Harrietstown releases adult center funds

SARANAC LAKE – The town of Harrietstown has released its annual funding allocation to the Saranac Lake Adult Center after withholding it for six months due to turmoil at the center.

The town council voted 5-0 Thursday to release the $18,000 in funds and send the adult center a letter expressing concern. The board’s motion notes that there have been changes on the center’s board of directors, “and they have come to an understanding with their membership and Franklin County Office for the Aging to move forward and improve their relationship between all parties involved in its operation.”

The board normally allocates the funds to the center, and other nonprofits it supports, at the beginning of the town’s fiscal year in January. That didn’t happen this year with the adult center as town board members were concerned over the adult center board’s decision to ban its former director, Gina Norton, from the building.

The Franklin County Association of Senior Citizens, which pays the directors of all eight adult centers in the county and runs their group and home-delivered meal programs, had threatened to terminate its contract with the adult center unless Norton, whom it had fired in November, was permanently barred from the center and four members of the board resigned. The association was concerned because Norton continued to come into the center and reportedly act like its director, which she denied, even though a new director, Jennifer Grisi, had been hired.

The adult center board initially banned Norton for 90 days before voting on Feb. 18 to permanently bar her from the facility. The decision came despite the advice of the center’s attorney, who said the move could create some legal issues. Adult center board members who supported the decision argued that they have a right to legally bar anyone from the property and said they banned Norton “for the good of the center.”

“We just felt it was better that (Norton) not come at all, even after the 90 days, because of the interruption she brought,” adult center board member Dolores Commo told the Enterprise in May.

Town board members said Thursday they still have some concerns about the center.

“There’s a need and a reason to provide the funds,” said Councilman Ron Keough. “I’m just not sure, personally, where all of that stands.”

Keough asked Supervisor Bob Bevilacqua to include in his letter to the center “some mechanisms for the town to review where they are and how they operate, and whether there are no conflicts within the center or between the center and Franklin County Office for the Aging.”

“The wording (of the motion) on the agenda makes it seem like everything is kind of smoothed out and is operating much more smoothly than it was previously,” said Councilman Jim Murnane. “In conversation with a few folks who have close ties to the adult center, I’m not sure that’s the case. I still think there’s some conflict regarding the permanent ban and the way the board is operated, from what I’ve been told.”

However, Murnane noted that Mike Kilroy, the town’s budget officer, has rejoined the adult center’s board and “has brought a new level of fiscal oversight to it.” Based in part on that, Murnane said he would support releasing the funds, “but I still think there’s some work to do.”

“I just have a concern that we’re giving public money to somebody, and there’s a propensity there that they’re banning people, and I don’t think we should be giving public money to a private club,” said Councilman Barry DeFuria. “I have an issue with that.”

Bevilacqua agreed, and he said that’s something he would address in his letter. He noted that there’s a need for the money.

“We don’t want to harm the seniors using (the center),” he said.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.