As city takes over operating senior center, only one Central Connections employee remains

Board member refuses to say if or when former employees will be paid for hours worked.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

MIDDLETOWN — As the city of Middletown takes over running Central Connections, the city’s senior citizens center, there is confusion if or when former employees will be paid.

Jim Berry, one of the 13 board members at Central Connections, said three of the four remaining employees had their positions terminated Friday.

Employees were supposed to be paid Friday by the Central Connections board for previous hours worked. When asked if they were paid, Berry said he “can’t comment at this time.”

The city of Middletown is leasing the building from Middletown Senior Citizens Inc. for $50 a month for the rest of the year, said City Manager Paul Lolli. He said that lease started last week, and he hopes to present legislation to City Council before the end of the year so it can vote whether to purchase the property for $1.8 million.

Berry said he’s “optimistic” the city will purchase the building.

If the city buys the building with American Rescue Plan Acts (ARPA) funds, the Middletown Senior Citizens Inc. would use that money to pay off its debt, according to Berry. How much debt is owed is still being finalized, he said.

Lolli said the city wanted to retain the two employees who were working the front desk, but they decided to leave.

Health Director Jackie Phillips is overseeing operations of Central Connections and Jeri Lewis, the city’s community projects coordinator, is working daily at the center that’s open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, Lolli said.

Meanwhile, the husband of Diane Rodgers, the former executive director of Central Connections, is expected to appear for his preliminary hearing Wednesday morning in Middletown Municipal Court.

Vincent “Scott” Smith, 56, of Sabina, was charged with seven counts of passing bad checks, all felonies, according to the Middletown Division of Police and court records.

Smith allegedly wrote seven checks that totaled $56,300 between June 1, 2022 and June 23, 2023 from his bank to Central Connections and the checks were returned for insufficient funds, according to the court document.

During his arraignment last month, Smith’s bond was set at $5,000, or 10%. His bond was paid and he was released from jail, according to records.

Rodgers was terminated from her position at Central Connections on July 27 and is the target of criminal investigations regarding finances at the center, according to police Chief David Birk. No criminal charges have been filed and the investigation is ongoing, he said.

Rodgers hasn’t been seen publicly since she was terminated by the Central Connections board of directors and escorted out of the building by Middletown police.

Central Connections: Timeline

Nov. 6, 2012: Middletown taxpayers pass a five-year, 1-mill levy to provide or maintain senior services at the Middletown Area Senior Center.

Aug. 16, 2015: The name of the Middletown Area Senior Center is changed to Central Connections.

May 2, 2017: Middletown taxpayers renew a five-year, 1-mill levy to provide or maintain senior services at the center.

November 2021: Diane Rodgers is hired as executive director. She says she moved from Reno, Nev., where she oversaw a senior center and worked with the homeless population, to be closer to her daughter who lives in New York.

July 29, 2022: Rodgers signs for a mortgage loan through First Financial Bank for $450,000, then does a loan modification that increases the amount to $650,000, according to the Butler County Recorder’s Office. Her signature and job title are listed on the loan that matures on July 29, 2024.

Nov. 1, 2022: Ribbon-cutting is held to celebrate the $1.5 million in renovations of Central Connections, 3907 Central Ave.

Dec. 31, 2022: Senior citizens center levy expires after generating $7 million over 10 years.

May 5, 2023: D.E.R. Development Co. files a lien against Central Connections, saying the company is owed $266,594.52, plus allowable interest.

May 31, 2023: Rodgers files vandalism report at Central Connections. Middletown police say that leads to the investigation of center’s finances.

July 24, 2023: The Council on Aging terminates its three-year contract with Central Connections. Fifty employees are laid off.

July 25, 2023: Nearly 75 senior citizens and former and current employees of Central Connections attend a meeting in the café with Rick Fishbaugh, board president, and Rodgers.

July 27, 2023: Rodgers is terminated as executive director of Central Connections and escorted out of the building by Middletown police.

Aug. 3, 2023: During a special City Council meeting and after an executive session, City Manager Paul Lolli announces council has agreed to move forward with the possible purchase of the Central Connections building and land and for an unknown amount that will come out of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) fund.

Aug. 5, 2023: In an email to the Journal-News, attorney Tyrone Borger, who is representing Rodgers, writes that he and his client have been “informed that there is an ongoing investigation. As such, while my client would like to comment and clear up several misconceptions. She is taking my advice and refusing to comment on any allegations at this time.”

Aug. 9, 2023: Middletown Police Chief David Birk says his department is working with the Ohio attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation into the criminal investigation into the finances of Central Connections.

Aug. 11, 2023: Central Connections announces more layoff and the closing of the cafe and bar. The hours are reduced to 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Aug. 15, 2023: City Council votes unanimously to allow City Manager Paul Lolli to enter into a lease agreement with Central Connections. The lease is $50 per month. By the end of 2023, the city has the right to purchase the building and property for $1.8 million.

Aug. 21, 2023: Vincent “Scott” Smith, husband of the former executive director, arrested and charged with seven counts of passing bad checks, all felonies.

Aug. 23, 2023: Smith appears in Middletown Municipal Court for his arraignment. Judge James Sherron sets Smith’s bond at $5,000.

Aug. 30, 2023: Smith’s preliminary hearing is continued until Sept. 6.

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