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Seniors stage walkout to protest alleged mistreatment at senior center

Resident seniors exited the Gadsden County Senior Center en masse this past week, brandishing signs and chanting in unison as part of a protest against what they characterize as “unfair” and “racist” treatment by senior center administrators. 

The morning of January 19, all of the seniors present at the senior center walked out, chanting “Jo must go” and holding up signs emblazoned with the same words. The chants and placards refer to the center’s executive director, Jo Hart, who the protesting seniors said they want fired from the local senior center. During the walkout Tuesday, several protesters told on-scene reporters with Tallahassee broadcast station WCTV that they had long endured mistreatment at the hands of Hart’s administration, accusing the executive director of wrongfully terminating certain staff on racial grounds, among other abuses.

Resident senior Helen Chapman said senior center administrators often make her – and others – feel “less human.”

“We’ve just gotten tired of being treated like we don’t matter,” Chapman told WCTV on January 19 “But being a senior, we do matter, and it does matter how people treat us. They talk down on us. We go out in the community, we deserve to be respected as seniors.”

Willie Scott, a former employee who said he was terminated unjustly by Hart’s administration, echoed Chapman in his comments to WCTV. Scott recounted “insulting” behavior perpetrated by senior center leaders during his tenure there. 

“Things that they say, insulting words to them. I hear them. They come and they tell me. They say insulting words to them. You don’t tell seniors what they can’t do these days,” Scott told WCTV. Scott was on scene January 19 in support of the disgruntled seniors. 

Hart and other senior staff declined to comment on the ongoing protest this past week, but in a statement sent to area media, the Gadsden County Board of County Commissioners said they were addressing the situation with a series of workshops.

“On February 12, 2019, the Gadsden County Board of County Commissioners held a joint workshop with Gadsden County Senior Services. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for March 12, 2019 at 4:30 p.m. The location will be Gadsden Senior Services-Quincy, 79 Lasalle Leffall Drive, Quincy, Florida 32351,” the County Commission statement reads.

“While the Board of County Commissioners does not oversee the day-to-day operations of the Gadsden County Senior Center, the Board still strives to hear the concerns of all citizens. The Gadsden County Board of County Commissioners will continue to work together with the Gadsden County Senior Services in the future to improve the quality of services provided.“

Gadsden County Administrator Dee Jackson clarified that the Board simply permits senior services use of the building and contributes $60,000 a year to help fund activities. County Commissioners do not have oversight over center operations; that task, Jackson said, falls to the Senior Services Board.

A spokesperson for the protesting seniors said they planned to obtain the services of an attorney to help resolve their grievances.

By Brian Dekle