SARANAC LAKE - The director of the Saranac Lake Adult Center was abruptly fired last week, upsetting many of the senior citizens who frequent the center.
Gina Norton, who had been running the adult center since October 2010, was terminated on Friday, according to Susan Schrader, director of the Malone-based Association of Senior Citizens of Franklin County, the nonprofit group that pays the directors of all eight adult centers in the county and runs their nutrition programs. Schrader initially declined to go into detail about why Norton was fired.
"I can't discuss it at this time," she told the Enterprise Monday. "It's a personnel issue."
Former Saranac Lake Adult Center Director Gina Norton
(Enterprise file photo — Chris Knight)
Norton, who lives in Lake Clear, didn't return a message left at her home Monday afternoon.
News of Norton's firing spread quickly among those who frequent the adult center. Alton Beideck of Saranac Lake said he was there when it happened around 1 p.m. Friday.
"Three people walked in, told her to pack up her stuff and get out," Beideck said. "I was astounded. They stood over her while she packed up her stuff and walked her out the door."
Beideck said he believed the association's decision to fire Norton had something to do with the money that's collected for daily meals at the center.
"They have meals up there every noon," he said. "Adults over 60 have to pay $2. Anybody less than 60 has to pay $6. The bus driver and the dispatcher, they claimed, were not paying the $6. That's where it started. It's all over that. They accused her of not collecting the money from people, but they're on the honor system. There's nobody there collecting your money."
Deborah Donaldson, president of the adult center's board, said she talked to Schrader Monday and said the dispute over meal payments was the only reason she was given for Norton's firing.
"It was over a report that wasn't written up correctly," she said. "It was where somebody didn't pay for meals and they should have, and supposedly (Norton) didn't put the name down."
Asked if that was true, Schrader would only say, "It's very difficult with seniors because these are federally funded programs, and mandates have to be followed."
Donaldson said she was shocked and upset that Norton was fired. She credited Norton with increasing the number of seniors who use the center and its programs.
"I knew absolutely nothing that was going to happen," Donaldson said. "The seniors are just upset beyond description. We all feel she's done a good job. She's brought people back to the center and brought in more programs and activities."
When Norton was hired two years ago, Beideck said he wasn't convinced that she was the right person for the job. He said he quickly changed his mind.
"She brought more people in, and she's been very good with the people that are there," Beideck said. "If they've got a problem, she tries to help them. She's been taking money out of her own pocket to help people. She listens to the concerns of the adults coming in."
Beideck said a group of local seniors who are upset with Norton's firing plan to travel to Malone to meet with the association. He also said people will be attending an adult center board meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday.
"It's starting to mushroom," he said.
Meanwhile, Schrader said the association has already begun the search for a new director. She said the adult center will continue to operate as normal.
"The home-delivered meals went out today, the congregate meals went out today, and that's what the association is responsible for," she said. "We just sent the Enterprise a job description, and that's going to run. We're hoping to have somebody in there within the next couple of weeks. We have other seniors in there taking care of things. Nothing, as far as our programs, is going to change."
Donaldson, however, said she's concerned that some people will stop coming to the center because they're upset with Norton's firing.
"It's going to hurt the seniors, definitely, unless we can get to them and tell them, 'Just ignore it. It's something that happened and didn't need to.' It's too bad that this happened, because we were just beginning to get in the swing of things."