Boyle Heights Seniors’ Complaints Get Quick Response

Director is replaced; neighborhood council wants new Ad Hoc committee to keep an eye on local parks.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

Just a few days after Boyle Heights Senior Center members made their complaints public in this newspaper, seniors were happily cheering the news that the Center’s director had been replaced effective immediately.

The seniors had accused Director Mark Wilson of creating a toxic atmosphere by being disrespectful, discriminatory and negligent about their health.  In September, members of the club signed a petition asking for Wilson’s removal, and sent letters to the city’s Recreation and Parks department and some elected officials, requesting the same. Feeling ignored, they brought their complaints to EGP.

“Why did he single me out” when 83 other people signed a petition asking for the senior center’s director to be reassigned else where?” said senior Alma Luz Miranda on Nov. 12, the day the story ran.
Miranda says after Wilson read the article, “Boyle Heights Seniors Give Director Bad Work Review,” he went directly to her and started yelling at her, then stormed out of the senior center, not returning for five hours.

“He said I was a liar, said he was calling the District Attorney, and said ‘I had it with you, you’re out of here,’” Miranda told EGP. “I told him ‘I’m not a liar, go get the District Attorney, I’ll be right here.’”
Seniors who witnessed the confrontation, called the police and their local councilman, Jose Huizar.

“He chose the wrong person to yell at because my son made calls and calls,” Miranda said.

One of Huizar’s aides and Hollenbeck police Officer Gabriel Mayorga responded to the calls and documented the verbal altercation, Miranda said.

EGP reached Wilson by phone the following day and asked him if he would like to comment on the senior’s accusations. “Are you kidding me,” he said, before adding no comment and hanging up.
According to a statement from Huizar’s office, the councilman, concerned about the issues raised by the seniors, instructed his staff to contact Recreation and Parks General Manager Jon Mukri to find out how the department was addressing the issue.

“General Manager Mukri said he would look into the matter. Later, Mr. Mukri informed my office that starting today [Monday], Sandra Solis will take over duties at the Boyle Heights Senior Center. Sandra is bilingual, well-known in the community and somebody who should provide some stability for the seniors, whose well-being and comfort is very important to me,” the councilman told EGP in a written statement.

He also said park officials said their decision to change directors is a personnel matter and that Wilson was reassigned.

On Monday, Helen Sanchez, Miranda and others had just completed a four-page, line-for-line rebuttal to a letter received last week from parks and recreation in response to their complaints. They were thrilled when EGP informed them that according to Huizar, Wilson had been reassigned.

“That’s all they asked for,” said Sanchez, noting that one of the seniors with her was crying tears of joy.

“They acted quickly! It’s wonderful!”

Sanchez’s mother, Rose Kraft, is the activities chair and oldest member the club. Sanchez credits the club for prolonging her mother’s life.

“If it wasn’t for that club I wouldn’t have my mom,” she said.

Miranda said Wilson was not at the center on Monday, and they were not officially informed of the change by the end of that day.

The Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council (BHNC) was also looking at ways to help resolve the issue. Members told EGP that the touchy situation at the Boyle Heights Senior Center is not an isolated incident and they are concerned about accountability at centers throughout the area.

“The Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council is aware of the concerns brought forward by our local seniors pertaining to the Boyle Heights Senior Center as well as other parks within the BHNC boundaries,” Council Secretary Margarita ‘Mago’ Amador said. “[The Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council] will propose at our Nov. 19th General Board Meeting to create an ad hoc committee to address and to collectively work with the residents, our council office and recreation and parks to resolve these concerns brought forward by our seniors.”

As of Tuesday, EGP could not verify speculation that other Center employees may have also been reassigned.

The Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council General Board Meeting will be held this evening at 6:15 p.m. at the Aliso Pico Recreation Center, located at 370 South Clarence Street Los Angeles.

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November 19, 2009  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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