Montclair Senior Services is rudderless (Letter to the Editor)
Older citizens of Montclair have been waiting way too long for the township to remedy the absentee administration of the Division of Senior Services. No wonder we are fed up with the stewardship of this town manager and the leadership of this town council.
The current director of senior services has been on disability for the bulk of 2022. Spokespeople for the township informed our representatives that the director’s disability leave would end on July 5, a year almost to the date of hire. Well, July 5 has come and gone, and she has still not reported to work.
On July 6, a clerk’s office representative informed us that the director has applied for and is “entitled to an extension on her disability leave.” We ask, “What are the taxpaying seniors of our community entitled to?” Seniors who email and telephone the department receive “out of office” responses and no call-backs.
In point of fact, the Division of Senior Services has been rudderless since Dr. Katherine York left in January 2021. Between January 2021 and July 1, 2021, the township took no action to appoint an interim director while they searched for Dr. York’s replacement. And, when her replacement was finally appointed on July 1, 2021, her immediate supervisor and director of health and human services, Sue Portuese, officially retired. This left a new hire under an interim and inexperienced supervisor, a sizable challenge for any new employee.
From January 2021 until the present, the Montclair Institute for Lifelong Learning, primarily funded by Partners for Health, is the only program from Dr. York’s tenure that has thrived, and that is only because of the herculean effort of coordinator Michelle DeWitt.
Starting in January 2022, the new director reported health issues, and there was no salaried employee to pick up the slack. Though we had not been told, either informally or officially, apparently the director had gone on disability leave sometime in early spring. Again, no interim director was named. Stakeholder senior groups were never officially informed of the status of the director’s leave, her anticipated date of return or any interim plans for upholding the health and welfare of our seniors.
It would appear that this administration specializes in non-transparency and ignorance of senior issues. If one observed that in fact no emergencies emerged, the only reason is that volunteer stakeholder groups struggled to carry the burden — this is not a model for good government.
The number of residents over the age of 55 exceeds the number of children in the public schools. And these older residents are paying taxes, which allows the township to spend money on other constituencies. The township is certainly not spending a fair share of the budget on Senior Services; the Senior Service budget in 2022 was a paltry 2% of our $92 million expenditures.
So, we say shame on you, Montclair, for cavalierly ignoring the welfare of your older constituents. The time has come for a change.
President of Montclair Gateway to Aging in Place
President of Aging in Montclair
Chair of Montclair Aging Advocacy Coalition
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