Senior Center shakeup in Northampton: Assistant director resigns, 4 board members quit

  • Heather Cahillane is leaving her post as assistant director of Northampton Senior Services on April 25. Submitted Photo

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — After being passed over as the next director of Northampton Senior Services, a popular assistant director is resigning later this month.

Heather Cahillane, the assistant director and volunteer coordinator for Senior Services, said she’s moving on for several reasons — she didn’t get the director’s job, her work is not valued by the city’s administration and she didn’t see room for professional growth.

“People are upset about it but they understand it,” said Cahillane, who submitted her notice April 11.

Some, however, are trying to bring Cahillane back to the Senior Center, and taking dramatic action to do so. Four members of the Council on Aging, the committee that advises Northampton Senior Services, resigned on Thursday because the mayor did not pick Cahillane to replace Linda Desmond.

“We all resigned for the same reason,” said Marlene Marrocco, a board member who quit along with John Kaczenski, Barbara Fungaroli and Lorraine Weimann.

Marrocco said that she and the other members resigned because the mayor has not been heeding their advice.

“Why are we bothering being an advisory board if he’s not going to take advice?” she said.

Cahillane said that resigning was not an easy decision, and expressed a love for the senior center and its community.

“This has become like a second home,” she said.

Nevertheless, she said that her talents and energies would be better served elsewhere.

Cahillane first started working for the senior center as its program director in 2013. She has since served in a number of other capacities, including as interim director of Northampton Senior Services. She became assistant director at the senior center in August 2016.

Cahillane tied her departure directly to being passed over for the senior services director position for a second time, although she did make it past the screening committee and was interviewed.

Appointment of the position is under the purview of Narkewicz, who selected Williamsburg Senior Center Director Marie Westburg for the job. That selection must be confirmed by an up-or-down vote of the City Council before it goes into effect. That vote is set to take place on May 3, although it will first be reviewed by a meeting on the Committee for City Services on April 23.

Cahillane said that she felt her work at the senior center hadn’t been valued by the administration.

“There’s not room for growth here,” she said.

Asked about Cahillane’s contention that her work was not valued by administration, Narkewicz said that he valued her contribution.

“And I have told her as much,” he said.

Cahillane also noted her two stints serving as interim director, one of which she is currently in.

“I’ve been qualified enough to do that,” she said.

Marrocco said that when the members of the Council on Aging were polled, they all backed Cahillane, a process that happened again at Thursday’s meeting.

“Once again, everybody voted for Heather,” she said.

Marrocco said that Cahillane is extremely qualified, and asserted that her taking the job would be a “seamless transition.”

She also said that Cahillane has extensive knowledge of those who work, volunteer and use the senior center.

“How can anyone be more qualified?” she said.

Patricia Shaughnessy was the senior services director who first hired Cahillane.

“A very sad day for seniors in Northampton,” she said, of Cahillane’s departure.

Marrocco said that she and the others resigned will ask the council, both at the committee meeting and the meeting of the full council, to vote Westburg’s appointment down and Cahillane’s candidacy be reconsidered.

“If they vote it down then they can have a conversation with Heather,” said Marrocco, noting that the demand is not meant as a slight on Westburg.

Shaughnessy is also backing the movement to vote down Westburg so that Cahillane can be reconsidered. She also expressed satisfaction that seniors were letting their voices be heard, and said that it was great that they were taking a proactive approach.

“Hurray for the seniors,” she said.

In addition to getting people to show up to the council meetings, the movement is also calling city councilors and the mayor.

Cahillane said that her last day of work will be April 25. And although she says she has a few different opportunities, she has “nothing solid” on the job front.

Still, Cahillane, who grew up in Northampton and graduated from Smith College, says she will stay in the area, noting her recent purchase of a house in Holyoke and her connections here.

“I love it here, I love the Valley,” she said.

She also said that she will maintain relationships with the people she’s grown close with at the senior center, including her adopted grandmother.

“I’m certainly not going to be a stranger,” she said.

Cahillane showed no indication of knowing about a movement to get her candidacy reconsidered when interviewed.

Another resignation

In addition to Cahillane, another member of the Senior Services, Victoria Hunt, has resigned. Hunt is the media and program coordinator. She could not be reached for comment, but said in her resignation letter that the job was no longer aligned with her personal and professional goals. Her last day will be April 26.

Asked about the staff resignations, Narkewicz said that these things are always difficult.

“I wish them well,” he said.

He also said that he was disappointed to see Cahillane leave, characterizing her as a great member of the senior services team.

As for who will run the Senior Center after Cahillane goes, Narkewicz noted the short gap between Cahillane’s leaving and Westburg’s April 30 start date, when he planned on appointing Westburg in an interim capacity. He noted that he’d also appointed Desmond, the previous director, in an interim capacity prior to her approval.

Narkewicz also said that the Senior Center has some very capable staff members that he could appoint as interim director prior to April 30, or he could also move up Westburg’s appointment.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.