Bob Marquette, former chair of the Oregon Citizens Supporting Senior Services pro-levy group, and president of the James “Wes” Hancock Senior Center, blasted The Press Newspapers before council on Monday for writing articles that raised questions on the need for a 0.5-mill five year levy for senior services.
Voters approved the levy on Nov. 5. But some felt betrayed after it was learned Marquette may have provided inaccurate information about the need for the levy in an effort to get it passed.
Marquette during the summer appeared before council and the school board promoting the levy. He had claimed the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, Inc. (AOoA) and the city had cut funding to the center this year when in fact they had not. Funding from the AOoA and the city remained the same as last year. The center had received less from the AOoA in 2012 from 2011, partly because the center had underperformed in providing contracted services to seniors.
Voters were also unaware that Marquette and Bob Benton, a member of the senior board, had rejected the possibility of getting $250,000 from the AOoA to expand operations at the center. The AOoA, which collects revenue from a Lucas County Senior Services levy, made the offer because the city plans to spend $750,000 to expand the senior center building on Bay Shore Road next year. Instead, Marquette and Benton opted to get a local senior levy, which would bring in over $200,000 in annual revenue, on the November ballot, according to City Administrator Mike Beazley, who said he met with them to discuss the matter earlier this year.
Marquette told council on Monday that the levy and its supporters have been victims of “irresponsible targeting in The Press” since the levy had passed.
He also called questions posed by former Councilwoman Sandy Bihn, whose term on council ended earlier this month, as “inquisition type…accusations that included questions raised about the senior levy.” Bihn had said at a council meeting on Nov. 12 that she would have voted against putting the levy on the ballot had she known about the agency’s $250,000 proposal and the inaccurate information that was part of the levy campaign. She also asked why the center did not have its own website promoting the available services to seniors in the community.
Marquette also took issue with the AOoA’s explanation on why the center received less funding from 2011 to 2012 due to “underperformance” in providing contracted services to seniors.
“Underperformance is a word that I and the rest of the citizens of Oregon look at as we didn’t do our job,” said Marquette.
Paula Benton, director of the center, conceded that not all of the money allocated to the center by the AOoA was used, particularly in transportation and escort services for seniors.
“In 2011, we did not use all our grant funds,” she said. “Transportation is the biggest paying unit we have. We lost several members that year who passed away.” It is difficult, she added, to replace those members right away.
“I’ve been at the center about eight years, and that was our worst year in using grant funds,” said Benton.
Neither Marquette nor Benton had explained why Marquette had erroneously said to council, the school board, and the media before the election that the city and the AOoA had cut funding to the center in 2012 and 2013, when they had not.
Marquette said the senior center can’t afford to have its own website and uses the city’s website to promote the center.
“To have our own website, we have to have the funds to have one created, we also have to pay for a domain, and pay for other things,” he said. “We can’t make payroll. We cannot afford to have a website at this point. With the new levy, there is the possibility that the senior center can have its own website.”
Mayor Mike Seferian said to Marquette that he may want to stop talking any further.
“You have a real opportunity of going backwards,” Seferian said to Marquette. “Just a bit of advice. You may hurt yourself versus helping yourself tonight.”
“Absolutely. I will take your advice,” said Marquette. But instead, he continued to respond to questions raised in the Nov. 4 article in The Press and by Bihn, such as why he did not submit a five year budget as requested by the AOoA before the election that would have explained where the revenue from the levy, if it passed, would go.
The agency had requested a five year budget from Marquette, but had never received a response.
Marquette would not comment on the matter in the Nov. 4 article in The Press.
But on Monday, he told council that he did not have enough time to comply with the request because it was made just a week and a half from the Nov. 5 election.
“The time of the request of the five year budget was about a week and a half prior to the election,” said Marquette. “There is no way you can put together a five year budget in this short a period of time.”
But Phil Walton, board chairman of the AOoA, states in an Oct. 5 letter to Marquette – a full four weeks before the election - that the agency has not yet received a response from Marquette on the request for the five year budget, an indication that the request was made before the date of the letter.
“We requested a written, detailed five-year budget that states how the James “Wes” Hancock Senior Center plans to spend the senior services levy funds if the levy passes and we have not yet received this information in writing,” states Walton.
In addition, Justin Moor, vice president of planning and program development at the AOoA, told The Press on Oct. 28 that the agency still had not received a response from Marquette.
“We requested a budget detailing how these funds would be spent and, to date, we have not received this information,” Moor had said.
Marquette also denied he and Mr. Benton had turned down the possibility of getting $250,000 from the AOoA if they dropped plans to get the 0.5-mill levy on the ballot following a meeting with Beazley.
“I know that’s not true,” he said.
On Thursday, Beazley stood by his account of the meeting he had with Marquette and Benton.
After the meeting, Seferian said he advised Marquette to stop talking on the matter because he was challenging information that was accurate.