Followup: Senior Center of West Seattle board votes ‘full confidence’ in ousted director

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Two nights after reporting on the abrupt ouster of the Senior Center of West Seattle‘s well-regarded longtime director Karen Sisson, we have an update.

SC-WS board president David Robertson had told WSB on Monday that he was awaiting the center’s parent nonprofit Senior Services‘ reply to questions about Sisson’s reported firing by the organization’s CEO Paula Houston.

When we inquired with Senior Services, spokesperson Karen Bystrom would only confirm that Sisson was no longer employed, saying that otherwise, it’s a “personnel matter.” Robertson said he understood it had something to do with an e-mail Sisson had sent “voicing her concerns regarding points brought to (her) attention in the future direction and management of the Senior Center of West Seattle.”

Today, Robertson told WSB that the Senior Center’s board has met to discuss the situation:

The Board of Directors of the Senior Center of West Seattle met in executive session on July 15 to review the termination of Karen Sisson as Center Director.

The Board reviewed the letter of explanation it received from Paula Houston (CEO of Senior Services of Seattle/King County).

The Board also considered the long-term quality of Karen Sisson’s work.

The Board unanimously voted full confidence in Karen Sisson as Center Director.

As President of the West Seattle Center Board, I can assure you, we will continue to pursue this issue and I will keep you updated as appropriate.

Sisson had been with the Senior Center of West Seattle for 25 years. She has not yet commented publicly on what happened.

The center is a nonprofit facility with a budget of more than half a million dollars per year, one of half a dozen operated by Senior Services, and within that, one of two that own their own buildings. Some of the funding for senior centers, including WS, comes from the city budget.

10 Replies to "Followup: Senior Center of West Seattle board votes 'full confidence' in ousted director"

  • Jan Jarrell July 17, 2014 (6:35 am)

    I guess the question now has to be: what impact will the Board’s vote of confidence have on the situation? Do they have the authority to overturn Ms Houston’s decision?

    As a volunteer at the West Seattle Senior Center I can only say I HOPE SO! Karen’s removal from the post where she has served so loyally and with such distinction would be a devastating blow not just to those of us who work there… but to the senior citizens of West Seattle who are SUPPOSED to be Ms Houston’s primary concern.

    Ms Houston seems, in my opinion, much more concerned with preserving her own ego-serving point of view than she does with preserving the well being of our senior citizens. And since I am one of those senior citizens, I much prefer Ms Sisson’s way of doing things.

    I have written to all of the Senior Services Board members whose email address I could find. I have written to Ms Houston. If there is anything else that ANY of us can do to show our suppport and perhaps alter this situation I hope someone will reply here and let us know.

    Jan Jarrell
    Volunteer, SCWS

  • Kim Roper July 17, 2014 (9:23 am)

    Who, pray tell, is in a position to fire the empress?

  • Jan Jarrell July 17, 2014 (9:40 am)

    Kim Roper, I love you. Thanks for saying what every single volunteer at the Center has been saying over and over again for a week now.

    We all know.. clearly even the Board knows… what steps are necessary in order to serve the best interests of the senior citizens in West Seattle.

    WHO is going to step up and do what is right for our seniors??

  • Vanessa July 17, 2014 (1:23 pm)

    I am a member of the West Seattle Center and a supporter.

    I am heading up to the center at Oregon and Californian Ave. to stand on the corner with my sign that says “BRING BACK KAREN”

    If anyone wants to help support me, in my protest of Karen being fired, I will share my sign with you. Or you can make one too….

  • Diane July 17, 2014 (1:25 pm)

    this whole thing is so bizarre

  • Wairimu July 17, 2014 (9:42 pm)

    Where is my Karen? I want our Karen back too!

    Karen did the most amazing job of helping my family in a myriad of ways. She supported me emotionally when I found myself taking care of two elderly parents at the same time. And they were in two different continents. And I was frayed, spread too thin, kind of brittle. Our Karen helped me find ways to figure new approaches, took on some so I could have emotional elasticity. As a caregiver, I needed someone to commiserate with me, to be there with alternative possibilities. We brainstormed and found solutions. We laughed, we cried. I breathed easier.
    Her outstanding reputation is celebrated by my friends too. Her dedication to seniors is seen as exemplary. Her compassion is what has helped touch many lives and what has brought an outpouring of indignation as to how she was fired. Hmmm, does that mean she will still have health insurance? All her benefits intact? Or can she even apply for unemployment?

    I am asking SS, with humility and respect, to reconsider their decision? Perhaps we can set up a small committee to negotiate a win-win situation. I would like to support both Paula and Karen too. I think that if we can find approaches to merging interests, we can find a workable solution. Like figuring out how best to look after two parents in two different continents at the same time.

    Can we try?

  • Jack Mayne July 18, 2014 (1:50 pm)

    I am stunned at this piece of total lack of knowledge from Senior Services in the value and the total respect we have for Karen and the work she has done. If anyone wants my assistance in changing this, just let me know. Thanks for the good coverage of this, Tracy. I had been gone for a few days, and saw Vanessa on the street yesterday and asked about who Karen in her sign way, and was astounded to find out.

  • Trudy July 19, 2014 (3:01 pm)

    I am Karen Sissons daugher and I can tell you that I have known her longer than any of you. Her zeal for seniors did not start in West Seattle but in Walla Walla! My mother has been pouring her heart and energy into bettering the lives of seniors since I was a young girl. I remember going to her work with her on Saturdays so that she could continue to keep the Dial a ride bus going for the seniors and put the newsletter together. Did I mention she was raising 2 young children at that time? Did I tell you the center was closed and she was the only one working while others were with their families?
    My Mother took me and my little brother to the Special dinners so we could help collect tickets,listen to seniors play music, and chat with seniors. My little brother even washed dishes by standing on a box so he could reach the sink.
    My mother has a love for these seniors and has always wanted to give them a more enriched life.
    Through the many years she has worked at the center, she has given me a love for the elderly. I am so thankful for my Mother. She has done so much for the elderly and their families.Many have needed her and received her loving devotion of time, a listening ear,a shoulder to cry on or even a special trip to their house for a specific need they had. I am thankful for her hard work to provide seniors with an amazing support group.
    I do hope all of you share this blog and that more people come forward and share what Karen Sisson has provided for them.
    Thank you so much!!!!!

  • Harriet July 20, 2014 (5:31 pm)

    After my surgery I needed to eat small meals, and the effort to cook for myself was overwhelming, Karen told me I should start to buy my meals at the CENTER as they are FDA approve for nutrition, and take them home. I found doing this helped me get my strength back and I didn’t have to bother my family to come and cook for me.

    Karen has always supported all seniors and helps us to see that being a “senior” is a good thing. The CENTER offers many activities t help us stay active both in mind and body.

  • Lin July 26, 2014 (6:20 pm)

    It seems like a flood of letters to Mayor Murray and the newly appointed Human Services Director, John Okamoto would be appropriate. I imagine that they both would have the authority to make some changes in Senior Services management.
    Also, maybe a petition of West Seattle community members would be helpful.

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