Guest Op-ed City Administration Took Action on Wellness Center

By Mayor Carlo DeMaria (as delivered to the City Council on March 4)

For some time now, there has been a great deal of repeated false information publicized about the Health and Wellness Center.  False claims of a settlement, to exaggerated issues portrayed to make it appear that there is a constant problem at the Wellness Center.  For some reason, Mr. McLaughlin, you are choosing to align yourself with the editor and owners of the Leader Herald in helping to perpetuate falsehoods and typical employment matters beyond their relevance.  By these actions, you are damaging this city.

You must know these stories are overblown, and yet you sit here and expect answers beyond the scope of your function as if you have a right to smear the good people working every day to enhance this City, OUR City!  That newsletter that pretends to be a newspaper only tries to tear down this administration and the Encore project: A project that will bring the City great tax revenue, jobs, and environmental cleanup for Everett and the surrounding area.  And you want to do the paper’s dirty work to what end?  To stop the progress.

Have you bought in, hook-line-and-sinker, to the false stories about a Health and the Wellness Center that you have never even visited for yourself?  The questions you have proposed are repetitive and seek information beyond your function as a legislator so you can play political games.  You use words like “unsafe” and “negative” to describe it.  Nothing can be further from the truth…  I AM HERE TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS FOR MY ADMINISTRATION, AND TO DEFEND THIS CITY FROM THIS ATTACK.  AS TO YOUR QUESTIONS…

The Health and Wellness Center is a constituent heavy service that many municipalities don’t have.  We embarked on this with the residents in mind, to offer them a place to move, exercise, and have a sense of community. We offer classes, meals, training, and even daycare where residents trust us with their children.

We get very little in the way of negative feedback. From seniors to students, they all enjoy this facility and its staff.  In fact, if the positive and successful stories were offered up as much as the inflated negative ones, then I bet even you would have a different view, never being there to see for yourself.

You mention numerous complaints the residents have made to you. As an elected official of the city, did you report these to anyone that can help, or did you direct them to someone with knowledge in an attempt to help them?  Were you keeping these complaints to yourself for some reason?  As a member of the Council, how do you think it helps this City by hoarding complaints for political purposes, if they even exist?

Instead, you talk about broken trust.  You contribute to that by letting complaints die with you.  By not seeking to assist in the solution, but instead seeking to damage the reputation of this fine Center.  Have you gone in and witnessed the joy in the kid’s activities, or the community getting together?  Maybe you should, so you know what you are talking about…

By not directing complaints to the proper people, you are just creating a false sense that there is a problem where there is not, or counseling people on matters you are not trained to that is creating broken trust and frankly poor leadership.

You talk about a breakdown in leadership.  Have you seen the daily classes taking place on the state-of-the-art equipment, equipment that is maintained very well?  Equipment that was purchased by procurement after several bids, from the lowest bidder, who installed the equipment themselves.  Have you seen the expertise of the teachers in action, and the variety of class offerings?  You ask for information on the staff.  Go up and see for yourself the fine job they do.

Further, to qualify the Center as “negative” and “unsafe” does a disservice to our city.  To drag this into the newspaper over and over does no good, especially to the real people that are collateral damage to you.  To exaggerate these issues and repeat them over and over is propaganda.  To make a situation bigger than it is, is irresponsible. This is what you are perpetuating.  This is what you are contributing.

Yes there have been some complaints.  My administration has been in front of the council about this.  After that, the newspaper had to walk back their false story. Human resources issues happen in the regular course of any business. We investigated it thoroughly. We made the accommodations required. Any further pursuit would be a private matter, and the information is protected until such time as a determination was made.

With the volume of people we serve, as well as number of staff, the number of these complaints is typical if not low. And I assure you, all are addressed as soon as they are made known to us. My administration does their job, and again, this is not your function.

Want a lawsuit?  Personnel files are exempt under public records law.  Want to expose the city to liability?  Publish someone’s protected information.  Discussing current matters can compromise the City.  Potential claimants have rights and they have a proper process.  The City has a right to defend.  Neither is your function, but all should be kept confidential in accordance with the law until the matter is resolved.  Freely discussing conjecture can only weaken the city.  It is our function to protect privileged information and this City, and we will do so even if you paint it as a negative.

As to your questions to Dr. Omar Easy, Dr. Easy works on a daily basis assessing the operational needs of all city departments.  He makes recommendations on a daily basis regarding a variety of issues.  Attorney Lara Wehbe Ammouri has always been a lawyer with access to personnel records.  All employees time is tracked with timesheets.  This function is not yours. You are not entitled to these matters and again, it is not your function.

As to the Center, Steve Supino ran a gym for decades in the private sector.  We asked him to create a plan for the Wellness Center. Some employees were transfers from the Rec Center, and others were hired via the application process, referrals and recommendations. I am the appointing authority and made the staffing decisions.  Nick has been the manager of the day to day operations since he was hired in 2015. 

AS to all the employees of the center, every year, we go over the budget with the council, and we will again this year.  To the best of my knowledge, they are:

– Nick Bertrone – Manager/ Trainer

– Kristin Fulton – Recreation Coordinator

-George Wright – Recreation Leader

– Karen Martinelli – Administrative Assistant

-Sam Amado- Instructor

– Kahlea Brown- Instructor

– Michael Marchese- Instructor

– Pablo Miranda- Instructor

– Yago Miranda- Instructor

– Natalaia Chay De Gonzalez- Instructor

-David Fanni- Instructor

– Gina Matarazzo- Instructor

– Rosa Portillo- Instructor

– Christine Demetrio – Day Care Center

– The City also hires vendors to run classes.

To answer another of your questions, The Managing staff was:

-Steve Supino has been the Executive Director of Health and Human Service.

-Karen Avila was Director of health and wellness (not to be confused with the center).

 -Fitzroy Bramble was previous manager.

 -Nick Bertone is currently the manager.

The numbers at the center are strong:

2016 – Approximately $255,000 in revenue…

2017 – Approximately $326,000

2018- Approximately $384,000

Membership by family Plan:

2015 – 1,398

2016 – 1,865

2017 – 2,268

2018 – 2,544

The Center keeps adding enrollment and revenue, flying in the face of your mistrust nonsense.

Karen Avila was the director of health and wellness, which is a distinction from the Health and Wellness Center.  I recently initiated a city-wide check on licenses, to assure that none had lapsed.  That is when we discovered Karen’s issue, She resigned due to all of the publicity in the paper, and I accepted her resignation.  Karen was not required to have the credentials she claimed to have to do her job, but she was educated in the field, having a bachelor’s degree from Framingham State in food and Nutrition.  At no time would there have been a negative effect as a result, and to say so is not responsible.

You’re criticizing the initiative that produced this result and you’re calling out my Administration for not taking action when that is exactly what I did.  While we were taking appropriate action, you received office gossip creating the impression that this issue is much larger than it actually is. 

The Center is safe and prosperous, and a benefit to the residents.  While you are spreading false rumors, you do us all disservice.

Let me share with you some accolades in the few short years the Center has been open:

•2015 A grant from the U.S. Conference of mayors for promoting healthy weight in children.  They stated our “winning program showcased creativity and innovation of America’s Mayors, as well as health and wellness in the community.

•2016 – Kenneth Picard Municipal Innovation Award.

•2016 MMA Innovation Award.

•A Mass in Motion Grant for promoting community Wellness.

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