At the top of the website for the Save Our Center Committee (saveourcenter.org) is a photo of Yankees’ great Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra with one of his famous quotes.
“It ain’t over til it’s over.”
This particular Yogi-ism seems to convey the central message the organization is trying to push. It plans to hound city leaders (specifically Mayor Jeff Banyas and Commissioners Phil Carriger and Jane Myron) until they agree to designate specific space in the new $11.8 million Community Center for exclusive use as a new seniors’ center. The SOC has urged like-minded citizens to join them in protests against the three commissioners who oppose the designation. (The group’s website says “shame on” Banyas, Myron and Carriger for their “no” votes on the idea last month.)
All this fuss has me thinking of a few other Yogi-isms to help explain what’s gone on with the seniors’ center.
“It’s déjà vu all over again.”
We recently received a letter from Helene Cridge, who complained she could not sleep at night because she felt so “betrayed” by Banyas. The mayor and Commissioners Ralph Van Brocklin and Clayton Stout were endorsed by SOC in April’s municipal election. Cridge and other SOC members say they were disappointed to see Banyas not vote with Van Brocklin and Stout to designate a wing of the Community Center as a seniors’ center.
The SOC Committee is just the latest demographic to think it has gotten a raw deal from city leaders. It is a list that grows with every city election. The question is: Did Banyas really go back on his word to senior citizens?
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Absolutely not, Banyas told me last week. The mayor said he originally voted against the Community Center concept because he believed separate buildings were needed to accommodate the different programming uses. The Community Center, which is expected to be completed in the spring, will have a gymnasium, swimming pool and cafeteria. The facility will also feature a therapy pool, which was added for seniors.
The job now, Banyas said, is to see that the facility is properly programmed to deliver “maximum efficiency” for all involved. Johnson City staffers say that should not be a problem since seniors and other programs already share space at other city facilities, including the swimming pool at Freedom Hall.
Banyas said it would be totally “irresponsible” of the city to designate space for a single program in the 67,000-square-foot Community Center before a schedule is prepared.
“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”
As for failing to deliver on his campaign promises to seniors, Banyas said the only pledge he made to SOC was to “do what is right.” He said space in the Community Center will be used for seniors’ programs, and that any conflicts would be worked out with scheduling.
Banyas also said he has made it clear that the idea of building a standalone seniors’ center is not fiscally realistic. He also wants senior residents to know the Community Center will offer them many more amenities than they enjoy at the current 12,000-square-foot facility on Myrtle Avenue, and many more than would have been included in the $7 million standalone facility that was originally planned. That proposal was put on hold after bids for a new seniors’ center came in more than $3 million over projections.
“I wish I had an answer to that because I am tired of answering that question.”
Just what is the SOC and who is behind it? Several city officials have told me they don’t recall meeting with or hearing from any of the organization’s leaders back when discussions first began on incorporating a seniors’ center into a multi-use facility. “It’s really strange,” one said last week. “Where were they 36 months ago?”
Of course this all would be moot if “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” hadn’t used building a new seniors’ center as a ploy in his failed 2007 re-election campaign. The “Dark Lord” basically brought the whole project to a standstill by suggesting a swimming pool be added to the new center.
Members of SOC have been very vocal and very persistent. They have challenged the city’s assertions that there will be a dedicated entrance for seniors at the Community Center despite the fact the architect has incorporated the entrance from the original plans for a standalone center into the new building.
“We’re lost, but we’re making good time!”
Finally, Banyas said last week he will not be bullied or intimidated by SOC.
“I think the Save our Center Committee has hurt it’s cause more than it has helped,” the mayor told me.
Which leads me to my favorite Yogi-ism ...
“You can observe a lot by watching.”
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.