Village president walks out of meeting as council works out senior woes.

October 11, 2016

Free Soil area seniors talk to the village council about their concerns.

Village president walks out of meeting as council works out senior woes.

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By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

FREE SOIL — Village president David Morley walked out of the village council’s monthly meeting Monday evening moments after councilors made a motion to extend the village’s lease with the Free Soil Area Senior Center. The meeting was taken over, without formal action, by Treasurer Keith Nimitz. The meeting packed the meeting room of the Free Soil/Meade Fire Department, with mostly seniors.

free-soil-community-center-seniorThe village council and the seniors have been at odds for several months over issues of the Free Soil Community Center, formerly the Free Soil School gymnasium.

In June, senior center board members sent a letter to the village council with concerns about the building.

“We feel we are at a critical point in our existence,” the letter stated. “We cannot accommodate the many requests by seniors in this building. Because this building is not used exclusively by the senior center, we are unable to leave things out and unattended. Therefore, no puzzles, games, crafts, reading nook, etc. can have a permanent place. We must removed food items if the hall is rented, not an easy task. The large cooler and black oven are not functional. Because of the dim lights and poor acoustics, the place is not well suited to events or speakers. It is too cold in the gym in the fall, winter months. We even have to carry out garbage as there is no dumpster. We did a grant to update bathrooms but no further improvements will be done on our part.”

The letter then asks that the village sell the senior center one of the “greatly underused building(s) that are a better match for our use.”

The letter later states: “If your goal is to improve the Free Soil community, this would be a great start. It has been rumored there are personal issues involved in dealings with community assets to the exclusive use of a few individuals. We sincerely hope that is not the truth. Community assets are for use by all community members. If that is not happening that certainly could be a misuse/misappropriation of village/township assets and a serious problem. If any other alternative exists present them. We would also consider a building at the prison, or the elementary building.”

The Free Soil Area Senior Center receives $24,200 annually from the Mason County Council on Aging to help pay for food services. For this reason, the center must operate in a licensed commercial kitchen.

The Free Soil seniors meets twice a week. The senior center leases the community center for $500 a month. The lease agreement between the village and the senior center ended at the end of September, even though the existing annual lease was never formalized until February 2016, meaning last year the seniors and the village informally had a month-to-month agreement from October through February.

On October 4, Morley sent a letter to the seniors informing them that the lease agreement with the village and the senior center had expired, as of Oct. 1.

“Consider this notice to terminate use of the Free Soil Community Center, owned by the Village of Free Soil, until further agreement can be reached. The Free Soil Senior Center may rent the building at the regular rental rate for Thursday, October 6, 2016, at the rate of $75 for the rental and a $50 deposit and each day rented thereafter. The deposit will be returned after the building is found undamaged and clean…”

Nimitiz told the audience members that several of the village council members took offense to the accusatory nature of the seniors’ June letter. The seniors submitted two letters of apology to the village council during Monday’s meeting. There was some confusion initially, because the letters had been given to Village President David Morley. However, the letters were never formally submitted to the village board. Nimitiz said that now the letters were formally submitted. The letters apologize for the tone of the initial letter and ask that the village reconsider the lease.

Prior to Monday’s meeting, a meeting took place recently between representatives of the village board and the senior center’s board. However, both sides agreed that the meeting did not result in a solution but instead was disrupted by a member of the public.

Barb Keson, senior center board secretary, asked during the village meeting that the council consider extending the lease an additional month to allow both sides to negotiate.

After a motion to extend the lease was made by board member George Mertz, Sr., with support from George Mertz, Jr., a lengthy discussion was held between board members and seniors regarding payment and the length of the extension. During this time, Morley walked out of the meeting without explanation.

Nimitiz, who had been essentially leading the meeting — attempting to calm emotions and stick to the business of the situation — took over the meeting, though the board did not take formal action to appoint a new chair.

The result of the meeting was for the senior center to continue to lease the building until the village’s next meeting, Monday, Nov. 14, 7 p.m. at the fire station. At that time, the village board will bring up the discussion again.

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