In June, a group of concerned Dedham citizens met with the Board of Selectmen to voice our concerns about the process used to determine whether or not to build a Senior Center on the grounds of the historic Endicott Estate. We feel strongly that Dedham needs a Senior Center but the process to create a Senior Center should be addressed in a transparent and public process.
Committees have been organized in the past to research and recommend to the Town, proposals for the siting of and funding for a Senior Center. Unfortunately, none of these committees has been successful in convincing the town residents of the merits of their proposals. One of the reasons there has not been town-wide support for any of the past proposals is that the process thus far has been flawed.
The past committees have largely been people affiliated with the Council on Aging and senior groups. A small private committee representing one or two interest groups cannot garner town-wide consensus and support. It seems evident that we should expand that base of support to include people from across town and from all interest groups. The best solution as to where to locate the Center and how to fund it would most likely come from a broad-based committee.
We have been told that a group of people met at the grounds of the and decided that the estate would be the best location for a Senior Center in Dedham. We have also been told that there are one or more anonymous donors who are willing to donate the funds to build the Center.
As a result of these anticipated donations, a private foundation has been established to accept the donations. As a town, we should not permit a private entity or a small group to decide the size and location of public buildings.
While it is encouraging that private donors are willing to assist Dedham in building a Senior Center, we should all be careful not to allow generous donors to decide where our public buildings are located and how our tax money should be spent.
Since public resources (our town land) will be used as a location for this proposed building and public resources (our tax dollars) will be used to operate the building, a public process should be followed to make the decisions about locating and funding a public building. Through a public process, the members of a committee who will make the recommendation decisions should be publicly appointed, not privately self-appointed. Through a public process, the committee meetings should be posted as are all Town committee meetings, held in public and the matters discussed at these meetings should be recorded with public meeting minutes.
In other words, a committee that makes a recommendation to build on town land and to use town resources should be appointed in a public process and should adhere to all requirements of the Open Meeting Law.
Within the last 10 years, two new schools have been built in Dedham. These buildings and the funding for the buildings were approved by the voters of Dedham. These projects had both town consensus and town support. The School Building Rehab Committee, which was charged with recommending the best fiscal and site situations for the new schools was comprised of four Town meeting members appointed by the Moderator, two school committee members or their designees, one member of the Board of Selectmen or a designee, one member of the Finance Committee or a designee and one member of the Capital Expenditures Committee or a designee. The SBRC is a very successful committee. It is a committee of townspeople with differing interests, talents and knowledge. It would seem the School Building Rehab Committee is a successful model to replicate. The same type of committee is needed to create town-wide consensus for the location and funding of a Senior Center.
As involved Dedham citizens, we want to see a Senior Center built sooner rather than later, but we would like to see that it is built and located with Town approval. To that end, we are preparing for Town Meeting’s approval an article to create a Senior Center Site Committee to see that an open and public process is followed that will allow Dedham to have a Senior Center once and for all.
Liz and Joe Tavalone
Dave and Gerri Roberts