Among all the excitement of the Governor’s visit, we missed something special. An amazing thing happened last week that had nothing to do with tolls, the Governor, the Lieutenant. Governor and seemingly half the State Legislature who showed up to Grand Island. We saw democracy in action elsewhere. The Golden Age Center (GAC) showed up in force to Town Hall.
The fight over a buck
The Town Board had been having a big fight over a buck raise for kitchen staff at the Golden Age Center. As I explained (right here in the Dispatch), the GAC was having a hard time staffing their kitchen. That kitchen supplies the only balanced meal of the day for many of our seniors. And just as importantly, the friendships and social activities that center around meals provided by the GAC are a key part of our senior community.
But the kitchen was struggling to keep qualified staff. Individuals could make more money at any random fast food place and have more regular hours. The pay was artificially low (below market requirements) because recently retired staff members worked at a low rate out of the goodness of their hearts to ensure that the seniors had meals.
So I asked for a moderate dollar-an-hour raise and for a full-time cook position, as requested by the GAC leadership. We had money left in the budget, and the raise represented only a fraction of the overall budget for our town—just 0.018%!
Some members of our Town Board are quick to spend money on things such as unnecessary consultations with our Town Attorney, but they balk at spending a similar sum to benefit countless seniors.
When a vote finally came, the two councilmen said no to raise.
From “no, never!” to “Of course!”
The Dispatch wrote that the Town Board resolved an “impasse regarding the Golden Age Center.” But it wasn’t so much resolved by us as resolved for us.
I visited the GAC and explained to the lunch crowd what I had been fighting for. I told them how a certain councilman told me that the GAC was “mismanaged” and how he felt they had plenty of people to cook. I told them how no other Town department had faced as much scrutiny. After hearing this, the members of the Golden Age Center responded.
On the day of our second vote on the GAC staffing issues, I walked into a Town Hall courtroom full of people! They had signs, buttons and an energy seldom seen at a meeting. I knew the Board would have a hard time not voting for the pay increase. Even the councilmen who initially said “no” voted enthusiastically for the raise. What a difference a few days can make.
The power of democracy
No matter what rationalizations or justifications were made, I know the reality is that some Town Board members changed their position because of the pressure applied by our seniors. And that’s a good thing. That’s how government is supposed to work.
This is not some communist country or some Fascist dictatorship where our leaders rule us. The people rule them! This is not even some Aristocratic oligarchy, where some privileged group has rights that others do not. In England, not so long ago, the house staff in posh states would dry and reuse the tea leaves of the nobles they served. Then the house staff would give their tea leaves to working-class people to use a third time.
None of that here, thank goodness. This is America, and in America we are all equal under the law. Anyone can tell me off in this paper, and rightfully so. Often, they do. And even when it’s personal, or based on misinformation, I’m so very grateful we live in a place that a group of seniors can show up Town Hall and demand change. It wasn’t fruitless, either—they got their change!