Educate them

Me and several of my stereotypically ugly rancorous prejudiced nasty fellow citizens attended the Huntsville City Council working session tonight, where we were harangued by a sanctimonious ‘Fair Housing’ agitator.

City Councilman Will Culver arranged for Fair Housing ‘experts’ to address a working meeting of the Huntsville City Council, including George Jones of the Fair Housing Center of North Alabama (the group that threatened to sue the City over the Drummond Road house).   Jones launched into a thinly-disguised sales pitch for education programs and other services.  In my opinion he and his group are hustlers trying to shake down the City by threatening lawsuits with one hand and offering services with the other.

Jones said he “respects the opposition”, even as he uses phrases like “unfortunately”, “acrimony”, “rancorous”, “real ugly”, “nasty”, and the “heavy tinge of hostility”.  He presented his opinions as “very important” (many times) and his approach to opposing views was to “educate them” (I don’t think he realized that he was in a room with people who are ‘educated’ on housing issues).

The meeting ended prematurely because of the tornado – it passed over City Hall shaking the building – we evacuated to the basement after it passed.

City Councilman Sandra Moon was visibly agitated by Jones’ remarks, but she didn’t get to publicly respond to Jones.  If that guy comes back Moon is ready to ‘educate’ him on housing issues.

Several people approached Jones after the meeting was cancelled to discuss housing and his offensive mischaracterizations.  One questioner (and frequent commenter here) kept getting the same response from Jones regardless of his question:  Jones kept repeating “what have you done to further fair housing?”  Like paying for it doesn’t count…

Jones cited the Westchester case (“Housing as Busing”) in his speech as a reason to comply (or else!) with Fair Housing law.  Note that the Westchester case actually arose from “false claims” made by the County in its ‘Affirmatively Furthered Fair Housing’ certifications – so as long as the City of Huntsville doesn’t lie on forms sent to the Feds – they should be OK. 

Since I’m not a lawyer, my legal intepretation might be a bit shaky.  But since Mr. Jones is a “non-practicing lawyer” employed by a  lawsuit-happy “private non-profit”, his legal interpretation might be a bit shaky too.

I know that Councilman Culver had good intentions when he asked Jones to speak, but Jones is an agitator and he cares nothing about this City.  The other guest Culver invited, Michael Brown of Bradley Arant law firm in Birmingham, made a nice presentation about Fair Housing Law.  I understand that Culver wants to reschedule the meeting – maybe next time more “nasty” people from Huntsville will show up.  IMO Culver is doing the right thing by facilitating discussion of the housing issue, but if that guy represents the other side then nothing good can come of it.

***

Thanks to Mayor Battle, Deputy Mayor Rex Reynolds, and HPD Sergeant Mark Roberts for their response to the tornado – they reacted immediately and handled themselves professionally when notified.

Let’s remind our politicians exactly who they work for

“Let’s remind our politicians exactly who they work for”.  Linda Lawrence received a standing ovation for this remark at the South Huntsville Civic Association meeting packed into Grissom’s auditorium Monday night.  Her SECOND standing ovation came after quoting from the Declaration of Independence – IMO the ovations were given out of appreciation for her efforts to hold the City and HHA accountable. 

The applause was also a warning shot to City officials who may find themselves out of office if they continue to pursue the unproven (or failed) policy of deconcentrating poverty. 

The South Huntsville Civic Association’s mission “is to unite residents of South Huntsville so we have one powerful voice that lets our local leaders know we expect them to: address our issues and concerns; operate government in a transparent manner”.  Their primary function “will be to act as a watchdog” for city government.  Their focus is on schools and safety

The Association is also planning to “screen candidates” and establish  a Political Action Committee (PAC) to fund candidates.  The meeting was attended by about 1200 citizens.

The group is headed by Mark Dummer and James Steele (disclosure – I put out yard signs for Steele when he ran for Mayor).  Challen Stephens of The Huntsville Times interviewed Dummer in this excellent article, “South Huntsville sends loud message”.  Stephens is an asset to Huntsville and I wish the Times had more reporters like him (and wrote more about local issues).

The meeting was moderated by a Huntsville Police Department Officer, who I’m certain is a nice guy, but IMO it is inappropriate to have a public meeting moderated by the Police.  Maybe someone with the HPD or City can explain that to us.

City Councilwoman Sandra Moon, Mayor Tommy Battle, and School Board Member Jennie Robinson gave introductory remarks; then Robinson gave a summary of the schools in the area, noting that enrollment at Grissom High School has increased (and it was already over-capacity) and that “some schools have been negatively impacted” by “Section 8 and affordable housing”.  Robinson noted that “historically, South Huntsville schools were not well-maintained” because of political correctness.  She closed by saying “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”.

