Does it pay to have connections?Is it only those who with sufficient financial resources that can gain the ear and assistance of the Mayor Foxx and City Council Members? And Police Chief Rodney Monroe, who claims credit for huge reductions in crime (even though none of the above will release the real crime numbers)? When a key contributor to Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon’s campaign fell victim to some teenage pranksters stealing plastic “Re-Elect Cannon” signs valued at a few dollars from her front yard, this set off a multi-day operation to catch the perps (both victim and perpetrators live in the high-end neighborhood of Foxcroft) which a CMPD source told Pundit House writer Mark Pellin cost at least $15,000. This doesn’t count court time yet. You can view details of the police reports and campaign contributions at CedarPosts.blogspot report.
What happens if you’re on the West Side and need some contacts?Compare this campaign caper with the reaction to a West Side neighborhood asking for help. The Historic Camp Greene neighborhood has struggled and made significant progress toward reducing crime with a strong community association and some folks who were paying attention. Historic Camp Greene is only one mile from downtown Charlotte (uptown to some), and is a former 6,000 acre World War I training camp. Leaving downtown on West Morehead, the neighborhood is bordered by that street, Wilkinson Blvd, Camp Greene, and contains a good section of Remount Road.
When the Alston Wilkes Society announced their intention to build a half-way house for 75 Federal Prisoners right in the middle of their neighborhood—next to pre-schools, playgrounds, churches, schools and residential buildings—neighbors were not complacent or silent. When incorrect information went out from those who wanted a contract to house newly-released prisoners in their neighborhood, they corrected it. And they contacted all the people that should have helped them: police and elected officials.
Back on September 19th and 20th, one local news station did help by covering the story before a neighborhood meeting with the AWS and followed up after, even if the second report got some facts wrong. They mistakenly said 15 beds were planned instead of 75, but here are some of the main facts presented by WCNC:
The Camp Greene neighborhood is lined with trees, a church and day care. But don't let the beauty of the neighborhood fool you.
Camp Greene is a fragile neighborhood. There was a fatal shooting this month, and neighbors will tell you that their streets have been burdened with prostitutes, drugs, and gangs. The last thing the people of Camp Greene want is a halfway house for convicted felons.
"We're trying to come back. We're like everyone else in Charlotte. We want a nice neighborhood," said Linda Macon, a resident of Camp Greene.
There were strong questions, too about exactly who Alston Wilkes wanted to house in the proposed facility. The first answers from their representative seemed evasive to residents:
"If it's someone we don't think is suitable then we don't accept them," said Erin Roberts of Alston Wilkes. She said the residents would be non-violent offenders.
Reporter Ann Sheridan got specific, and on the record: “Could a child molester or a rapist be among those people (that you would accept)?”
Roberts response: “That’s highly unlikely at this time.” (In other words, ‘yes’).
Another resident present for the meeting was concerned about dodging other questions, telling citynewswatch: “We asked if they open and problems arise, what procedures are in place to provide resolution for the neighbors. Again, they dodged the question but finally said we can appoint a (single) representative to their advisory council. They did not specify how many members are on this council or what authority it has.”
Other information from the neighborhood meeting is that the turnover for offenders would be every three months. Previous offenders will graduate and new offenders would enter the facility every 3 months. This is barely enough time to identify anyone and know who should or shouldn’t be active in certain parts of the community. And the facility would NOT be kept locked. Offenders will be allowed to walk the streets.
Well, it’s only Camp Greene, right?Off-record, residents expressed they are offended and concerned at what they perceive as Ms. Roberts attempt to couch their proposed facility as the only alternative to releasing a bunch of dangerous felons to the streets of Camp Greene. She said in the report:
"When you understand that these folks are released to this community anyway and that we're trying to give them a place for employment and a place to live rather than just release them into the streets - it's actually helpful to the neighborhood."
