Cops called on seniors
A group of seniors spent time in the old room Wednesday afternoon, where the Conversations Group has been meeting for over twenty years.
On Friday, director Roger Wey of the Oak Bluffs Senior Center, called the police on the weekly meeting of the Conversations Group. Although the discussions can get lively at the group's meeting, Mr. Wey's call had nothing to do with a rowdy crowd.
Mr. Wey wanted the over-sixty crowd to move out of one room and into another, and the seniors refused to budge.
For Mr. Wey it was an issue of his authority. For Bob Iadicicco, the 76-year-old conversations moderator, it was an issue of acoustics and hearing.
On Friday morning a uniformed police officer arrived just as invited guest speaker Larry Harrison, a cultural anthropologist and author, was preparing for an engaging and lively exchange with the audience.
The police officer spoke with Mr. Wey and Mr. Iadicicco outside and out of sight of the 20 senior citizens who had gathered for the Conversation last Friday. The two agreed to finish last week's Conversation in the old room, but to move to the new space starting with the next gathering.
"We're committed to going in there next week and trying it," Mr. Iadicicco said, still hoping some work will be done to make the room more conversation-friendly. "This is not a matter of butting heads; the room is just not useable yet. And whenever I try to discuss the technical issue with Roger [Wey], he just keeps saying 'I'm the director. I'm the director.'"
Members have complained that the bare interior of the newly constructed meeting room at the Oak Bluffs senior center is not conducive to the Friday Conversations Group.
Mr. Wey said as far as he is concerned an agreement was reached. "The center is for everybody and that is what it's all about," he said.
Despite the agreement, those familiar with the issue think the dispute is far from over. Ill feelings remain.
"I didn't think it was particularly appropriate behavior for a town official," said Art Flathers, a Tisbury resident who went last Friday to hear Mr. Harrison speak about his most recent book. "It was more than a little bit extreme."
He said, he said
The issue arose earlier this summer when a new room was added to the Oak Bluffs Senior Center. The room was designed to hold various activities such as the Conversations Group and exercise class, according to Mr. Wey.
The Conversations Group, which meets every Friday from 10-11:30 am, first gathered in the newly constructed room this summer. Mr. Iadicicco, a resident of the Campground, said they immediately realized the acoustics of the room were not conducive to long-term dialogue.
"It's a lovely room and it makes a lot of sense for us to be in there, except you can't hold conversations," said Mr. Iadicicco in a telephone call Monday. "We did try it one week and we had to huddle in a very tight circle in order to hear each other because of the reverberations in the room."
Mr. Iadicicco said he suggested to Mr. Wey that draperies or acoustic ceiling tiles be used to muffle the sound. "It's like having a reading session with no lights. It's just physically impossible," said Mr. Iadicicco.
No changes were made during the summer so the group kept holding Conversations in the old room - where they had been meeting for 20 years. According to Mr. Iadicicco it worked fine and caused little disruption to others who were trying to use the center for other activities.
But all that changed last week when Mr. Wey, who had been away for periods of time this summer on medical leave, came back to find that the group had not been permanently meeting in the new space as had been previously planned.
He is the boss
Scheduled activities were moved to the new room, Mr. Wey said, so the old room could be set up for people who wanted to drop in briefly for a cup of coffee and a quick chat. It is also near the restrooms and where the receptionist is located, and when Friday Conversations were being held, no one else could use that room, said Mr. Wey, who is also an Oak Bluffs selectman and Dukes county commissioner.
"In order to make the place feel comfortable with people, all functions are held in the new part," Mr. Wey said in a telephone conversation last Friday. "I asked Bob to hold the conversations in the new part, and he refused."
Mr. Wey said while he understood Mr. Iadicicco's concerns about the acoustics in the new room, he felt it imperative they not take up space in the old room. He said he consulted Michael Dutton, the town administrator, who told him to do what he felt he must do in order to run the Senior Center. On that advice, Mr. Wey said he warned Mr. Iadicicco that he would call the police if they did not move the Conversations Group to the new space.
So on Friday, when Mr. Iadicicco refused to move the group to the new room, Mr. Wey called the police to force them to relocate.
"There's got to be one boss here, and he's a volunteer," Mr. Wey said. "This goes beyond this one issue." Mr. Wey said the two have disagreed about various things in the past, and this was the last straw.
Mr. Dutton confirmed that Mr. Wey had consulted him about the problem, and that he told him to do what he felt was necessary. "Unfortunately," he said, "I think there was something lost in communication. I'm hoping something good will come out of it."
A possible resolution
"I almost got busted," Mr. Iadicicco joked, referring to the officer who showed up Friday morning to pull him away from the Conversation. While the officer did not come directly into the room where the Conversation was being held, he did ask Mr. Iadicicco to step outside. Mr. Iadicicco said the group members were furious and completely aware of what was happening.
Mr. Flathers, who has known Mr. Iadicicco for 50 years, said while the seniors were taking the incident in stride, they were embarrassed for the guest speaker Mr. Harrison.
After last Friday's Conversation, Mr. Flathers sent an e-mail to Mr. Dutton and Mr. Iadicicco critical of Mr. Wey's behavior. "I believe Roger's behavior was completely out of line and a disgrace to the town of Oak Bluffs," wrote Mr. Flathers. "If he cannot bring himself under control, he should resign."
Mr. Wey was hired as the director of the Council on Aging in December 2004. The Conversations Group meets every Friday to chat about everything from national politics to neighborhood events. Mr. Iadicicco, who has been attending the group for ten years, said between 10 and 40 seniors usually attend, depending on the time of year.
Mr. Iadicicco will be off-Island and not in attendance at tomorrow's Conversation. Mr. Wey said the officer would stop by to make sure everything was under control. There will be no guest speaker this week.