State Representative Mike Ball (R – 10) said that he ran for public office to ‘make the State Government more open, honest, and accountable’.  He described his proposed legislation to hold HHA accountable by: taking away their power of eminent domain, requiring public notification, and requiring the approval of the ELECTED City Council.  Ball promised to make passage of this bill his “top priority” next year.  Mike received applause after each part of his bill.

Several City Officials made presentations, including HPD South Precinct Captain Kenny Bryant, Terry Hatfield, Shane Davis, and Brenda Martin.  Civic Association leaders Mark Dummer and James Steele spoke about “holding elected officials accountable” and asked people to join the organization.

Then Linda Lawrence spoke…  Lawrence described Huntsville Community Rights, an organization formed to provide “facts about the intentions of the Huntsville Housing Authority”.  Lawrence said about deconcentrating poverty that there is “absolutely no proof that this works” and that “social engineering is socialism”.  Lawrence received two standing ovations from the 1200 people assembled – compare that to light applause mixed with boos for Mayor Battle.

The Police Moderator then announced question time – email questions… WE SHOWED UP and the City doesn’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge that by asking questions from the audience.  There was  a general groan from the audience when he said the first question was about sidewalks, as well as some outbursts from the crowd.  The City can’t duck the HHA issue forever, and putting an armed Policeman out front won’t stop people from voting.   If the City had handled the HHA situation correctly (or implemented a policy based on more than a slogan) they wouldn’t have to hide.

Moon – Huntsville Housing Authority Status Report

Huntsville City Councilwoman Sandra Moon sent out the following email to her constituents:

April 20, 2009

I apologize to those of you who have phoned and sent me emails.  I have simply been overwhelmed beyond any ability to respond individually.

First, it is clear that the Huntsville Housing Authority (HHA) Board members are not going to resign and to continue to call for their resignation will be counter-productive.  Instead, I have been communicating with one of those Board members.  We have established a “relationship” of truth and, I believe, trust.  I choose these words carefully.  He assured me on April 14th the HHA Board has had absolutely NO discussion (and certainly no decisions) about purchasing any more apartment complexes in south Huntsville .  I believe him.  This was confirmed at the April 16th City Council meeting by Mr. Lundy when I asked him specifically if any more apartment purchases were in the plans.

This HHA Board member is very, very concerned by the divisive controversy erupting over the Stone Manor purchase.  The fact the HHA Board has not had any discussion about future purchases does not address the issues associated with Stone Manor.  He and I will continue to communicate on that issue, and we have pledged our best efforts towards seeking some kind of remedy, if possible.

I never felt that I got clear answers when I asked Mr. Lundy about the language used in their 1 and/or 5-year HUD planning documents.  Mark Russell asked him directly why they referenced “Southeast Huntsville” several times instead of Huntsville in the HUD plans.  Again, I never felt we got satisfactory answers.  I have been contacted by several of the Stone Manor residents who are in complete limbo about their futures.  I asked Mr. Lundy to communicate immediately with those residents.  He said he would and that they really wanted to work with the residents in everyway possible.  I will continue to monitor the situation.  Other than Mr. Lundy’s assurances they were not planning to buy any more apartment complexes in south Huntsville , I was not reassured by his answers to most of the questions I asked him.  I did feel, however, a lesson had been learned about submitting HUD plans which single out one section of Huntsville .

As many of you probably know, I got pounded by the Huntsville Times editorial board on April 12th.  That is O.K., it goes with the territory.  I was bemused by their stand when I read their front page story on the negative and mixed results of various public housing programs across the country.  I am not sure they read their own story.  In my rebuttal letter to the Times, I have challenged the HHA Board to do their research and find communities similar to Huntsville who have successful public housing programs.  HHA Board members and other community leaders need to visit these communities with workable programs that are positive for all members of their communities.  Among the questions we need to be asking are: how were the programs initiated, implemented, and managed.  It will be just as telling if there are no such successful programs.

Many of you have asked about the impact on our schools.  That is an area in which I have little expertise.  Dr. Jennie Robinson (District 3 school board member) and I have been in frequent contact, and she is researching the various issues connected to dispersed and clustered public housing.  I will defer to her on school issues.

Many of you have also asked about another public meeting, especially for those in the Weatherly area.  There are two PTA meetings to which Jennie Robinson and I have been invited, but I am not aware of any other meeting/meetings scheduled.  Jennie and I have talked about calling a public meeting, but nothing has been formalized yet.  I will keep you posted.

