:
- In their latest quarterly financials to the City, the CSA reported that they spent 4% of their income on services to seniors. That’s right – only 4%went to services; 96% went to overhead. Talk about waste!
- One fairly large contingent of part-year seniors gathers weekly to discuss current events. They require nothing other than chairs in order to have their lively discussions. CSA has incorrectly told them they cannot meet in the Spreckels facility unless they join CSA, paying full dues.
- At the September 12th Spreckels Center Advisory Committee meeting, CSA board member Cindi Sanders confirmed that members are paying cash directly to instructors for some classes. She insisted that this procedure is OK, despite the fact that doing so results in revenues and expenses not appearing in their financial records in violation of their contractual requirement.
- The CSA continues to intentionally confuse people about the Spreckels Center, with the intent of making people believe that membership in CSA is required in order to take advantage of Spreckels Center’s offerings. It is not! For example:
- CSA advertises billiards at Spreckels as a CSA activity, and thus membership in their organization is required to play. Not true; anyone over 50 may play billiards free of charge.
- The Spreckels Center Newsletter button on the CSA website is intentionally programmed to display the CSA newsletter instead.
- CSA continues to advertise events as taking place at the “Coronado Senior Center.” Yet that organization and building ceased to exist some 18 months ago.
I then went on to read to the Mayor and Council an unbelievable statement made by past president and current treasurer Caroline Haines at the 10 October CSA board meeting: “The thing that bugs me the most is that we have to play by rules. What right does the City or anyone have to question us?”
The Mayor recently wrote, “At City Hall, we have worked to create a culture of accountability and efficiency.” So I asked him how the Mayor and Council could justify giving $34,200 of taxpayer money to an organization that does so little and obviously doesn’t wish to play by the rules or be accountable or efficient.
And I asked the Mayor and Council why earlier this year they exempted the CSA from the grant application process and monitoring guidelines, which apply to all other non-profit organizations being given taxpayer funds. The Mayor responded by saying, “Removing CSA from the community grant process actually creates MORE accountability and oversight.” He provided no explanation of how it does this magic. Nor did he suggest that the grant process should be scrapped, since it apparently leads to LESS accountability and oversight.
Examples of poor use of taxpayer money by the CSA abound.
- The primary one has to do with why the CSA sees itself existing. The CSA Board of Directors often reminds itself, “Our purpose is to keep jobs for our two employees.” And they act accordingly. Silly me – I though the purpose of folks working on behalf of the Spreckels Center was to provide programs and services for seniors.
- On a much smaller, but a telling example, the CSA contracted with a credit card processing company to allow individuals to charge donations. Yet after a year of operation, the payments to the processing company total more than the amount of the donations! And there are no plans to discontinue the contract.
Were the CSA doing these things with their own money, I would have no issue. But they’re not – they’re using Coronado taxpayer funds.
The operations plan for the Spreckels Center that was adopted by Mayor and Council in May 2016 called for a phase-out of funding to the CSA. It was expected that the City staff would do exactly what it does at the Rec Center – manage the building and programs – and that the CSA, if it wished to continue to exist, would become self-funding. That was and is a good plan!
To the City Council I say, “Follow the approved plan.” We don’t need a taxpayer-funded Coronado Senior Association. We need that $34,200 to go to the Spreckels Center, so that the outstanding staff there has ample funding for Coronado’s seniors.