Roberts made this statement almost as if to scare people into thinking parole requirements would be abolished and felons would be released into Camp Greene if the facility weren’t allowed. It was as if Camp Greene had been designated by someone as a dumping ground, in her estimation at least? Resident Jenny Herman calls it very directly:
"I kind of wonder if the economics of our neighborhood has anything to do with it" said Jenny Herman. "No one would try to put it in Myers Park. This neighborhood is not wealthy. If they tried to put it there, there would be massive protests," she said.
Meanwhile, Camp Greene residents can’t even get a return letter from Mayor Foxx or anyone in office. This is an area so overwhelmed with crime that it was declared a prostitution exclusion zone. Camp Greene neighbors have worked so hard to bring down crime, you might think they would receive some support from Police Chief Rodney Monroe and City Manager Curt Walton, who take every opportunity to say neighborhood involvement is key to achieving the stellar crime reductions they continue to claim.
WCNC also reported what the Alston Wilkes Society probably passed along: that the decision to put the halfway house in their at-risk but tight-knit residential area had to do with an available, suitable property that had the right zoning. All other arguments aside, this assertion by the Federal Bureau of Prisons bidder was completely false.
One City of Charlotte employee did come through in the end regarding this particular location, and that was Principal Planner Alan Goodwin, who rightly declared that the proposed use would be considered a jail, and would not be allowed in an O-2 zoning at 2128 Remount Road. Goodwin made this declaration in an email:
This Emerald Request was filed by (resident, who) is concerned with plans to establish a halfway-house type of facility for paroled ex-convicts at a building located at 2128 Remount Road (Parcel #06706103). This use is being proposed by The Alston Wilkes Society of South Carolina; Anne Walker is the organization’s CEO.
I can respond to the next-to-last paragraph of (resident’s name) request regarding zoning. The parcel at 2128 Remount Road is zoned O-2 (Office). The type of facility being proposed by The Alston Wilkes Society is considered to be a jail under the Charlotte Zoning Ordinance. Jails are permitted in O-2 zoning under prescribed conditions, one of them being that the lot on which they are located must be a minimum of two acres. The size of the subject parcel is 0.725 acres. Even if this parcel were combined with the adjacent County-owned parcels (#06706102 and #06706101), it would still be less than two acres in size. Therefore, the proposed facility is not permitted in this location under current zoning.
Candidate Lawana Mayfield did forward an email from the group. It’s unknown whether candidate Ed Toney did the same, but he did come to the neighborhood association meeting.
Not one politician in office nor anyone from the Office of Chief Monroe responded with assistance to say this is not the right place to put a halfway house, or try to assist.
Bureau of Prisons decision delayed
The original contract award letter said it would be done 120 days before 12/1. That date has come and gone, and the federal government will not disclose the current status of the contract. So while this Remount Road location is out, there’s no telling where the halfway house or the Alston Wilkes Society could show up in the near future. This is what the contract specialist at the Bureau of Prisons had to say just this past week, responding to concerns and questions. It’s one of those non-answers:
Currently, the solicitation is in the evaluation phase. In order to maintain the confidentiality of the evaluation process, the contracting officer is limited in the information that can be disseminated, particularly concerning offeror(s) to a solicitation. The contracting officer has collective responsibility for many decisions during the evaluation process and must treat data concerning each offeror in confidence.
After contract evaluation is completed for FRP 200-1128-MA, Charlotte, NC, the obligation of the contracting officer shall remain in effect until contract award. All information pertaining to the award, can be found on the Federal Business Opportunities website at www.fbo.gov.
Edgar L. Stanton
Federal Bureau of Prisons
Community Corrections Contracting
There’s no answer to when the contract will be awarded or how. Politicians and police, as well as other organizations have a second round of opportunity to get this right. Maybe Charlotte doesn’t need another halfway house at all. If it does, maybe 75 paroled inmates in one location isn’t sensible. Maybe the location shouldn’t be secret until after award, and locations should be vetted. Maybe they could answer some letters or calls for those in all parts of town.
West Side deserves some vocal supportMayor Foxx yanked the West Corridor rail funding that was supposed to revitalize that area in favor of $37 million for a 1 ½ mile link from a mostly-empty stadium to a dead-end into Presbyterian Hospital. There’s already a trolley line buried in the street that won’t be activated for years. What exactly is the plan and why does all the money seem to go in one direction?