I applaud Representative Mike Ball and Senator Arthur Orr for sponsoring legislation curbing the Housing Authority’s powers.  Their bill, essentially, calls for three things.  It removes the power of eminent domain for Public Housing Authorities under state law; it requires approval of the local governing body prior to purchasing property; and it requires notice be given to each property owner within 500 yards of the property to be purchased, not less than 30 days prior to the City Council meeting at which the approval of the purchase will be on the agenda.

This bill will be tough to pass and both Mike and Arthur need your support.  Their email addresses are:

            mikeball@knology.net

            arthur@arthurorr.com

 Please contact any other state legislator you might know and ask that he or she support this bill.  I would urge you to contact our U.S. representatives, Senator Shelby, Senator Sessions and Congressman Griffith, and express your concerns over the absolute power enjoyed by these Authorities.

We can also attend the Huntsville Housing Authority Board meetings.  The meetings are open to the public and are held on the third Monday of every month at either 5 pm or 12 (noon) pm.  You can visit the Authority’s website for more information:

            www.huntsvillehousing.org

Mr. Lundy can be reached at 551-5635.  HHA’s Director of Development, Mrs. Carlen Williams, can be reached at 532-5623.

I am attaching a document I sent out several weeks ago.  It gives the legal description of the relationship between the City and HHA.  It also outlines what and when I knew about HHA’s plans in south Huntsville.

Again, I thank you for your support and patience.  I pledge to you I will continue to work on this issue and keep you informed.

Sincerely,
Sandra Moon

Here is the attachment:

From: Moon, Sandra
Sent: Tuesday, April 07, 2009 3:38 PM

Subject: Purchase of Apartments in Southeast Huntsville by the Huntsville Housing Authority

Due to the large number of phone calls and email I have received regarding Huntsville Housing Authority’s  purchase of several apartment complexes in south Huntsville, I am electing to respond by email to afford a speedier response to all.

First, let me give some background behind HHA and its relationship to the City.  I asked our City Attorney to write an explanation of the Huntsville Housing Authority (HHA) because I wanted any information I share to be completely correct.

The HHA was established pursuant to Sections 24–1-1, et seq. of the Code of Alabama (or its predecessors).  Under the law, the City Council authorized the creation of the Authority following satisfaction of certain procedural requirements.  HHA was established more than 40 years ago.  The Authority consists of five (5) members, each of whom is appointed by the Mayor of the City of Huntsville.  Other than appointment of these members, neither the Mayor, the City Council, nor the City of Huntsville as a corporate entity has any jurisdictional authority over the operations, finances, or actions of HHA.  HHA functions as an independent, public corporation, and has broad powers including, but not limited to, the power to acquire property (either through mutual agreement or eminent domain), borrow money, construct and manage residential housing, and receive grants from the federal government for or in aid of construction of any housing project or development.

The remainder of this email contains information from various sources which I believe to be true.  HHA bought some apartment units last year or early this year in an area I will call Mahogany Row.  These apartments are located behind the supermarket at the corner of Bailey Cove and Weatherly Road.  I do not know specific addresses.  I believe HHA “clients” have moved in.  I first heard “rumors” of the purchase about 6 or 8 weeks ago.  I have had no inquiries or complaints from anyone regarding the Mahogany Row apartments.

I have been aware for approximately 2 years that HHA was locating families (and individuals?) in various apartments throughout the city utilizing a system referred to as “section 8 vouchers,” but was not informed of specific apartment names or locations in south Huntsville.  Again, I have never had any other inquiries or complaints regarding this program or its clients.

I was not aware of HHA’s purchase of Stone Manor (off of Byrd Springs Road) until I read about it in the Huntsville Times on March 21, 2009.  I have no personal knowledge of anyone connected with City government who had prior knowledge.

I attended a Chaffee Neighborhood Civic Association meeting this past Monday evening.  A representative of HHA explained the purchase of Stone Manor by the HHA occurred on March 1, and fifty apartment units are involved.   It has been determined by HHA that approximately 50% of those currently residing in the apartments meet HHA financial requirements, and may elect to continue to live there.  HHA anticipates the remaining units will be occupied by senior citizens and “self sufficient workers.”  The HHA representative attending the meeting assured those present that HHA clients are carefully screened, and those with criminal backgrounds are rejected. 

Two Huntsville Community Relations Police officers at the meeting confirmed they work closely with HHA, and have successfully and legally ejected from HHA housing those clients not meeting HHA behavior requirements.

A point of contact at HHA is Mrs. Carlen Williams, Director of Development.  She may be reached at 551-5623.

