By Lorri Ooley
Community concerns for the recent activity and circumstances surrounding the Sierra Joint Office on Aging (SJOA) possibly came full circle at a recent informal meeting held Friday, Aug. 8, in which residents, several locally-elected government officials and New Mexico State Cabinet Secretary Gino Rinaldi for Aging & Long-Term Services Department (ALTSD) and Executive Director of Non-metro Area Agency on Aging (AAA) Tim Armer were in attendance.
Sierra County residents showed no qualms in directing their poignant questions to the political figures present, voicing their concerns over both financial and personnel action by the SJOA governing board. However, Rinaldi and Armer saliently navigated their responses, opting to refocus the discussion to the future and possible solutions for both SJOA and ALTSD/AAA, and SJOA and the local community.
At the top of the meeting, Rinaldi clarified the purpose behind their presence in the community for this meeting, stating that it was by local municipality request that they make themselves available to the community and have discussion in an open manner. He further reiterated that both he and Armer were there in support of both the local government entities, and those who serve on the SJOA governing board and Sierra County seniors. Rinaldi stressed that the focus “needs to be on the end game, the seniors’ care and well being.”
Armer provided some specific detail concerning the current environment and circumstances between fact and rumor. When asked, he provided that the current SJOA governing board structure was unique, at least in his experience within New Mexico, that being due to the nature of Sierra County municipalities’ involvement within SJOA, a nonprofit organization. Furthermore, he provided that ALTSD and AAA were not there to give directives to SJOA or the local entities in coming into compliance with their requests. Both Rinaldi and Armer stressed that both departments have been closely involved with the SJOA, as they are with all organizations they contract with, with the goal of providing guidance to meet state and federal standards and conditions.
One local resident commented that it appeared that those from Santa Fe were either glossing over or ignoring the concerns of residents, from both seniors and non-seniors, in the hopes that the current situation would resolve itself before they had to get further involved in the matters.
Armer clarified that they have been working closely and intensely with SJOA since early 2013, making every effort to provide education and guidance to bring the nonprofit into compliance. With a follow-up question for specifics, Armer supplied that the focus has been on both the quality and meeting of senior needs, in addition to SJOA’s fiscal responsibility of allocated monies. His still standing goal is to work with current providers as the alternative presents additional challenges that do not necessarily guarantee improved in either area.
When concerns over the current structure of SJOA turned to specifics, Elephant Butte Mayor Eunice Kent offered her perspective on the matters. Mayor Kent stated it is her hope and goal that the current bylaws of the organization be reevaluated, bringing clarity to the roles of the director, governing board, and the municipalities. Kent’s comments for working towards a solution that serves both sides were met with a round of full applause in agreement by those in the audience.
Furthermore, it appears that the present situation stems not only from a personnel matter, but also from the nonprofit’s own bylaws.
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