If Mayor Foxx and the rest are truthful and serious about crime reduction, job creation, and having a city that is a modern growth center, we had all better get serious about holding our leaders accountable. Quality of Life matters for all residents of Charlotte. If you only care for selfish reasons: crime and poverty end up affecting your pocket book, your tax rates, and possibly result in direct crimes against you. Just ask Justine Tobin—her “Re-Elect Cannon” signs were stolen more than once. Fortunately, she had the right numbers to call to get some action.
Below are two letters sent from a concerned resident seeking assistance from Charlotte’s representatives over this matter, with details of the specific concerns and a plea for action.
Wed, Sep 21, 2011 at 1:33 PM
Subject: Proposed halfway house
I wrote many of you previously to express my concerns about the halfway house proposed to be located at 2128 Remount Road. I attended the Camp Greene Neighborhood Association meeting last night for a presentation by Anne Walker, CEO of The Alston Wilkes Society, and her staff. The following issues concern me:
When asked why they chose not to approach the neighborhood group despite claiming to want to be good neighbors, they said that they did not know of neighborhood group and "did not have time to research" it prior to their submittal.
There are two signs with our group's name (1 w/website address) located in the same block as the proposed facility. A call to any local official or even visit to the charmeck website would have turned up information had they thought to look for it. If they are forced to cut corners at this stage, what kind of corners might they cut due to lack of time/staff/funds when 75 parolees are bunked in our struggling neighborhood?
Mrs. Walker and her staff avoided giving relevant answers to direct questions. We asked how we can be sure no violent criminals are housed at the facility. Mrs. Walker's reply was that they have great credibility and do great work and anyone who has done business with them in SC can attest to that. That's all well and good but did not answer the question. This theme was repeated throughout the night.
They had no idea that the existing facility (operated by the McLeod Center) is located in a stable neighborhood away from single family residential and near public transportation.
Mrs. Walker tried to frame the issue as choice between either letting parolees run loose with no aftercare (in our neighborhood) or having their facility in our neighborhood.
Mrs. Walker admittedly has no idea if selecting an alternate location is possible.
The director and staff started their presentation suggesting that the audience was opposed to the facility due to stereotypes about how felons look and admonished us to be more compassionate to the struggles their clients have faced.
Our group invited Mrs. Walker in good faith to answer our questions about what impact this facility will have on our neighborhood and for reassurance that they will go out of their way to be a responsible neighbor. Instead, she chose to insult us and belittle our concerns. It was unprofessional and offensive. Our neighborhood is one of Charlotte's most diverse and also one of its most economically fragile. One can only assume they resorted to this approach b/c they lacked credible support for their proposal.
The staff implied that this was the only property for sale in Charlotte that was zoned appropriately when repeatedly asked why this site was chosen.
They were totally ignorant of neighborhood issues - violent crime (including 4 shootings in the past month), homicides, property crimes, rampant prostitution, drug crimes, gang activity, etc.
Again all of this is readily available online through news sources, local government sources and even our own neighborhood website.
They told us that the parolees they intend to house would be in our neighborhood whether this facility opens or not (as though Charlotte consists solely of the Camp Greene neighborhood).
The representatives told us no violent criminals would be housed at the facility. Mrs. Walker backtracked when confronted by an audience member and admitted they could house violent offenders (& are housing them at existing facilities) but would guarantee that they won't be here "if that's what it takes".
Five minutes prior, Mrs. Walker led us to believe it was not even in the realm of possibilities but now we potentially have her guarantee that they won't be housed here. They offered no answer when asked how we could be assured no one housed there is a violent criminal (since they already misrepresented themselves).
When asked if they had resolution procedures in place to ensure us that if problems arose as a result of their operation we would have recourse.
Their answers were all over the place but basically consisted of telling us that a neighborhood rep. can join their advisory council and/or we can just call them if problems arise. No further detail such as how big this council is or what power it has were provided.
