Manila wraps up community center ‘visioning’ battle

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

MANILA – During a contentious three-hour meeting last week, Manila boardmembers may have found some common ground as they nearly wrapped up the main issue in their “visioning” process for the town’s community center.

Despite deep divisions and what two board members described as “trust issues,” the Manila Community Services (Manila CSD) District Board of Directors voted unanimously Thursday, June 18, to hand over management of the Manila Family Resource Center to Redwood Coast Montessori School (RCM). District staff was directed to work with the school to develop a memorandum of understanding outlining the details of the transfer. That document  will be considered by the board in July, so the issue is not yet resolved.

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To an outsider, and maybe even some residents of the salty outpost, the issue of who manages the tiny program may seem trivial. But the district has been wrestling with the issue for years.

In order to resolve the management question, the district hired a professional facilitator to hold what the district called “visioning” workshops in April, during which residents sacrificed two entire Sunday afternoons discussing the future of the Manila Community Center, where the Manila Family Resource Center operates out of two rooms. A group calling itself Voices of the Peninsula also entered the fray, conducting a community survey and lobbying for the resource center to remain under the management of the Manila CSD.

It all came to a head at last week’s meeting, when the board was asked to hand over management of the resource center to the Montessori school. The school rents classroom space from the district at the Manila Community Center.

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Manila CSD Manager Chris Drop told the board that the school is better suited to manage the resource center, which provides social services such as teen programs and parenting classes. It also runs a food pantry.

The resource has a single employee, Director Carole Wolfe. The program is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services and First 5 Humboldt.

Drop said the staff of the Manila CSD would be better off focusing on sewer and water utilities rather than managing the resource center. He also stressed that the district would retain control over the facebookbadgeforwebphysical facilities at the Manila Community Center. It’s just the management of the resource center program, not the buildings, that would be handed over to the school.

Bryan Little, the director of RCM, presented an ambitious proposal to the district for taking over management of the resource center.

Little wants to expand the center’s offerings with play groups, literacy programs, after school care, parent education, recreation programs, teen support groups, nutrition classes, employment assistance and more.

But the proposal initially faced opposition, from Voices of the Peninsula and Manila CSD boardmembers Salena Kahle and Dendra Dengler.
Kahle was the director of the family resource center before she was elected to the board in 2013.

Kahle suggested that the Manila CSD retain management of the program. She also said she wanted the district to create a recreation committee so it could start offering recreation programs, as it did in the past.

Those recreation programs were run by Bev Prosser, a spokesperson for the Voices of the Peninsula. Prosser’s employment with the district ended in 2008, shortly after the hiring of Manager Drop, and the recreation programs were phased out. The program ran deficits and some have accused the programs of being mismanaged.

At one point in the meeting, Director Dengler – who is also a member of Voices of the Peninsula – lashed out at RCM, accusing the school of making unauthorized building improvements, failing to obtain permits and telling people to leave areas that she said are open to the public. Dengler also mentioned something she has repeated many times before – the dismantling of an old playground structure.
This spurred Director Jan Bramlett to interrupt Dengler. “We’ve heard this over and over and over,” a frustrated Bramlett said to Dengler.

Kahle backed up Dengler, stating that there are “trust issues” with the school.

“We have stewardship and trust issues,” Dengler chimed in.

At one point in the meeting, Bryan Little, the director of RCM, said that although the issue is hotly debated, people have areas of agreement.

“There is actually a lot of common ground here,” Little said.facebookbadgeforweb

“I think we all want a community center that is open and accessible to the community,” Little said.

The board heard testimony both in favor of the change and in opposition.

When it came time for the board to vote to transfer the management of the resource center, it was clear that a majority of the board – Bramlett, Joy Dellas and Chair John Woolley – were in support of the proposal. Although both Kahle and Dengler had questioned the change, they ultimately voted in support of the motion with their fellow board members.

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