Mr. Swift has recently written several columns which have focused on me.
I respect Mr. Swift for his vast knowledge of our community’s heritage. But I must say that he could stand to learn a thing or two when it comes to fair and balanced coverage. He should take his responsibilities as one of the newspaper’s voices a bit more seriously.
Mr. Swift’s claim about “many phone calls and emails” to me that were not returned is simply just not accurate. He emailed me and I then left him a message for him to contact me.
I suggested he call my newly issued city cell phone. He called me back but the voice mail had not been set up, so he incorrectly assumed that the number wasn’t in service. The next day he sent me a rather nasty email, basically indicating that I had no interest in speaking to him and that he would not call my home phone.
So we did have difficulties connecting, but it wasn’t because I was avoiding him. I made several attempts to speak with Mr. Swift, but he really didn’t seem interested in speaking to me, including at the Senior Meals Task Force lunch he attended the week before writing his latest column.
Unfortunately, there have been several instances over the years when my efforts to work with Mr. Swift have been ignored. I recently asked Mr. Swift to have his Boy Scout troop provide the color guard service at a meal commemorating Armed Forces Day. No response.
Several years ago, I offered to volunteer at the Patterson Historical Museum when Mr. Swift was heading up the restoration effort. Again, no response from Mr. Swift. During my first race for City Council in 2010, his column posed a series of open ended questions to all of the candidates in the race. So I took it upon myself to develop answers to his questions. Again, no response from Mr. Swift.
Instead, within hours of sending Mr. Swift my responses, I received word from the Irrigator that they were now going to formally pose these same questions to all of the candidates. But I never heard from Mr. Swift directly. No call or email even acknowledging that I had taken his column seriously. Just silence.
Regarding his most recent column, allow me to provide some facts since he supposedly had difficulty reaching me. By all accounts, the Senior Meals Task Force has been a wonderful success. It began in the fall of 2012, before I was elected to the City Council, when a group of seniors and I stepped up after funding shortfalls forced the Howard Training Center to cut back its meals program.
Since then, the volunteers who make up the Task Force have provided seniors with more than 4,000 healthy balanced meals. Last July, the City allocated $10,000 to help fund the effort. But the Task Force has been so effective at securing donations and volunteer services, less than $1,000 of those funds have been used. The Thursday Task Force meals have consistently been attended by 50 to 60 seniors, double the average attendance to the meals provided the rest of the week.
Finally, there have been scores of wonderfully positive comment cards submitted by seniors attending the meals thanking the Task Force for its efforts. So clearly, the Task Force is doing something right, and I’m proud to be part of a senior-driven volunteer effort to take ownership of the challenge they were facing. I personally devoted hundreds of hours of my time over the last twenty months contributing to that effort, and I’m incredibly proud of what’s been accomplished.
Unfortunately, the Task Force cannot take complete satisfaction in its success, because a small group of seniors have inexplicably attempted to undermine its efforts. Many seniors have been bullied, intimidated and manipulated by other seniors when they’ve tried to volunteer. Misinformation and rumor-mongering has permeated the Senior Center, which is entirely counter-productive and toxic. I would guess that peer intimidation is behind why many seniors are “reluctant to get involved.” More than anything, the seniors deserve to have a safe, friendly and fun environment at the Hammon Senior Center. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, and I too “want the nastiness to go away.”
I do appreciate that Mr. Swift took some time to join us at a recent meal at the Senior Center, and I also appreciate that he spoke with some seniors about their experiences. But he barely spoke to me that day, and he certainly didn’t attempt to get my perspective on some of the outrageous tales he supposedly heard about me from this small group of seniors.
I do know he’s told others that he cannot personally verify the negative stories that he’s been told about me. I’m not looking for credit, and I’m not doing this to get a pat on the back. But I would appreciate fair treatment, as well as a more comprehensive effort to understand the entirety of what’s happening at the Hammon Center.
I welcome the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Swift if he’s truly interested in hearing another perspective. Based on history, I’m not sure he’ll give me that opportunity. I hope I’m wrong.
Sheree Lustgarten, Patterson City Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tem