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Candidates address closing of Sybene Senior Center

BURLINGTON — Getting the Sybene Center operating again as a headquarters for seniors was the hot button topic at Thursday night’s Meet the Candidates Forum sponsored by the Concerned Citizens of Burlington.

The center, owned and operated by the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization, was closed by the CAO in early summer with no immediate plans for re-opening. For years it has served as a location for daily lunches, community meetings and senior-oriented activities.

Ten candidates whose names will be on the November general election ballot were at the forum, an annual event hosted by the grassroots organization.

This year the forum was held for the first time at the Burlington Elementary School, since the closure of the Sybene Center.

Appearing were incumbent county commissioners Freddie Hayes and Bill Pratt and their opponents, Doug Malone and Carl Robinson; county treasurer Stephen Burcham and his opponent Jerry Rowe; and Josh Bailey, who is running for State Representative for the 93rd District. The incumbent in that race, Ryan Smith, did not appear at the forum.

Also speaking were Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless, clerk of courts Mike Patterson and county commissioner Les Boggs. All of these candidates are unopposed in November.

Jackie Dolen of the county prosecutor’s office spoke on behalf of Brigham Anderson, who is running unopposed for prosecutor. Harriette Ramsey, president of the Concerned Citizens, read statements from County Engineer Doug Cade, also running unopposed; and Sharon Gossett Hager, county recorder. All three had previous commitments and were unable to attend.

A single question at the forum about the center’s closing prompted a number of candidates to take the podium declaring their support for the center.

“We understand there is a need,” Les Boggs, county commission president, told an audience of approximately 50 at the school. “The congregate meals they served there were a great thing. We don’t have a specific plan, but will work with anyone.”

Following Boggs to the microphone were Malone, Robinson, Hayes, Pratt and Bailey, all pledging their support for the Sybene center.

In the November 2011 election a much-sought-after 1-mill senior citizens levy was defeated by 95 votes. The levy would have brought in $800,000 annually for the next five years.

However, D.R. Gossett, director of the CAO, has said the levy was mainly to provide funds for expanding services and didn’t cite its failure as the main reason for closing Sybene. Instead Gossett cited reductions in the Older Americans Act for causing cutbacks in senior programs.

The forum began with each candidate speaking for four minutes giving his educational and political background and plans for the office he is seeking before taking a handful of questions from the audience.

“It was a good turnout,” Ramsey said. “The people were interested in hearing what the candidates had to say. It was an opportunity for everyone to avail themselves of it.”