Letter: Criticism of CA board on senior discounts was misguided

January 30, 2012

Recently, a letter to the editor appeared concerning the Columbia Association's adoption of a policy regarding senior discounts. In my opinion, the letter contains misrepresentations directed at CA staff and indirectly at the Board of Directors.

What readers don't know is what happened "behind the scene."

First, let me say this is from my perspective and represents my personal opinion. While I am not writing as the board chairman, I believe I may be speaking for many others on the board and in senior management.

One of the questions we have been asking this year when presented with proposals is "what's the problem we are trying to solve?" In case of the 10 percent discount, there was quite a bit of discussion and testimony from board members, staff, representatives from the Senior Advisory committee and from residents. The "problem" that seemed to surface did not include falling senior membership, lack of seniors participating in CA programs and activities, or a lack of needs-based discounts available to seniors.

What we did see was increasing numbers of seniors joining CA, participation of seniors in a variety of available programs and need-based discounts to seniors (and, yes, others) amounting in some cases to over 50 percent.

What problems did we see?

• Lack of programming specifically targeted to seniors.

• Difficulty in negotiating CA's website to search for senior programs.

• A need for more targeted marketing about what programs and services CA has to offer for seniors.

Accordingly, staff has been instructed to address each.

In addition, the language of the motion that was passed authorizes staff to offer discounts to seniors of at least 10 percent — there is no constraint on offering higher discounts specifically for seniors.

There are those who wanted the 10 percent discount to be tacked on to any program or other discount being offered. The majority of the board chose not to adopt that as policy. The reason, for some, is that unrealized revenues from discounts has to be offset from somewhere else. One board member suggested (although the suggestion may not have been serious) that staffing could be reduced to allow for additional discounts.

Well, I for one see a reduction in staffing resulting in a reduction in service to all residents. Nor, In my opinion, would such a discount have been fiscally responsible for me, as a board member, to support.

Finally, the majority of the board did not see the need to unilaterally add another 10 percent to existing discounts for seniors. To blame staff or accuse staff of "fraud" is a heady accusation for being on the losing side of a board vote.

Trying to convince a Board of Directors to adopt a solution for a problem that the board doesn't believe exists and then laying accusations against staff for that proposal's failure to pass a board vote is … well, uncivil. Most of us on the board, to borrow a phrase, choose civility.

Michael Cornell

River Hill Representative

Chairman

Columbia Association Board of Directors

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