Senior care under dispute

Costa Mesa Councilwoman Wendy Leece says she hopes her oversight of the Costa Mesa Senior Center will translate into better services that will “honor” local seniors, but at least one board member has referred to her approach as an overbearing “witch hunt” that’s decreased morale and heightened resentment among staff and volunteers.

Leece, who serves as the City Council liaison to the center, has begun following up on complaints she’s received from seniors using the hall. The questions, touching upon issues as varied as the selection of tables for the center’s day room or the schedules of certain staff members, have rankled more than a few seniors at the center.

The center, while run by a private nonprofit organization, uses a city-owned building and receives city funds. The city’s recreation department is also heavily involved in many of their activities, Leece said.

“As a councilwoman, I am following up on those concerns in an orderly and professional manner so I can understand more about the operations of the senior center,” she said. “I’m just being responsible and ensuring that we practice good government, so taxpayers receive the services they expect.”

But board members — speaking both on and off the record — said they thought Leece’s stewardship went beyond the limits of prudent public scrutiny, and were also concerned about the taxpayer’s resources being used for such intense examination.

“I think it’s gone over the bounds of professionalism,” board member Phyllis Daugherty said. “She seems like she is trying to dig up some dirt, but I don’t know why she would.”

“Some of her questions are about personnel, our benefits and salaries, why the executive director’s office is upstairs,” board member Judy Linsday said. “Some of the questions had to do with ceiling tiles in the lunch room. Why does she want to know about that?”

Lindsay further added that, while not interested in jeopardizing her relationship with seniors, she felt Leece was being influenced by a small group of squeaky-wheel complainers.

“I’m surprised that Wendy is allowing herself to be manipulated,” she said.

Leece disagreed, characterizing the allegations as “absolutely false.”

“I’m just asking questions — that’s all I’m doing,” she said. “I feel that I am responsible to the taxpayers and the seniors. I respect our seniors and just want to make sure that our seniors are respected and honored and that everyone of them in this city feels welcomed at the center.”

CHRIS CAESAR may be reached at (714) 966-4626 or at