Why we 10 members of Montclair’s Senior Citizens Advisory Committee are resigning (Town Square)
By 10 members of the SCAC
Special to Montclair Local
The Senior Citizens Advisory Committee was created by the Montclair Township Council on Nov. 12, 1985, to represent the older residents of Montclair. SCAC was charged in its bylaws with the role of addressing “the needs, wishes and status of senior citizens of Montclair, to assess and make recommendations of the services provided by the Township, and act as an advocate in the interest of all senior residents of the Township.”
For more than 35 years, SCAC members have taken that role seriously — spearheading more than 30 Seniorama conferences, volunteering for roundtable feedback committees, presenting white papers, undertaking surveys, producing award-winning TV 34 programming and more. Former Council member Renee Baskerville described the SCAC as the “the hardest working advisory committee.”
The 1985 council decision was inclusive, forward-thinking and a step toward a more participatory democracy, especially since the tax contributions of seniors, which go into the general budget, help townships like ours balance their budgets. Now, as the demographics of our society are changing and as the number of Montclairians age 55 or older approaches 20% of the total population, support services, enrichment programs and transportation services vital to those 65 and older are even more vital to the future of those younger seniors who intend to age in place in our community. Our state and our township cannot afford to lose this population and destabilize its tax base, its collective history or its volunteers.
On Jan. 18, 2022, the Township Council adopted R-22-17, “Resolution Reorganizing the Senior Citizens Advisory Committee.” The resolution requires all current members of SCAC to reapply for future membership, even those whose terms have not yet expired, in order to ensure that future membership is demographically representative. Our issue with that: It fails to recognize how well the board already represents our township’s diversity. We are members and volunteers in Montclair’s many civic and social organizations. We are active in houses of worship and cultural organizations that serve the entire community. We are renters, homeowners and condo owners. Some are lifelong Montclairians; others have recently chosen to live here.
In its misdirected effort to bring fairness and balance to the SCAC, the township failed to recognize that its membership was already fair and balanced, accurately representing the demographics of Montclair. In any event, the normal procedure of appointing one third of the SCAC’s membership every year would seem sufficient opportunity to correct any perceived deficiencies.
The most critical revision of the new regulations explicitly eliminates SCAC’s advocacy function — a function necessary to gaining the council’s attention. Instead, the new regulations would have us play an “advisory role” only — a role that, as described to us by Councilwoman Lori Price Abrams, would have us only make recommendations if the council asked for them. Our older residents who have worked tirelessly within this system for more than 30 years advocating for inclusivity, enrichment and needed services now see their entire legacy minimized. This is unacceptable.
And this is just the latest and most flagrant dismissal of SCAC’s input. We can recall the short-sighted design of the Edgemont House driveway, two last minute dismissals (2008 and 2020) of mature brick-and-mortar senior center plans and others. SCAC’s input was not even solicited in the 2022 final decisions regarding a revision of the transportation services.
If the intention of this reorganization is to have a quieter, more malleable SCAC, that is not who we choose to be. Our role should be to advocate for the future safety and welfare of a growing demographic of retirees. We have not hesitated to point out where we feel that the council should be more responsive to the needs of the older residents of Montclair. We have continued to advocate for sustainable housing, revision of the current Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance and a senior-friendly transportation service. Most significantly, we have worked on a more than decade-long campaign to establish a community senior center, a local facility that already exists in nearly every town around us.
Acceptance of this limitation would require us to compromise the commitment we made when we joined the SCAC to work on behalf of Montclair’s older residents. We will continue to advocate for the senior community, but not under the limitations imposed by this council.
Therefore, we, the members of the SCAC board, serve notice of our immediate resignation.
Gail Abramowitz, Ellie Bagli, Barbara Chase, Rose Cofone, Susan Craig, Louella Dudley, James Eason, Jeanette Jimenez, Ann Lippel and Frank Millspaugh are members of the Senior Citizens Advisory Committee. Members Clarence Jackson and Roger Terry did not sign on to this letter.
Montclair Local has reached out to Councilwoman Lori Price Abrams seeking comment on the SCAC members’ description of her contact with them; her message back did not address whether the changed language was meant to discourage an advocacy role.
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