Another public meeting concerning this issue will be held on April 6 at 6:30 pm in the Chaffee Elementary School cafeteria.  It is my understanding Mayor Battle and Michael Lundy, CEO of HHA, will attend.

I have been asked what can be done to stop this HHA effort.  I have asked the City Attorney for advice, and it appears anything the City could do to restrict or change our relationship with HHA will be superseded by state and possibly federal law.  I will continue to seek legal advice and explore other possible options.  There was talk about a class action suit at Monday’s meeting, but I have no more information on that.

I appreciate the opportunity to present what information I know in response to your concerns.

Sincerely,
Sandra Moon

We’d all be sleeping together

“If North Korean missiles hit Huntsville, we’d all be sleeping together”.

I attended the Huntsville City Council meeting tonight, and Councilman Will Culver made a great point – Huntsville comes together.  This was better than TV’s “Parks and Recreation”;  if you haven’t attended local Government meetings you’re missing out on the real fun. Culver made his point that when disaster strikes or when people need help, it doesn’t matter what color you are, your neighbors are there for you.

Here’s a quicklook at the City Council meeting:

No more housing projects in South Huntsville.  Councilwoman Sandra Moon made it clear that the HHA Board had assured her that there will be no more apartment purchases in South Huntsville.  HHA Director Lundy reiterated that point saying “HHA has no intentions of purchasing apartment complexes in Southeast or Southwest Huntsville”.

Section 8 housing is OK.  It seems that a consensus of the City Government, HHA, and concerned citizens believe that vouchers and development (escrow) accounts are an acceptable approach to public housing in Huntsville.

The Medical District housing development is the ‘Gateway Place’ Senior Center, which will be built on the site of Councill Court.

HHA Director Mike Lundy does well in a controlled environment (i.e., Roberts Rules of Order).  He provided some good, detailed information to the public and his heart is in the right place.  As one of the leaders of Stone Manor who is being relocated said: “I feel that Mr. Lundy cares”. I might have some disagreements with him on policies, but I can’t help but feel pride that HHA is a “high-performing organization”.  I think it means that they spend money in a correct and timely manner, maybe someone will explain what it really means…

Mayor Battle proved himself to be an honorable gentleman. The Mayor apologized to Linda Lawrence for his remarks at the Chaffee Public Hearing, saying “I said some things I shouldn’t have said” and “I apologize to you”. Ms. Lawrence accepted his apology.

Councilman Culver said to people complaining about public housing: “keep it to yourself” and “we’re going to handle it”.  He’s new to the Council, but clearly he needs to get used to the idea of free speech.

People are dying trying to cross University Drive.  William Lynch spoke about his grand-daughter getting killed while crossing University.  He proposed a pedestrian crosswalk.

Councilman Richard Showers proposed an Ad Hoc Committee to study a Police Review Board.  He proposed a “diverse group” made up of representatives from the NAACP, other black groups he named but I forgot, Fraternities / Sororities (I don’t think he meant UAH), Public Housing, Existing Community Organizations, and the Homeless.  The Committee would review current police review board models and pick one.

More later… but it seems that the City and the HHA got the message.  IMO their public housing plan was too risky – the chance of failure is too great to risk the future of the City – at least that’s what I hope they think.

On a personal note, I got to meet Challen Stephens of The Huntsville Times. I have a lot of respect for his work, and I link to and quote from his articles often.  His articles on the links between income and test scores in City schools were well-researched and drew rational conclusions.  His recent article on the public housing issue was very good – he ended up validating many of the same points that were made here.

Even better, he says that he’s read Flashpoint.

Chaffee HHA Hearing Update – Moon

Here’s the next post in the continuing (and seemingly never ending) series of reporting on the Chaffee HHA Public Hearing held Monday night.  I’m a fairly good typist, but transcribing notes to blog posts takes a good bit of time.  If you want to get me some cheese with that whine – I’d like Belle Chevre (local fromagerie).

Huntsville City Councilman Sandra Moon (FOX54 Video), who represents District 3 including Chaffee, rose to say “I have felt your pain”.  She said that she is committed to “breaking up the cycle of poverty”, but that she “finds the power of HHA scary”.  She said that the five HHA Board members exercised power to evict residents from their homes “for paying rent and making too much money”.  “This train wreck is careening out of control”.

Moon said she asked the Mayor for a thorough legal review, and then she asked the Mayor “to ask for the resignation of authority members”.  The audience delivered the second standing ovation of the evening in response to her call.

Moon closed by saying “this is not community building, it is community destruction”.