Jail relocation meeting punctuated by notable absences, lack of accountability

13147725_10154324949697867_604337380084990336_oA meeting with roughly 150 people in attendance was held at 6-8 Wednesday concerning the temporary move for the Criminal Justice Center (CJC). Departments represented were Sheriff’s Department, General Services, Metro Parks and Greeway, Public Works, Procurement, and MNPD.

Those of you may remember how much of a stir the potential jail move caused last year when the jail was almost moved from downtown to Harding Place. One year later, the jail move was once again updated to a temporary location to…Harding Place. However, what was not widely know knowledge was that the temporary move will be at the Harding Place location until 2019. During an open Q & A panel, several residents of Southeast Nashville asked direct questions and, according to angry reactions, were met with less than satisfactory answers.

Just like last year, a main concern was releasing inmates from Harding Place away from downtown and the services that would help them out, and into close proximity to neighborhoods. A metro member stated that, although it is not a guarantee, they have programs that assess inmates to help them become employed and reintroduced into society to become a better taxpayer. It was also mentioned there would be an upcoming meeting to improve and increase bus routes.

Another main concern affected Ezell Park also located off Harding Place. As of June 1st 2016 all public activities will be suspended as additional safety precautions during the temporary re-location of CJC. According to a metro member speaking for the sheriff, they were going to use that facility to house inmates and because of a safety issue the park, except for the greenway, would be closed down for approximately three years. Metro members said they were looking for other options for the soccer and rugby players but it could take up to two years to build another soccer field.

Devinder Sandhu, permit holder of Nashville Metro Parks and coach of the soccer team, brought copies of the map of Ezell Park. Sandhu went on to add that he did not understand why the facility could not be shared. Four thousand dollars of trees and shrubbery had been planted to beautify the park. Soccer and ruby teams, families, and homeschool groups, as well as soccer and rugby players frequet the park.

“To lose this facility for 3 years and not being able to maintain it is a significant amount of time and there doesn’t seem to be anything in the plans to maintain the area while it’s not being used, and if it’s not used it will go back to wilderness,” said Sandhu.

Another concerned citizen asked if inmates were considered more important than children. Another said there was a large Hispanic community who played soccer that was surprised by the news and wondered if there had been any attempts to communicate with them through a translator or other means.

Then several people, including Sherry Jones, State Representative from the 59th district, asked whose decision it was to bring back up the plan from last year that Southeast Nashville had clearly said was not welcome. When she pressed further for answers if other cites had been considered, two members representing the Sheriff’s Department sat down and did not attempt to answer anymore.  Jones also mentioned increasing the police force. It would set resident’s mind more at ease to know more police officers were patrolling. However, it was stated that the problem of increasing the force was taking it away from another area. It was also stated that the goal was to keep people in a secure environment.

Jones ended the conversation with “I didn’t like what I was hearing but I really don’t like it now.”

Lorinda Hale was also present and said she was very saddened Southeast Nashville is fighting the same plan from later year. “Looks like you guys made all the decisions without asking us again. What guarantee can you make that this will be gone in 2019?… This is still being shoved down our throats. We don’t want other projects promised to us to sweeten the pot. We don’t want the pot sweetened—we want you gone.”

Mentioned also was the $20 million per capita requested for a new headquarters for the Sheriff’s office. They thought the best place would be Southeast Nashville but, it was also said, it was not their decision. However, the $20 million project has not been approved yet and awaits further discussion.

Towards the end Council member Karen Johnson, District 29, took the floor. Johnson was not only vexed that other places were not being considered besides Harding place but also because this was the first she had heard about it.

“This is the first I’ve heard about it…That is unacceptable as a councilwoman… I am livid! Why is Harding being considered instead of Hill Place?… We said we would be transparent and this is not transparent! What happened to the floor plan where we would rotate inmates out?”

A Metro member representing the sheriff’s department then stated that they had not remembered making the statement that they would rotate inmates out. However, Council Member Tanaka Vercher, District 28, stood up and confirmed Johnson’s statement.

After Johnson Council Member Sam Coleman, District 33, said that he felt sorry that they were going through this but they brought it on themselves.

“There is no reason we should be here today discussing the same thing….we don’t want a split council (against Megan Barry and Daron Hall)… we want to be strong. But lack of communication is totally broke down. The sheriff and the mayor are not here so they can’t answer… but, I’m telling you from personal experience you need to put the brakes on this (CJC move). This is not good government,” said Coleman.

Council Member Bob Mendes, At Large, wrapped up the meeting.

“Folks, here we are mostly the messengers, but to what Sam said I would ask those here to reflect on ‘that wasn’t my decision, it was someone else’s decision.’ After that happens 10-12 times the residents are literally laughing. We need to work on communication.”

It was also stated that they were open to another meeting but that the outcome would not change—they would still move forward with the plan to temporarily house inmates at Harding Place.

Jeff Gossage was also present and can be emailed at [email protected] for further questions on the CJC move.

Megan Barry was expected to show, but did not make it due to traffic.