Since 1984 the Senior Citizens of Shawnee Inc. (SCSI) and the the City of Shawnee have worked together in a partnership — entering into annual contracts with each other to provide services for the community's senior residents, and to fund and house those services.

Since 1984 the Senior Citizens of Shawnee Inc. (SCSI) and the the City of Shawnee have worked together in a partnership — entering into annual contracts with each other to provide services for the community's senior residents, and to fund and house those services.

But, after 34 years of collaborating, the city is on the cusp of possibly changing that pattern.

A recent denial to renew SCSI's contract for Fiscal year 2019-2020 has many seniors up in arms, and Senior Center Director Kate Joyce said she's still unclear as to why the city seems so eager to back out.

“I still can't get answers,” she said.

Mayor Richard Finley addressed the issue on some level at the end of Monday's City Commission meeting after many citizens publicly shared their support of Joyce, her staff and the Senior Center's operation, as-is.

“To my knowledge this is not now, nor has it ever been, about their budget,” he said. “This is is not now, nor has it ever been, about their programming; and I would submit that anybody that thinks it is, has not been paying attention to the words that's being said.”

He further added the issue is about governance and accountability.

“After our meeting a year ago I personally went to the board meeting and laid out some criteria we expected them to meet,” he said. “That criteria was not met, so it should not come as a surprise to anyone that the contract review committee would withhold their piece of the pie.”

He said, “So, to the extent that you think it's about Kate or programming or budget, you are sadly mistaken.”

That said, unmet criteria imposed in the last year is being implied as the root of the issue.

After repeated — and failed — attempts to gain a specific list from Finley, he would only say the criteria to which he was referring were included in the contract renewed in 2018.

According to the FY 2017-2018 and FY 2018-2019 contracts, when compared — aside from an increase in funding (up by $9,000 — a nearly $117,000 contract, compared to $108,000 in 2017) and date changes — there are two areas that changed. Item 10 of the new contract does not contain a sentence from the previous year's document.

“In addition, the City will increase the payments commensurate with any approved salary increases for City employees by the City during the term of this agreement,” the FY 2017-2018 contract reads.

The only other difference is found in item 13. Tacked onto a paragraph discussing accounting practices in FY 2017-2018, the new contract adds the following:

“SCSI also agrees to cease the maintenance and use of petty cash in its operation, all funds including any cash receipts will (be) deposited in SCSI's bank the same day if possible, but under no circumstance outside of 48 hours of receipt by SCSI. SCSI will maintain accounting policies and procedures that are consistent with those adhered to by the City of Shawnee, and a copy of such procedures will be made available to SCSI upon request. If the City of Shawnee alerts SCSI to a deficiency in their accounting procedures, SCSI shall have no more than 30 days to correct the identified deficiency,” the existing contract reads.

The issue of petty cash appears to have been handled even before the existing document was fully in place.

“As soon as the new requirement regarding petty cash was brought up it was resolved almost immediately,” Joyce said.

According to the contract, SCSI signed the agreement July 10, 2018, just three days before the petty cash fund was dissolved July 13, Joyce said — which also was three days before the city signed the agreement July 16. City Attorney Joe Vorndran signed off on the legality of the form the following day, July 17.

As far as the second issue, Joyce said she remains in the dark.

Joyce said, “James Bryce told us our finances were in compliance.”

Minutes from the Contract Review on April 30, 2018, when the existing contract was approved, point out the senior center apparently does some things outside of the city's expectations.

“The board discussed the need for SCSI policies to be consistent with City of Shawnee policies,” the document reads. “A motion was made by Finley, seconded by (Ray) Belford, to request that SCSI adopt policies to conduct business consistent with City of Shawnee policies.”

According to the minutes, the motion was approved 4-0.

Finley said his resistance to elaborate more on the issue is in alignment with his long-standing policy of not litigating in public.  

“I am not willing to cast dispersions on the board or management, but it is clear they have not complied with the terms of their contract with the city,” he said. “(SCSI) also had plenty of notice; in this case, that must be sufficient.”  

Finley said what he is resisting is a “he said, she said” debate.  

“I'm willing to let the facts speak for themselves,” he said.

Though time is very short, a change in operation has not officially been decided yet. Joyce submitted an amended proposal to the city June 3 — she and SCSI are waiting to hear the outcome.

If the revised contract is denied, the city is poised to step in July 1, since the center's current contract is set to end June 30, Shawnee Director of Operations James Bryce said.

“The city is prepared to assume responsibility of the senior center,” Interim City Manager Eric Benson said.

Right now, he said the city is finalizing a management plan to present to commissioners this month.

“We are not doing away with the Senior Center,” an April 25 City of Shawnee Oklahoma Municipal Government Facebook post reads. “The city intends to reorganize and update the services provided and introduce new programs.”

Bryce said even if the city does take over operation, many seniors may not even notice a change.

Though Bryce appears to mean that general operation might not change much, reportedly the faces and number of the staff would.

The change would mean Joyce — plus her staff of two full-time employees and four part-timers would have to go.

In a draft of the April 23, 2019, minutes of the Community Service Contracts Review, Bryce recommended the Parks and Recreation Department take over operations and said, “staff is requesting to hire one full-time and two part-time employees to work at the Senior Center.”

That recommendation was supported by all four members of the committee when they denied SCSI's first contract proposal. Committee members are Finley, Ward 3 Shawnee City Commissioner James Harrod, Ray Belford and Ken McDowell.

As required by law, on May 28 the city issued a termination letter to SCSI that, as of July 1, the SCSI staff is to vacate the facility and turn over all relevant items due to denial of a renewed contract.

This action is not final; it is pending the outcome of a decision on a since-submitted amended contract proposal.

Bryce explained the letter was intended for the Senior Center Board to let them know what the city would need from them in the event a new contract was not agreed upon.

Finley said denial of the first contract was not the end of the matter.

“In my mind, it's just the beginning of negotiations,” he said.

If SCSI's amended proposal also is denied, Bryce said the center will not shut down.

“I can say for certain that the senior center is not being closed down; it is not being moved,” he said. “All current programing is not affected and we are not asking the seniors to leave.”

Watch for updates.