We shouldn't take sides in senior center dispute

August 7, 2014

The articles in the Cape Gazette of Aug. 1, bylined Chris Flood and Henry J. Evans Jr. respectively, reflect the opinions and statements of only a small group of Cape Henlopen Senior Center members.

My name is Lester “Dutch” Kelley. I am the president of the CHSC membership.

When I retired from managing the New Life Thrift Shop, and became more active at the senior center, I was asked to become the president of the membership. It seemed to mostly require organizing the once-a-month lunch for all members of the center and their guests. This seemed like a good fit for me, since I know a lot of people in our area, felt good about being at the center, and really love organizing lunch.

The staff, both the paid employees and the volunteers, were friendly and helpful, and it was obvious that they ran the center efficiently. The existing director, Juanita, was experiencing steadily worsening health problems and made fewer and fewer appearances at the senior center, but the members were mostly unaware of this, thanks to the efficient and dedicated staff.

When Juanita retired, the center’s board of directors scouted around for a new director. The position was offered to bookkeeper Linda Bonville first. She declined for personal reasons. After examining a long list of applicants, interviews, background checks, etc., the board hired Leslie Boehlert to be the director of the CHSC. They introduced Leslie to the center without pomp or ceremony.

From the beginning, relations between the longtime staff and the young new director were strained. The staff had trouble ceding authority to a newcomer, feeling they knew best what us seniors needed and insisting that changes would be hard for us “old people” to handle.

The bad feelings escalated when Theresa Shaffer, the bus driver/event coordinator, was fired by Leslie. Things got so bad that the staff and the CHSC members who side with Theresa now demand to oust the board of directors and our new director as well.

I feel caught between a rock and a hard place. The disgruntled group want me to take sides: they want me to be either for Theresa and her efforts at ousting Leslie, or against her.

I continue to have good relationships with all the staff members, but I do not agree with their accusations against Leslie. I find Leslie to be friendly, helpful and energetic. If she seems to lack “people skills” as the staff claims, that seems to come out only when she faces her uncooperative staff, who are clearly unhappy to have a new boss.

I do not want to choose sides: staff against Leslie. Most members I talk to do not want to choose sides. Theresa’s problem is a personal matter that needs to be resolved between her, the director who fired her, and the board of directors who hired the director. We members should not be dragged into this.

If Theresa persists in her efforts, she should tell us exactly why she was fired. We cannot form an opinion about Leslie overstepping her rights as long as Theresa doesn’t let us know these details.

The meetings led by Jeanne Sisk have to stop also. The board has been informed of the infractions she pointed out that they made, and corrections are being made. Nothing else that’s good will get accomplished from calling up the membership and getting us to choose between the two sides of the personnel.

Let’s all take a deep breath and see if we can get back to being civil toward each other.

Let the staff realize that they have a new boss who needs their cooperation. And let this once again be the senior center everybody feels happy to come to.

Let’s all come to our next lunch. Bring a friendly mind-set, and let’s wish each other: good appetite.

Dutch Kelley
president of the Cape Henlopen Senior Center
Rehoboth Beach

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