NAACP: Senior programs at two facilities replicates Jim Crow days

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

After being addressed by Griffin-Spalding County NAACP President Jewel Walker-Harps, the Spalding County Commission on Monday tabled the matter of a lease agreement with the McIntosh Trail Council on Aging, an organization dedicated to serving those who are economically, physically, or socially disadvantaged.

Walker-Harps previously appeared before the board regarding this issue, stating her concerns that the Council on Aging is not being included in the new Senior Center, but rather is slated to remain at the former center located at 1007 Memorial Drive.

“The NAACP is seriously concerned that following our first appearance before this board, it appears that you have not given much consideration to including the Council on Aging program as part of the new facility,” she said Monday.

Among her concerns was the fact that the new Senior Center was purchased with SPLOST funds paid by all shoppers and should house all senior programs that were held at the prior center.

“The voters were never told that a segment of the Senior Center population would have its program excluded,” she said, reading from a prepared statement. “The failure to include the program of the Council on Aging group will create a dual system of segregation based on economics and later, race. We, as a race, have come too far to go back to a segregated lifestyle based on class, economics and social standing. The acceptance of this incident will open the door for future neglect of people who are not able or willing to advocate for themselves.”

She alleged that the Council on Aging was previously told the new Senior Center would house its operations, but that has not occurred.

One problem that would be alleviated is challenges faced by the Meals on Wheels program, which is administered by the Council on Aging.

Walker-Harps explained that the prior center does not have a kitchen, while the new facility does.

She concluded her presentation to the board by addressing the past and the future.

“We fail to understand the need for separate and unequal senior facilities. We are in disbelief that anyone in this county would make such a decision,” Walker-Harps stated. “This issue is not going away because we will not go back to an atmosphere that replicates the perception of the Jim Crow days. We further believe that the general population is not aware that this situation exists. As we ride through town, we see everywhere in great big letters, the phrase “Griffin Growing Together.” We hope that the “we” means that all of our residents are a part of that image.”

The board was slated to later consider a formal lease agreement with the Council on Aging, but Chairman Gwen Flowers-Taylor interjected and requested the item be tabled.

“I am going to request that this item be tabled until…there can be some discussion about the issue that  Ms. Walker-Harps brought up In her comments,” Flowers-Taylor said. “I think we’d be putting the cart before the horse if there is some discussion that should be happening about this matter.”

Commissioner Bart Miller asked who sought out the lease of the 1007 Memorial Drive property, and County Manager William Wilson stated it was requested by the Council on Aging, which is led by Director Ruth McDaniel.

“Effective July 1, her (Daniel’s) office moved into the 1007 Memorial Drive property and the Golden Age Club expanded from the single room that they were using into the entire facility,” Wilson said. “This was all planned in the past, and was the plan from the beginning for the Council on Aging to move in, and that building would be totally occupied by the golden age club and the council on aging.”

There has been no formal lease agreement between Spalding County and the Council on Aging – which receives federal funding – but rather an oral lease. However, Wilson explained that as the Council was undergoing a routine audit, the auditor requested a copy of its lease agreement.

“We had come to an arrangement on rental of the facility where they were paying rent before, now they would be paying 1000 a month where they were paying 600, and the county would maintain the building and maintain the grounds. And that’s what this lease says,” Wilson said.

He later elaborated and said prior to the relocation of the Senior Center to its new facility, the Council on Aging had rented only a small portion of the previous center.

“When the Senior Center was relocated, they did not want to move. They were going to expand through the entire building, where they had been renting about one-third of it,” Wilson said. “It was intended to expand their programs there. Now, they can leave their programs in place; they can run two or three programs at the same time. Before, they could only run one because of the limited space they occupied.”

Walker-Harps addressed that matter Monday, stating, “The original intent was to house both senior programs in the new facility. We have spoken with the director of this program and challenge the statement implying she had no desire to move. However, if that were the case, it would have no relevance because directors are hired and fired, but programs remain. Therefore, it would not be that directors could deny long-term benefits to the people served.”

Miller also questioned the amenities of the former facility with regard to food preparation and service.

“It was not designed for a kitchen, just like the new center is not a formal kitchen. It is a catering kitchen,” Wilson said. “It has a warming table and things of that nature because they actually serve meals there and they box the Meals on Wheels and people come to the side and pick them up.”

Wilson then said Daniels was present at the meeting and would be able to answer any additional questions commissioners had, but Flowers-Taylor interrupted, saying, “Wait, wait, wait. I have a motion to table, but if there’s no second…”

Miller then seconded the motion to table the item, which was followed by an objection from Commissioner Chipper Gardner, who said, “But there’s no discussion on a motion to table.”

Flowers-Taylor responded by saying, “Because there needs to be some discussion with some other people other than us discussing it.”

The motion to table was then approved by a vote of 3-2, with Commissioner Raymond Ray and Gardner opposing.

It is unknown when commissioners will next address the matter.

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