Is OPC spat over?

The Rochester Older Persons Commission’s 2013 budget was approved unanimously by Rochester City Council Monday, apparently bringing to an end more than a year of wrangling over OPC oversight.

The vote was unanimous, although Councilwoman Kim Russell abstained since her mother is the OPC’s executive director, Marye Miller.

Council never approved the OPC’s 2012 budget and sought an opinion from Attorney General Bill Schuette as to whether OPC may have violated state law by continuing to operate anyway. Schuette’s office has so far not responded, leaving the city little choice but to move on.

“It would have been easy to go to court or to give up or to cut funding,” said Rochester Mayor Stuart Bikson. “I think we’ve done as much as we can on this council.” The 2013 budget “is not what we want, but I think it was better. … The attorney general issue, it was a general question that is still out there. We’d like an answer.”

Budget approval did not come without comments about the past year’s disagreements, which centered on pay and benefit increases for OPC’s full-time staff, including Miller. Some councilmembers felt they were vilified because they wanted to exercise their oversight authority under the interlocal agreement that governs the OPC, which provides services to senior citizens in Rochester, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township. OPC leadership felt some councilmembers were engaging in personal attacks.

“Change is hard and it’s difficult when an organization that’s not been used to having scrutiny receives scrutiny,” Bikson said. “We had legitimate concerns about pay increases. That was really the only issue. And we had 12 months of bad temper and divisiveness.”

Bikson said he was glad that Monday night’s discussion was without fireworks and complimented the presentation by Miller and OPC board Chairman John Dalton. The two also presented the budget to Rochester Hills City Council Monday, where it was received favorably, according to Hills Finance Director Keith Sawdon.

Hills Councilman Ravi Yalamanchi, who serves as the OPC’s treasurer, said he appreciates Rochester City Council’s decision.

“I really spent a lot of time with Marye and the staff and really crunched and understood the numbers,” Yalamanchi said. “I’m really hoping this opens communications between the three communities.”

The OPC “is truly a gem,” he said. Discussion “has to be about OPC, not about Rochester or Rochester Hills.”

The interlocal agreement requires all three participating communities to approve the OPC budget annually. In order to avoid potential future conflicts, an OPC board committee has drafted proposed amendments to the interlocal agreement, which has been amended three times in the organization’s 30-year history.

So far, the amendments have been formally presented to Rochester Hills and Oakland Township; Rochester City Council has not yet scheduled the presentation. Bikson said the budget needed to be addressed first. He views the proposed amendments as “pretty inflammatory.”

“I of course voted against that and said it’s going to be viewed very poorly by Rochester City Council,” he said. “I’m optimistic about all this stuff getting done, but it won’t be easy.”

“It’s important the three communities look at it,” Yalamanchi said. “It’s really critical the ILA be amended. When it was formed, good hearts came together. … We need to make sure OPC will sustain even better for the next 30 years.”

Speak Your Mind