Dorchester County Council meeting defuses senior center dispute
SUMMERVILLE — A two-year-long squabble that left Dorchester Seniors Inc. under state investigations turned out to be just that — a squabble.
Dorchester County Councilman Larry Hargett will replace his appointee to the county’s Seniors Board, Marvin Johnson, who has leveled charges of financial improprieties and racial bias while showing up for only 14 of the last 53 board meetings.
And the board said it will work harder to recruit minorities for supervisory and management jobs.
That’s the takeaway from a County Council meeting called this week to resolve the malingering dispute.
Probes by at least two state agencies found nothing improper was taking place in the Senior Center’s operation, which is funded by County Council, despite allegations made by Johnson, Hargett’s appointee.
Councilman Willie Davis, who sits on the Seniors Board and who is black, cautioned the group, “If I come somewhere and there’s nobody who looks like me, I have a problem. ... I think there are improvements to be made.”
Seniors Board Chairman Robert Ford, who is black, said the problem isn’t racial. The group has had trouble finding qualified people to take the jobs, and has not been able to find people in the operation interested in moving up to supervisory jobs.
“We’ve been working on it, and it’s a problem we need to solve,” he said.
The seniors board, for its part, won a commitment by council to try to do something about overcrowding at the Summerville and St. George senior centers.
Hargett and Johnson spurred state agencies to look at the group with a series of letters under council letterhead. The letters led to angry, public exchanges between seniors officials and council, including a recorded outburst that the Seniors Board was “trash, unfair and racist.”
Council Chairman Bill Hearn said he was concerned that the actions scandalized the group and was alarmed that the letters were written without informing the rest of council. Hargett said he began the letters while serving as chairman, and that council had oversight because of its funding.
“Nobody’s out to do anything to damage the seniors,” Hargett said.
But the exchange continued after state agencies found no wrongdoing, Councilman David Chinnis pointed out.
“Why do we continue to create an issue where there is none, a wedge issue?” he said.
Johnson did not attend the meeting.
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