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Senior center open amidst issues

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By Alice Du Pont

The Gadsden Senior Citizens Center is still serving seniors and all programs will continue to operate uninterrupted, according to Janice Wise, executive director of the Area Agency on Aging for North Florida Inc.

Two weeks ago the president and vice-president of the center’s board of directors resigned. Last Thursday morning, Executive Director Laverne Demous and another top official, Erica Cooper, were terminated.

Wise and several people from the agency’s headquarters in Tallahassee have stepped in to run the center temporarily.

According to Wise, the AAAFNF is an oversight agency for 13 north Florida counties and their only aim is to keep the services going and the center operating until it can be determined who will run the center. If the county decides not to run it as agreed last month, Wise said a request for proposals will be issued to find an agency or corporation that can. The AAAFNF does not run centers long term.

"We're excited and we feel the center can be run more efficiently. We're looking for ways to continue the services and to add more. In the end it will help the seniors, which is our priority," Wise said.

The problems at the center revolve around the inability to adequately manage funds, and unpaid bills have been mounting. One major vendor was owed more than $50,000. The vendor has agreed, Wise said, to continue delivering services to seniors citizens.

Another problem at the center was that payroll, Wise said, was top heavy. For that reason, there are no immediate plans to hire another executive director.

"We have to get a handle on the finances. We have to make sure the center can sustain itself when we pull out. We're looking forward to working with the county," she said.

Because of rumors that the center had closed and was no longer operational, Wise said she wanted to emphasize that it can still be used by the public and there are changes on the horizon aimed at better operational practices. She apologized for the problems last week.

"I want to make sure people know they are welcome. The center is not closed," she said.