Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 8:10 PM on Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Senior citizens director fired

Board gives no reason for dismissal; Fred Lau back as interim director

BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG
STAFF WRITER

The Homer Senior Citizens Inc. board of directors last Thursday announced that it had fired Executive Director Sue Samet — a notice that came in the midst of outspoken public comments in support of former employees and Samet.

Almost 30 people of about 50 attending spoke about the controversy surrounding Samet's tenure in a meeting that overflowed from the senior center's recreation room and had to be moved into the cafeteria. Many spoke in support of Gay Pendleton and Pat Doyle, who recently resigned from their jobs at Friendship Center, the adult day services program run by Homer Senior Citizens at the Homer Senior Center complex. Others, including several employees, spoke favorably of Samet's job performance.

Samet is the third director hired since September 2009. She started in the fall of 2010, replacing Patrick Cash, who started in early 2010 and also was terminated. Traci Boschert, the director hired in September 2009, died after moving to Homer from Anchorage just days before starting work. Fred Lau, the former executive director who had served 12 years, was again hired to be interim director.

At a special meeting held March 23, the board of directors approved in a unanimous voice vote to give Samet a 60-day letter of termination and then exercised its option of making that termination immediate.

Samet said she was shocked by the board's decision. She attended the March 23 meeting and waited while the board held deliberations in executive session. When board members came out, they voted in minutes to fire her.

"It totally took the wind out of my sails," Samet said. "I had no idea the seriousness of it."

Samet said the board gave no reason for why it fired her.

At the regular meeting on Thursday, Lau did not give a reason for Samet being fired, citing confidentiality for personnel matters.

"When you keep asking about why a person was let go, you're not going to get an answer," Lau said.

Lau did say Samet's contract spells out reasons for what the board can and cannot do in terms of termination, but he was not more specific.

Samet has 20 years experience in social work, including 13 years as director of Providence Horizon House, an assisted living center in Anchorage.

"I'm just really sorry it's over," Samet said. "I thought I had a lot to offer, and obviously they (the board) didn't like what I had to offer. The staff did.... I really started clicking with the staff. There was just some ill-will with one program."

Samet referred to the Friendship Center. Pendleton and Doyle's departure from Friendship Center had been the subject of several letters to the editor. Pendleton was the center manager and Doyle was an activities aide.

Many visitors to the meeting said they came Thursday night specifically to speak in favor of them.

"Gay was a very active part in tying the community into what was going on at the Senior Center," said Alice Lind, a resident of the independent residences.

Homer Senior Citizens Inc. owns and manages three apartment complexes for seniors 55 and older: Kachemak Bay Senior Housing across Herndon Street from the Senior Center, Pioneer Vistas adjacent to the center and Bartlett Terrace on Bartlett Street. Friendship Terrace is the assisted living apartment complex connected to the Senior Center.

"Pat and Gay put their whole heart into their positions that they held there," said Donna McCubbins. "They loved every one of the seniors that they served."

"I know how very much Gay loved the clients," said Rayma Hughes, another supporter. "Eighteen years she put into this program. I think an injustice has been done to her."

Doyle explained why she and Pendleton quit.

"We're supposed to have an umbrella through the Senior Center and we're supposed to work together," Doyle said. "For a long time that hasn't happened. It's one way or the highway. That's what Gay and I ran into."

Stephen Theisen, a Friendship Terrace resident, criticized the board and praised Samet's qualifications. "I think you should all retire," he said to the board, drawing hisses and boos from the audience. "If you were professional people, you would look at this objectively."

Several employees and others also spoke favorably of Samet.

"I would like to let the board know their decision to hire Susanah was a wise one. She was showing great leadership abilities," said Kathi Drew, the new activities director.

"One thing Sue did was bring all of us together. She was really good at it," said Colleen McNulty, manager of Friendship Terrace.

"I feel this board has done a terrible, terrible disservice for firing a wonderful person, a wonderful administrator," said Bob Ward, food services manager.

"All the managers here really, really appreciated Sue. Sue looked to the future. Sue didn't want to be small town," said Al Veldstra.

Some also spoke of the confusion about what was going on.

"I feel like I'm in the dark. There have been lots of rumors. People are getting fired. People are getting upset," said Tom Irons, a volunteer at the Senior Center. "We're all wondering what this is about, but no one is talking."

"I feel like (Samet) was on an excellent path," said Pat D'Aoust, a nurse at Friendship Terrace. "I don't understand why she was fired.... I hope we will be advised of this at some point."

As the meeting wound down, Nelda Calhoun, Alaska resident since 1946, asked the board to consider what it is doing.

"It seems to me everyone is concerned about what's happening over in the center," she said. "I ask you to be careful with what you're doing. This is our home."

Gert Seekins, vice president of the board, said the board thanked people for their comments and invites people to attend meetings. The board is there to serve seniors to the best of its ability, she said.

"Just come and be involved. We invite you to do that," she said. "We want you to know we're here for you."

The next Homer Senior Citizens Inc. board meeting is 5:30 p.m. April 19. The general membership meeting is May 19, with election of new officers and board members.

In addition to residential services, Homer Senior Citizens operates the Homer Senior Center, with a dining room, activities and a recreation room. It also provides hot lunches to seniors 60 and older in the surrounding area and has the food contract for the Homer Jail.

Meals are served at noon Monday-Friday. For more information, call 235-7655 or visit the center at 3935 Svedlund Street.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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