Originally created 05/15/04

Council files suit over food program



The Senior Citizens Council has gone to court to try to keep the CSRA nutrition program in Augusta.

Attorneys for the council filed a lawsuit Friday in Richmond County to dispute a decision by the CSRA Regional Development Center to award the nutrition program contract to a Florida-based for-profit corporation.

The suit asks the court to declare the contract with G.S. Food Service Inc. void and invalid because the development center does not have the legal authority to provide services exclusively reserved for the service provider, the Senior Citizens Council.

The nutrition program, which delivers meals for elderly and handicapped residents in a 16-county area, is based in the 15th Street facility in Augusta. It is valued at about $2 million a year, employs 31 people and has a $600,000 annual payroll.

About two dozen people, including senior citizens, council board members and union officials attended a news conference at the municipal building in Augusta after the suit was filed, during which the center's Executive Director Dr. Ron Schoeffler spoke.

"The loss of $6 million dollars over the next three years will cripple the Senior Citizens Council," he said. "We believe our seniors will suffer if we do not operate these programs, and the sponsoring agencies, cities and counties will have to increase their funding to maintain current levels of service."

According to the suit, all profits from meal preparation have been reinvested in the council to supplement nutritional and other services to the area's elderly residents.

"Plaintiffs show that the loss of this contract will mean either the loss of services to the elderly of Richmond County or that taxpayers of Richmond County will be required to pay no less than an additional $180,000 per year to maintain the current level of services provided by the Senior Citizens Council," the suit states.

Superior Court Chief Judge William M. Fleming Jr. has set a June 14 hearing date.

Plaintiffs are the Senior Citizens Council and four recipients of the program services, Eula Hacker, Unicetine Lewis, Harland Mason and Julia Roberson.

The contract has been administered by the council since 1987 and meals prepared by the agency since 1998.

The plaintiffs say the contract with G.A. Foods was illegal because that company was not the "lowest responsible bidder."

The plaintiffs are asking the court to act immediately to block execution of the contract until a final hearing can be held.

A lawsuit represents one side of a dispute.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.