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FONS Asks For Senior Representation On New Commission



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The Legislative Council delayed a decision on the creation of a Community Center Commission after John Boccuzzi, Sr, president of the Friends of Newtown Seniors (FONS), asked for changes related to the Newtown Senior Center. No action was taken on forming the Community Center Commission, but it is expected the Legislative Council will review the matter again at its next scheduled meeting, July 21.

At a public hearing before the council meeting, Boccuzzi expressed a number of concerns around senior representation on the commission because the Community Center and Senior Center share space in the Community Center building located at Fairfield Hills.

“FONS has a great deal of interest in both the senior center, the community center, and the facility that houses them,” Boccuzzi said, noting that the mission statement positions the Community Center as a multigenerational hub. “We think the Community Center Commission Ordinance should explicitly acknowledge Newtown’s seniors and both occupants of the building.”

The July 7 public hearing sought community input on an ordinance designed to replace the Legislative Council’s Community Center Committee, which was charged with planning the construction and role of the community center. The new commission, if codified, will move into more of a “supervision and support” role, said council member and Ordinance Committee Chair Ryan Knapp.

Boccuzzi outlined three recommendations for additions to the ordinance.

The first was that he felt there should be two commission members appointed by the Commission on Aging (COA). COA commissioners should be active senior center members, and at least one should also be a community center member.

To fully acknowledge these members, Section C of the proposed ordinance would need to be modified so that if a COA appointee is removed, that vacancy would be filled by a COA appointee. Under the proposed regulation, all commission members would be appointed by the first selectman.

Boccuzzi wanted the ordinance altered to make the commission responsible for assuring that the autonomous use, functions, and programs of the senior center, and the specific needs of Newtown’s senior population, are considered during any planning for community center operations and programming.

He also felt that in order to continue the well-established partnership between the Department of Human Services and the community center, the commission should be encouraged to seek the advice and counsel of the director of human services on issues related to community center planning.

“FONS is aware of the initiative and efforts of the Community Center Planning Committee and Community Center Committee in making decisions that affect and enhance the ability of the senior center facility to house appropriate senior programming,” said Boccuzzi. “The Community Center Commission can and should embrace the features of an age-friendly, livable community for the benefit of all, and we therefore respectfully request and recommend explicit senior membership and responsibilities on this new Commission.”

Legislative Council Chair Paul Lundquist recommended delaying a decision on creating the commission to give the council time to review Boccuzzi’s concerns.

First Selectman Decision

Many council members rejected Boccuzzi’s suggestion to allow the COA to name members of the Community Center Commission. Knapp noted that, like other commissions, the Community Center Commission comes under the purview of Newtown’s first selectman.

“Letting [First Selectman] Dan [Rosenthal] do his job is where we settled,” said Knapp. “And that seems to go well.”

Rosenthal said if the Commission on Aging has concerns that it wants the Community Center Commission to entertain, he could not imagine that they would be rebuffed. He also thought that if commissions were being intentionally uncooperative with each other, it might be best to consider whether those being uncooperative might have “outserved their effective lifespan” on their respective commissions.

“It’s a solution searching for a problem,” Rosenthal said.

Knapp said that the Board of Selectmen “strives to appoint a diverse group of people with different skill sets,” so he felt there was no need to allow the Commission on Aging to appoint members of the Community Center Commission. He felt the council should “proceed as planned” and approve formation of the commission that night.

The community center, according to its mission statement, “is a multi-generational hub that enhances our community by promoting social interaction, health and wellness, creative opportunities and personal growth.” The facility itself, as well as a multi-year allocation to underwrite operational expenses, resulted from a generous $15 million gift to the community from GE that came in the weeks following the 12/14 tragedy.

Community Center Committee Chair Kinga Walsh stated that the change to a full commission is required if the town is to follow the town charter.

According to the ordinance draft, a seven-person Newtown Community Center Commission will oversee the center’s operations, as well as “advise and support the center’s director on areas related to membership, programming, rentals, capital improvement, fundraising, marketing and strategic planning.” It will also oversee and approve annual budgets, fee changes, and “other financial operations.”

The town’s long-term goal for the community center is that it remain self-sustaining and not require town funds to operate. That will be primarily accomplished through membership fees.

The proposed commission will help formulate a game plan in the event that goal does not happen. Funds available to the Community Center Commission from donations, dues, fees, charges, and other revenue sources are placed in the community center special revenue fund, to be administered and disbursed by the town’s finance director.

Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

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