Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Blanco Says Pricey Senior Center Plan "Was A Mistake"

City Council President Ray Blanco said Monday (April 3, 2006) a $4.3 million senior center is a mistake he should have acknowledged last year.

Blanco spoke after several seniors traded barbs with officials during the public comment portion of the council meeting. When center member Jean Black kept speaking out from her seat, Blanco silenced her with repeated triple-tap raps of the gavel.

Center President Charles Nelson and City Administrator Carlton McGee went head-to-head, with Nelson claiming city officials walked out on a March 24 senior center building committee meeting and McGee saying he was “deeply offended” by Nelson’s remarks. McGee said he did not walk out.

Later, Blanco said when it was clear last May that former basketball star Jayson Williams was out of the project, “I should have said, ‘stop the train,’ and said, ‘go back to $1.7 million.’”

He referred to an earlier proposal before Williams was given exclusive rights to develop the new center in January 2003. Since then, nearly all elected officials have promised the seniors a new center, and former two-term Mayor Albert T. McWilliams held a May 2005 groundbreaking with dozens of dignitaries posing with shovels at the site on East Front Street.

Even after McWilliams lost the primary and a November write-in bid, officials still rang out the old year with promises of a brand-new center to replace leased quarters about a block away from the proposed site.

However, since Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs took office Jan 1, her administrators say they are reviewing all options for a new center.

Robinson-Briggs was due to make her third monthly visit to the Senior Center Tuesday, and as of Monday evening she was still expected to be there, even though her father-in-law, Peter Briggs, suffered a massive heart attack.

But on Tuesday, Center Director Sharron Brown told about 100 seniors that Mr. Briggs had died that morning and the mayor was unable to visit.

McGee took the microphone to answer questions in the mayor’s stead and was soon peppered with the same concerns he has heard all year - what is the timeline for the new center’s plans, and where will the new center be built.

McGee said he is “95 percent sure” the building will be on the East Front Street site. As for a timeline, he said, referring to the new administration, “If there’s nothing there in four years, we’re out.”

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: senior center