Clarifying lawsuit against senior centers | Letter

The April 28, 2021 issue of the Sounder featured an article entitled “Judge mandates new elections for senior center directors.” The article was submitted by James P. Grifo, the attorney of record for the plaintiffs in this case. To be clear, this lawsuit was brought against the Senior Services Council of San Juan County, a non-profit organization, not San Juan County government.

Since incorporation in 1976, the Senior Services Council of San Juan County has operated three senior centers on San Juan, Orcas and Lopez islands. It does so through district committees on each island. The district committees are not independent legal entities, but each provides three Directors to serve on the Board of the corporation. After the Senior Services Council changed its Bylaws in August 2019, plaintiffs from San Juan Island filed a lawsuit directed at the Senior Services Council, its Board of Directors, and the San Juan Island District Committee (the operating committee of the Mullis Community Senior Center in Friday Harbor). Because the Orcas Senior Center and the Lopez Island Senior Center at Woodmen Hall also fall under the umbrella non-profit of the Senior Services Council, these two centers were automatically drawn into the lawsuit.

Before the suit was filed, and to comply with the 2019 versions of the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws, the Orcas Senior Center changed its local operating rules. The judge’s ruling requires that we now revert back to the operating rules in effect prior to August 2019, which in our case were operating rules from 2014. We have done that and, as a result, we are now preparing to hold elections for Orcas District Committee members this summer. Lopez and San Juan Island will also be holding elections within the 180-period following the judge’s order, in accordance with that order.

We feel that it is important that the Orcas community understand that this lawsuit was primarily directed toward the actions of the San Juan Island District Committee and a subset of Senior Services Council members. All legal fees are being paid by Mullis Community Senior Center and the Senior Services Council’s insurance company. No donations to the Orcas Senior Center have been used to pay legal fees associated with this lawsuit.

Meanwhile, in spite of COVID-19 restrictions and efforts devoted to responding to the lawsuit, the Orcas District Committee (d.b.a., Orcas Senior Center) has continued uninterrupted services for seniors. We hope we will continue to have your support, which has been essential in allowing us to continue to provide critical services to our Orcas community including Meals on Wheels, Buddy Check-ins, and Foot Care, as well as many activities for intellectual and social stimulation such as Meeting of the Minds, Orcas Socrates Café, and “the virtual vineyard.” Once the Orcas District Committee membership is elected, it can resume work on several new service projects currently on hold. We are optimistic about the road ahead and are committed to continuing to provide vital services that seniors need to age well on Orcas.

Orcas Senior Center