Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 3:20 PM on Thursday, May 19, 2011

HSC membership elects new board members

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

More than 80 members of Homer Senior Citizens Inc. filled the Homer Senior Center dining room Thursday night for HSCI's annual membership meeting. They were eager to ask questions, express views and finally at the end of the evening, elect three new board members.

Elected were Marjanne Schneider, Jackie Dentz and Merlin Cordes. They replace Brentley Keene, who served most recently as board president, Steve Franklin and Nadine Pence.

Schneider's friendship with a resident in Friendship Terrace, HSCI's assisted living facility, was the reason she agreed to run for the board.

"Maybe I can be of some help, have some insights many people have not been able to acquire because they don't spend the time there," she said.

Dentz, the owner of Frosty Bear Ice Cream Parlor and Crabbie's, is a former member of South Peninsula Hospital's service area board.

"I'm 68 and, like you, I'm still upright and putting one foot in front of the other. ╔ I totally believe that this is probably our last home if we're lucky to get this far," said Dentz of what the future may hold for her and husband, Willie.

Cordes has lived in Homer for more than 21 years, working as a substitute teacher, commercial fisherman, referee for sporting events and as a real estate agent.

"I'm mighty thankful to the people that work in these places. It takes a tremendous amount of effort some days because of their constantly being around people that need so much care," said Cordes. "I understand the help these people need and am willing to put in my time if that's what you choose."

In a board meeting immediately following the membership meeting, Ernest Suoja was elected president, Gert Seekins was re-elected as vice president, with Brenda Steenblock as treasurer and Kay Sebade as secretary.

The evening began with at least one individual turned away from the meeting for lack of being a member. HSCI is a private corporation and, as such, chooses to exclude the public from membership meetings.

Member George Meeker took exception shortly after the meeting began to the lack of consideration given to items he requested be added to the agenda.

"I just asked for a place for members of this organization to give their comments," Meeker said.

Telling Meeker he was out of order, Keene assured Meeker that Keene and Fred Lau, acting HSCI executive director, would entertain questions when they gave their reports.

"At that time, if you have any questions of me about anything, I'll be glad to answer any questions I'm knowledgeable of or are able to answer," said Keene. "I may not be able to answer because of confidentiality, but I'm more than happy to answer any questions you have at this time."

Meeker wasn't the only person curious about the absence of agenda space for member comments.

"You can go to annual meetings of the largest corporations in this country and they have a spot on the agenda for people to speak," one member said. "Why is there no place on the agenda here for members of the senior center to speak? I think that needs to be addressed. Otherwise why are we having this meeting?"

Keene said he agreed, but contended it would take a change of by-laws to allow for that level of member participation.

When it came to Keene's report, questions from Meeker focused on two board meetings called in March, whether or not Keene had been in town at the time the meetings were called and the dismissal of Sue Samet who, until March 23, served as HSCI's executive director. The board's reasons for terminating Samet's contract have not been publicly revealed.

In response to Meeker's questions, Keene said he was not invited to the meeting of March 19 and was out of town when an executive session was held March 23.

"I don't have a dog in this fight. It's just the fact that when I find someone feels like they haven't had a fair deal, I'm not going to sit around," said Meeker. "I don't know Samet ╔ but I believe the situation could have been worked out by the board with a little mediation. Do you agree?"

Making it clear his answer was just his opinion, Keene said, "If I had been here, with the information I had, I would not have voted to terminate her contract."

Lau expressed appreciation for the efforts of the board of directors and the "difficult decision" they had made.

"Most of you know me. I say what I think and tell it like it is. That's where (my) report comes from. The board didn't see my report before I put it in (the meeting packet). It's my report," said Lau.

In it, Lau addressed Samet's dismissal "in terms of what I found when I came here, the process it went through and my interpretation of what occurred." His report outlined how the board of directors had contacted him March 22 to ask if he would serve as interim executive director. Lau served 12 years as the HSCI's executive director and has filled in several times on an interim basis.

"At the time, all I knew was that it was very probable that the present executive director would not be there after March 23, 2011," Lau stated in his report. "Since this was a personnel action, the nature of which is confidential and only the board of directors has authority to hire or terminate the executive director, I did not ask for, nor did I expect to receive, an y information regarding the reasons for the termination."

Lau said that since being hired as HSCI's interim executive director, his review of memos, e-mails and notes from as early as January 2011 "give a clear indication the executive director knew her job was in jeopardy."

He provided in his report an update of HSCI activities in the last six months. In response to how the board handled executive sessions, Lau said that as a private organization, HSCI is not bound by the same rules as public organizations.

"Private organizations do not have to say why they are going into executive session and they can go in there and discuss anything they want," said Lau.

Turning to nominations for board vacancies, Keene said the only stipulation was that an individual be willing to serve, and that residents of Friendship Terrace and Swartzell Terrace, a four-unit independent living facility, are barred by HSCI policy from serving on the board. As spelled out in an HSCI tenant-board member policy dated Oct. 19, 2010, only "tenants of Kachemak Bay Senior Housing, Pioneer Vistas Senior Housing and Bartlett Terrace Senior Hosing are eligible to serve on the board of directors of Homer Senior Citizen's Inc. and/or committees."

Lau said the policy was initiated while Samet was executive director. It came about after notification was received from Alaska Housing Finance Corporation that having residents in housing funded through AHFC on the board was a conflict of interest. The issue surfaced when it appeared former board member Pence was in such a situation. Although it was determined Pence did not present a conflict, the policy was revised.

"I assume that's why the executive director went to the board and had the policy changed to exclude Friendship Terrace and Swartzell Terrace because they're built with HOME funds," said Lau, referring to a Housing and Urban Development program.

Annual membership meetings of Homer Senior Citizens Inc. are held the third Thursday of May. The board meets on a monthly basis.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.