Petitioners call Langley seniors centre board to special meeting

Discontent at the Langley Seniors Resource Centre has led a former director to call for her name to be removed from the main hall, while current members try to force a change to the board.

Sharon Birnie, who worked for the society for 33 years, wrote a letter to the board of directors on April 6, asking that her name be removed from the Great Hall.

“A critical part of the success of the centre was the respect and dignity demonstrated by the board and management for staff, members, and volunteers,” Birnie wrote in her letter. “This culture created a centre that was the envy of many, where a family atmosphere was felt by all. Over the years there was little staff turnover, everyone worked together and supported and cared for one another.

“It now appears that this culture has disappeared in favour of an impersonal corporate structure where members are not heard and both recent and long term staff have their employment either terminated or find themselves working under very stressful conditions,” Birnie wrote.

Birnie, who retired to the B.C. Interior, wrote the letter after speaking to friends and former co-workers.

The board is in contact with her about the naming request.

Starting about six months ago, a new executive director was appointed and a number of longtime staffers were let go.

Society members also say there have been changes in procedures and volunteer responsibilities that have rubbed longtime members the wrong way.

Karen Holloway is one of the former staff members who was let go in the past six months.

“I worked there for 21 years,” said Holloway. She had been the director of recreation, then had reduced her hours to part time to work as a trip coordinator.

On her second meeting with the new executive director, Shelley Wells, Holloway was told she was losing her job due to restructuring.

Vic Rurka is another senior and former volunteer who is upset, after he was banned from the centre.

Board members met with Rurka earlier this spring and told him that there had been complaints about his behaviour, and that his membership was being suspended. He is banned from attending the centre, after several years of volunteering driving a bus for the centre.

Rurka says he was not even told specifically what he had done to merit the loss of his membership. He still retains his society membership, but was refunded $60 for his recreation membership.

He admits to having been bluntly critical of the recent direction of the centre at a general meeting in March.

Board president Shauna Sailer flatly denied that was the reason for Rurka’s expulsion. “Absolutely not,” she said.

Rurka said he was not given a chance to defend himself against accusations, and that he doesn’t know who his accusers are.

“All I want to do is get my name cleared,” said Rurka.

On the overall changes, Sailer said in a written statement to the Langley Advance that the society has undergone many changes over the past several months, and that change can be difficult on everyone.

“The board of directors continues to receive letters of support and encouragement and also a few that have provided feedback and suggestions,” said Sailer’s statement. “The board takes all feedback and suggestions into account when making decisions. The board of directors has a duty to make decisions in the best interests of the whole – staff, members, and its volunteers.”

She said the reason for the changes comes down to finances.

“Last spring the board was faced with a $97,000 deficit,” Sailer said, adding management provided no suggestions to remedy the situation. “The board did its due diligence prior to approving a revised budged in early summer 2014 which identified numerous areas of opportunity for cost reduction, growth, and improved efficiencies. Very often when a board conducts a review of an operation it does so with ‘new eyes’ and sees opportunities that management may not perceive as such when tasked with day-to-day operations.”

In the last week of April, a group of seniors centre members, including friends of Rurka’s, began collecting signatures to call a special general meeting. They are aiming to hold the board accountable for what they see as problems at the centre, or to change the board itself.

Late last week, Rurka said they had gathered more than enough signatures according to bylaws. A meeting has been set for late May.

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