Hot meals for seniors; county takes on ETHRA funded programs

Hot meals for seniors are the net outcome of a somewhat confusing subject during the July meeting of the Claiborne Commission. Some of the commissioners seemed as confused as many seated in the audience during portions of the protracted discussion.

It is up for grabs whether Denise West, who is currently the regional director of the Office on Aging, will be overseeing three of the ETHRA funded programs the county has now agreed to take over. It will be the decision of a newly formed county committee to create a job description and hire someone to handle the county’s Office on Aging, Nutrition Program and the two Senior Citizen Centers located in Tazewell and Harrogate.

Time is the problem. Aug. 1 is the deadline for ETHRA to either begin handing over funding for the three programs or continue in its capacity as overseer. It will take time to have the committee meet, hammer out the job description, advertise the position and hire the best qualified person for the job.

Meanwhile, West says she cannot just quit a good full time job in Knoxville in the hopes that she might be hired as the county coordinator.

County mayor Joe Brooks pointed out that West is state certified and has the expertise to handle the job. Brooks said that, earlier this year, the Budget Committee asked West to attend the commission meeting. He said West has been onboard “since day one.”

Brooks said that ETHRA is under the assumption that, if the county agrees to take on the three programs, West will assume the position.

The core worry is getting hot lunches back on the table for senior citizens and reopening the two centers for longer than just lunch time. Both Senior Centers have been closed since COVID-19 hit early last year. Since then, seniors have received frozen meals a couple times per week.

The time crunch prompted the commissioners to consider pushing the reopening date to October rather than attempting to rush the process. The motion failed, however, by a vote of 12 against, four in favor and four commissioners passing their votes.

Tammy Austin, who currently oversees both centers, spoke of the delay.

“If you postpone the change, the Senior Centers are still going to be closed most of the time. I thought that was what this whole thing was about – getting them open. Right now, seniors need the places open and they need hot lunches.”

Austin proposed reopening the centers while the county advertises for what could be one, two or three positions – her own, the current nutritionist and who would eventually be hired as the county coordinator or director for the Office on Aging.

As it now stands, both Senior Centers should be open the second week in August. The one week delay is to change out ETHRA equipment for county-owned. That means new computers, desks, chairs, phones and other office equipment along with the ETHRA installed freezers that previously held frozen dinners.

The eventual plan is to reopen the centers five days each week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. which will give seniors a place to meet and plenty of activities to do.

Commission chair Mike Campbell asked if anyone would like to make a motion on the county mayor’s suggestion that the newly-seated committee act as an oversight committee. There were no takers.

The committee is made up of commissioners Brent Clark, Charlton Vass, Juanita Honeycutt, Steve Murphy, Stacy Crawford, Steve Brogan and Mitchell Cosby.

Brogan and Cosby were added to the committee during the meeting.