Middletown City Council votes to authorize lease of senior center

Middletown City Council voted Tuesday to enter into a lease agreement with the possibility of later purchasing Central Connections senior citizens center.
Published: Aug. 15, 2023 at 10:07 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 16, 2023 at 8:29 AM EDT
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MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (WXIX) - Middletown City Council voted Tuesday to enter into a lease agreement with the possibility of later purchasing Central Connections senior citizens center.

Tuesday’s vote comes after the executive director of the senior center, Diane Rodgers, was fired in July and told not to return.

She is now the focus of local and state police investigation, according to Middletown Police Chief David Birk. No charges have been filed.

Sharon Collier and Marilyn Easterly say they have been members of Central Connections for more than two decades.

Now they are breathing a sigh of relief.

“The Middletown senior center did not do business properly and did not vet the existing director at the time, so we’re thrilled that the city is going to try and help us out,” said Collier. “And we’re hopeful that the police will be able to take care of the rest of it.”

She also said their yoga instructor and Silver Sneakers instructors were not being paid.

“Transportation was being late or was not happening. There were just multiple situations of mismanagement looking at the big picture,” she said.

Until now, both women say they felt their cries for better leadership and the need for a major turnaround fell on deaf ears.

“The issues that were going on at the center were long, and we could not get anyone’s attention to address the issues that we knew were going on,” Easterly said.

They don’t think a transition in leadership will guarantee smooth sailing for Central Connections, but they said they are thankful for a silver lining.

“It’s going to work out fine with the city getting involved,” Easterly said. “We really appreciate it. Justice will be done.”

The city of Middletown has been trying to buy Central Connections senior center, located on Central Avenue, from the non-profit agency that owns it, Middletown Area Senior Citizens Inc.

Middletown Area Senior Citizens Inc. does business as Central Connections, according to online records at the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office.

The property is valued at $2.1 million, according to Butler County property records.

If that happens, public money will have paid for the facility not once but twice.

Nearly $7 million from a Middletown senior services levy paid off the mortgage on the property when the levy ended on Dec. 31, 2022, according to City Manager Paul Lolli.

However, the property has a new mortgage taken out in 2022, public records show.

Rodgers’ name appears on the signature line as the executive director for Middletown Area Senior Citizens Inc. for a $450,000 mortgage taken out in July 2022 at First Financial Bank against the facility and property at 3907 Central Avenue, according to online records at the Butler County Recorder’s Office.

Her name also appears on the signature line of a mortgage modification less than six months later, for another $200,000 on Dec. 31, 2022, to total $650,000, related records show.

In early May, a $266,594.52 lien also was placed on the Central Avenue property.

William H. Roe, vice president of DER Development Co., LLC of Milford, a general contracting, property development and construction management firm, is named in a sworn statement to obtain the lien claiming that the money owed plus interest, according to documents on the Butler County Recorder Office’s website.

The senior center underwent a $900,000 renovation from June 2022 to February 2023 to transform into a recreation center for seniors.

Part of the facility also can be rented out for events such as weddings, according to its website.

Grants and the center’s general fund paid for the majority of the project, about $675,000, city records show. City officials confirm to FOX19 NOW that community block grants from federal funding provided nearly $300,000 in 2021 and 2022.

Renovations wrapped up in time for a ribbon-cutting ceremony by year’s end.

FOX19 NOW recently requested comments from every single board member and their chairman at Central Connections Senior Center but no one responded.

Middletown Mayor Nicole Condrey has said proper background checks weren’t done when Rodgers was hired.

The mayor called that “infuriating” and “very disappointing” during an emergency public meeting last week to discuss the fate of the senior center.

She said it appeared bad decisions were made by the board that hired and oversaw her.

Rodgers, 50, of Sabina, was hired in 2021.

She came from Reno, Nevada, and also formerly lived in California, where FOX19 NOW has confirmed she was criminally charged in 2006 on multiple counts of financial crimes such as forgery by altering a check, grand theft, burglary and making or passing a fictitious check.

Middletown police recently asked the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to join the case revolving around the former senior center director, according to a copy of the written request.

It says Middletown police needs “a forensic accountant to assist with a financial investigation resulting from an alleged theft of monies from a local organization.”

A BCI spokesman confirmed earlier this week the agency has joined the probe and is “actively investigating alongside Middletown police in response to their request for assistance.”

He declined to elaborate.

Rodgers’ attorney, Tyrone Borger of Springboro, has said they are not commenting now due to the ongoing criminal investigation.

He also has said that “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.”

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