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By Hiroko Sato


PEPPERELL — Former Council on Aging Director Marcia Zaniboni will return as interim director effective today, per a vote by selectmen Wednesday night.

The Council on Aging made the nomination Tuesday afternoon at a meeting that drew several dozens of seniors, who were concerned about the future of the center in the wake of recent resignations.

With no full-time worker in place to man the senior center, some Council on Aging members have worked in the building since Monday and kept it open with the help of a part-time clerk and volunteers.

“I’m definitely willing to step up and take the job,” Zaniboni said onTuesday.

In the meantime, speculation continues to swirl over the reason Lisa Ferolito, the center’s activity coordinator, who was originally considered for the interim position, suddenly bowed out of contract negotiations and quit her job.

“A lot of us feel that the previous person was railroaded (by the Council on Aging),” said Lil Wamboldt, a senior.

Selectman Joseph Sergi said he heard there was some “meddling” on the part of the council.

“There were possibly some board members angling to have someone in there other than Lisa,” Sergi said.

The nomination for Zaniboni came five days after Ferolito suddenly stepped down. According to Council on Aging Chairman Merle Green, the board asked senior-center staff members if anyone was interested in serving as interim when former Director Sharon Mercurio announced her resignation to take a similar job in Acton two weeks ago. Ferolito expressed an interest, but contract negotiations fell apart, Green said.

Ferolito said the Council on Aging unanimously agreed to appoint her.

But “at the board meeting scheduled to discuss the terms of my contract, it was clear that I no longer had the support of the full COA Board,” Ferolito wrote in her resignation letter submitted Friday. “In order for any department to run effectively, full board support is essential.”

Zaniboni, a Pepperell resident since 1984, served as the council director from 1998 through 2003 before taking a job as the elderly-housing manager in Littleton. She brings 26 years of experience in senior care.

In nominating her as interim, council member Barry Fuller said Zaniboni has the necessary experience to navigate through paperwork. Volunteers can take care of the physical operation of the center, Fuller added.

“I’m worried about the business end of it,” he said.

Green said selectmen wanted two candidates from which to choose for the interim position. Council member Cathy Forrest nominated Debbie Thompson of Pepperell, who was the second choice for the director position when Mercurio was hired. But Green said Thompson, who works as the outreach coordinator for the Groton Council on Aging, said she would only be interested in the interim position if it would lead to a permanent one.

Some seniors said they suspected some council members tried to prevent the hiring of Ferolito. Roger Robbins said he believed there was some internal conflict between Ferolito and council members over the handling of a group of seniors.

“Something was set up against her,” said Wamboldt, who attended last Thursday’s council meeting.

The council did not discuss Ferolito’s departure . Green declined to comment on the reason Ferolito left after the meeting.

“I cannot put out a fire,” Green said of the speculation. “I’m not sure of anything.”

He added that commenting on Ferolito’s resignation would only add fuel to the fire.

Green said the council has advertised the permanent director’s position and began accepting job applications. Some people have also expressed interest in the position of activity coordinator, according to some council members.

Sergi said Green has done a fine job as the council chair for the past several years and is not concerned about how the council conducts its business.

Wednesday night, the two remaining selectmen agreed to pay Zaniboni $26.67 per hour with no benefits.

The board also appointed a search committee for the COA director position.