By Jack Mayne The Des Moines City Council at study session Thursday (June 7) approved a two year pilot program to replace the retiring head of Senior Services with a contract with management by Wesley Homes, a private company that has been long involved in business in the city. City Manager Michael Mathias said the longtime manager, Sue Padden, has decided to retire after 22 years. and her retirement puts the city “in a difficult position of finding a suitable replacement of finding a suitable replacement, which in actuality is very difficult.” That gives the city “an opportunity to take a fresh look at the manner in which the city provides and manages services to senior …,” a Council packet briefing paper said. Agreement for two years “Unless earlier terminated” the agreement “shall be for two years” and with agreement of both the city and Wesley and it can be extended for an additional two year if both sides agree. The agreement can also be terminated “in whole or in part, at any time, by either party without cause upon 90 days written notice …”

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story said there was a six month trial period. That was a comment by participants at the Council meeting and not part of the official contract agreement. We regret the error.
Matthias said the city will largely base its initial review of the Wesley program on talking with people using the Senior Center. The city manager said that Wesley “is accountable to us and there is no part of the agreement that yields city control of the process. He said the city turned to Wesley Homes and Judson Park to discuss “ways to partner as part of a pilot project” to allow the evaluation of a potential “public-private partnership at the city’s Senior Activity Center.” Matthias’ memo to the Council noted that Wesley is “currently in the process of redeveloping their campus” with a $175 million remodeling and upgrade of Judson Park which “when completed it will be their flagship facility within the region.” He also noted that Wesley has “contributed to and participated in several city capital improvement projects” including donating the property on which the City Hall is located. The city did not attempt to find an individual to take over as manager of the Senior Center because of Wesley’s availability. ‘Falsehoods create disruption’ At the Thursday night Council study session, Matthias said there has been many allegations over the potential agreement with and “setting the record straight” he said the senior center would not be moved, nor will the building housing he center be torn down, as rumors have suggested. The city manager told Council that no changes to programs or services at the center, that “the same quality services and , but “opportunities for enhanced services may be identified.” “The city has no plan other than complete commitment to the senior center,” Matthias said. “Anything else is a distraction. Falsehoods create disruption, they create tension, they create uncertainty. I bet they raise blood pressure because I know that has happened for me. Those are not caring qualities of being concerned about the well being of our senior population.” “We are excited about the Senior Center,” he said, and “we have put resources into it. In the very near future to have more resources dedicated to social service referral,” he said, adding they the city has have grant applications with King County government to “provide infrastructure improvements” to the center. The city also said the change won’t increase the current budget. “The contract with Wesley is anticipated to break even with city’s current expenditures for the senior services manager.” The city manager said that a recent disruption to Catholic Services providing lunches at the Senior Center meant “you all ate a lot of pizza and that will never happen with Wesley. They have kitchen, they have resources, continuity of services” at Wesley. “Those are the truthful conditions of this agreement,” he said. Review pilot contract Mathias said he was “excited about the future” with the Wesley contract. “We will have community engagement and stakeholder engagement as we review this going forward to evaluate its success and to evaluate what people’s feelings about the services they are receiving, the manner in which they are receiving them,” he said, and made adjustments as needed. Kevin Anderson, CEO of Wesley Homes (pictured, right), told the Council study session that his company is investing $175 million to upgrade their Des Moines facilities and they are “long term stakeholders, we’ve probably been her as long as most people that are in this room. Our role is not only to run Wesley Homes but be a part of the community.” Wesley Homes will soon have its 75th anniversary in Des Moines (1943) longer than the city has been a city (1959). “It’s a challenge to find good people who understand the industry as far as senior services or anything so it is very difficult to find employees and it is difficult to find resources so when we are able to partner with the city or Judson Park or with staffers, we do those things,” Anderson said. “Why? Because it makes good sense because we think that it enhances the services that we can deliver to seniors in our community.” “We’re excited about the future,” he said. Council comments Councilmember Luisa Bangs people should “give an opportunity for this to succeed because if there isn’t that, what’s the alternative and the alternative really doesn’t look good.” She added the Wesley Homes proposal should be given a chance to succeed. She added that Senior Center Manager Sue Padden and Parks and Recreation Director Patrice Thorell have been unhappy about the proposed change but they have “their program’s best interests at heart. But you know what? Their program is the city’s program and we are the city.” Councilmember Traci Buxton said she received some unpleasant and even threatening letters but also some respectful and thoughtful letters from community residents. She wondered if a quality manager for the Senior Center could be found that the wages paid. She added that this test pilot program offers long term public and stakeholder input and that there are ways to get out of the contract “if it turns out terrible.” Councilmember Matt Mahoney said he was “personally attacked that I don’t like seniors … it hurt and I’ve been there and I understand,” noting he spent the last three months with his father “until he took his last breath. It is very important to me how the seniors end their quality of life.” Retiring Sue Padden was in charge of the Senior Center for 22 years and that means there are many new and updated things to look at, decide on and perhaps accept. He said regardless of any questions about the process of selecting Wesley Homes, “I am going to support this program.” ‘Incredible foundation’ Deputy Mayor Vic Pennington said taking over the longtime roles of Senior Center Manager Padden and Parks and Recreation Director Thorell have built “an incredible foundation. I hate to see this community so divided.” Pennington added that “it casts a pretty heavy shadow to have the level of misinformation that has been out this last week and I would ask of everybody, everybody have an open mind. We have a contract that keeps the program going and that’s real, true measure of whether the program was good to begin with.” He added the 90 day pilot program has built-in guarantee. “I am going to support this and I am going to monitor it like all of us are,” he said. Mayor Matt Pina read a statement on the issue from excused absent Councilmember Jeremy Nutting. “I am convinced that this is the best way to serve our seniors,” said Nutting. “There is great value in this approach. I want to assure the public that the programs and services you are currently receiving today will continue.” ‘Many mistruths’ Pina, in his own statement said, “It is frustrating to me how many mistruths were put out into the public and how many people grabbed on to that.” He said he got only one phone call but many e-mails and many were discourteous adding “we value our seniors” even though some of the comments stressed the opposite. Many of the things on the rumor mill on this issue, and others, are “so far from true, (but) people still believe. The half truths hurt members of the Council, but they asked for that when they ran for office. “But the half truths also hurt the senior population because it puts fear in people,” Pina said. “And, to me, that’s horrible.” Part of the comments damaged the reputation of Wesley Homes and is bad because the company has a “wealth of resources that can make what we have better. “I support this, I support Wesley and I support this Council,” Pina said. Councilmember Rob Back said Wesley role is to “serve seniors” and that he could not find a better way to continue senior services. “Change is never easy, I don’t like change … but changes happen.” Citizen comments Resident Bonnie Reister said she was concerned at the way the city made its decision to use Wesley and the lack of transparency. She wondered what benefits the mayor and city manager may get from the selection, and whether the services to the seniors could be changed at will. Resident Scott Eliason, who said he volunteers and works often at the Senior Center, and “I found out about this three days ago, and I find that appalling. How did that happen when this is a transparent process?” Former Des Moines Council candidate Harry Steinmetz said there was not enough time for the community to make an appropriate decision. “I have not seen anything that says this is going to lead to something for the city,” but will for Wesley Homes. He added it should be held so the public can better understand the proposal.]]>