The city’s plan to place 30 Pallet houses on the only ball field for disabled children is such a snafu, it’s hard to know where to start.
The City Council voted to spend $535,000 to buy 40 Pallet shelters without knowing whether it would even be legal to house people in the shelters in North Carolina, and according to City Councilmember Zack Matheny, the city did not have approval from the Fire Department inspectors when the shelters were ordered.
Then the City Council voted to spend $200,000 on management and security for the project without knowing where in Greensboro the Pallet shelters were going to be placed. Some councilmembers knew – Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann said she knew but Matheny said he didn’t.
At the Nov. 15 City Council meeting, City Manager Tai Jaiyeoba said, “Because of the sensitivity and vulnerability of the residents. It’s important to keep the address private rather than make it public.”
When the City Council bought the Regency Inn to house the same sensitive and vulnerable population, that was not kept secret. Every year the city funds “white flag” emergency shelters for the same homeless population and those sites are not kept secret.
So why was this particular project to serve the homeless population kept secret even from city councilmembers who were asked to allocate $735,000 for the project?
Neither the North Carolina public records law nor the open meetings law has an exception allowing a public body to keep information secret because of “sensitivity and vulnerability.” The idea that the City Council would make decisions to spend $735,000 on a project and not demand to know the location is a travesty.
When the city councilmembers were running for office last summer, not a single councilmember said that they were in favor of more secrecy and less transparency in city government. But this project has so little transparency that the city staff would not even reveal how the $735,000 was going to be spent to city councilmembers who opposed the project.
The real reason Jaiyeoba and Director of the Department of Housing and Neighborhood Development Michelle Kennedy didn’t want to reveal the site of the project is obvious. Kennedy chose to locate this temporary village to house the homeless during the winter on the only ball field in Greensboro that was designed and built to be accessible to the disabled community.
The Pomona field was built with $200,000 in private funding. It has a specialized surface on the infield designed for wheelchairs and walkers. The outfield, which is grass, was leveled so that those using wheelchairs and walkers could use it.
The organizations that use this field including Special Olympics and The Arc of Greensboro were not contacted much less consulted about the decision to turn this unique field into a temporary village to house the homeless this winter.
What happened to transparency? What happened to meeting with stakeholders? Certainly, the organizations that currently plan to start using the field in March are stakeholders. The Pallet homes according to some information will be on the site until April, which is going to make using the field in March impossible – and for these disabled children there is no alternative in Greensboro. They can either play on the Pomona field or not play at all.
It would be interesting to know when the decision was made to place the Pallet shelters on the ball field at Pomona. We know it was made before Nov. 15, because on Nov. 15 Jaiyeoba told the City Council that the number of homes had been reduced from 40 to 30 because that was all that would fit on the site. So, by Nov. 15, the city staff was so committed to this site that it could not move the project to a larger site that would accommodate the 40 shelters the City Council had allocated funds to purchase.
It is simply not true that there is no other location in Greensboro where these Pallet shelters could be placed, so why is the city so committed to using the only field for disabled children in Greensboro?