I am concerned that this group seems so woefully ignorant of the community in which they wish to set up shop. They know nothing of the location or operation of the facilities they wish to replace. They did not bother to research the extensive crime problems in the neighborhood nor do they seem to care of the potential harmful effects of their facility on the neighborhood. Even if their residents prove to be model citizens, the stigma of such a facility is more than a neighborhood as fragile as ours can bear. The misrepresentations they have made, their evasiveness and ignorance of the problems that will affect this location lead me to believe that they are not adequately prepared to operate this facility, will not be honest with us about their operations and will not cooperate with us if problems arise. The stealthy way in which they went about this endeavor and disastrous presentation to the community only serve to add to the concerns I expressed in my previous email (see below). If I have misconstrued their actions and then we should be worried about their competency to run such a facility. They seem to have been so eager to expand beyond SC that they did not do the proper due diligence.
There also still seems to be disagreement over whether the current zoning will allow for this use. John Howard with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department was kind enough to take the time to reply to my previous email. In his reply, he informed me that he had spoken to the Zoning Administrator about the project and based of her interpretation of the use, the project would not be allowed because of the proximity to single family uses and zoning. Mrs. Walker and her staff indicate that they have been told the exact opposite. No one else from local government has bothered to weigh-in on the matter.
My neighbors all agree that this is a beneficial program. It is, however, a bad fit for this neighborhood and for the parolees. Both would be better served by continuing the McLeod Center's contract. The City of Charlotte has invested countless dollars and man-hours trying to help the residents of Camp Greene stabilize the neighborhood. This project could do irreparable harm to the progress that has been made here so far. Again, I hope you will please support our effort to find a more suitable location for this project.
Subject: Proposed halfway house
Date: Tue, 19 Jul 2011 22:01:55 -0400
To whom it may concern:
I am writing to express my concerns about the halfway house proposed by the Alston Wilkes Society to be located in my neighborhood at 2128 Remount Rd. (Charlotte, NC). Many of us in the neighborhood do not want this facility located here. We have worked hard as a community to rebuild this neighborhood into a safer place. When I moved here six years ago the neighborhood had already achieved significant reductions in crime but was still a hub of prostitution, drugs, and gang activity. The prostitution problem was so bad that the city developed the "prostitution exclusion zone" designation to help combat the issue here. Years later, despite the progress we have made, we still have more than our fair share of issues with drug crime, prostitution, violent crime, property crime, run-down & abandoned housing (where more crime takes place) and gangs. This is not to mention issues with the questionable businesses bordering us, such as the Vox night club, which has been a magnet for shootings, drugs and has even been the site of a fatal shooting. Several of the hotels in the area have had these same issues. All of this is within walking distance of the proposed halfway house.
Our neighborhood is still far too fragile to have a facility like this. It will impair all the efforts made by our community and the city to change the image of this part of town. All of the resources that have been used for efforts to improve this area will be for naught. You can tout the area as anything you want but given its history of trouble and a brand new 75 bed halfway house full of parolees, businesses and families will be reluctant to locate here. You should also give some attention to the 75 beds crammed next to single family residences and adjacent to an elementary school. I think that density is a bit much for the location. The school operation is housed at Christ Presbyterian Church and the playground the children use is beside the facility where these parolees and ex-cons will be located. What types of criminals will be allowed to stay there? Will there be people who were sent to prison for violent crimes or even sexual predators? No one from Alston Wilkes has approached our neighborhood group answer these questions. To my knowledge, they haven't approached our neighborhood association at all despite their insistence in the letter they sent to CMPD they seek input from police, elected officials and the local community. I would think if they are concerned with being good neighbors they would have started by approaching the neighbors of the area in which they plan to operate.
There are far too many unknowns in this equation for this to be good for either the neighborhood or the prospective residents of this facility. Surely easy access to such things as drugs, prostitutes and all manner of illegal activities is not in the best interest of those you are trying to reform. I appreciate that these are (hopefully) people wanting to be productive members of society again but I think their criminal histories and the history of trouble that our neighborhood is struggling to overcome make this a bad fit. I hope we can count on your support to find a more suitable location for this facility.
(signed from Camp Greene Resident)