The contentious issue of the potential relocation of the criminal justice center to Harding Place was raised at a community meeting hosted by District 33 Council Member Sam Coleman.
The meeting, held on Saturday, June 18 was held at the Southeast Branch Library with Coleman hosting. A small gathering of 16 people attended, including Council Member Karen Johnson, who represents District 29, including a portion of Antioch. Nine of the attendees were from Coleman’s district.
With the impending budget meeting scheduled for Tuesday, June 2, this community meeting was to once again discuss the inmate and Criminal Justice Center (CJC) move and clear up any misunderstanding. During Saturday’s community meeting it was crucial details were discussed and understood. Many questions arose and conversations bordered tempestuous, but Coleman kept an orderly courteous meeting, and, in turn, Coleman was honest about his viewpoint towards attendants.
“This is not an argumentative conversation. I am on your side,” said Coleman.
Coleman said that he asked about which sites were considered (there were six sites total for the CJC move) but was told at the time it was released to the councilmembers that it was only for the councilmembers knowledge.
An attendee asserted that just like the low-income housing, the jail move affects the whole city and should be spread out instead of being dumped in one place.
Accusations and speculations were thrown about regarding Sheriff Daron Hall’s intentions about moving the CJC. As one attendee pointed out, state law requires administrative offices to be located where the majority of inmates are housed.
Further speculations were made concerning Sheriff Hall’s motives to move the majority of inmates to Harding Place while renovating downtown with the objective to permanently move the CJC to Harding Place.
Another attendee recalled Hall say there was just going to be a jail at Harding Place, and further pointed out that a CJC was a far cry from “just a jail.”
Then the conversation turned towards the budget and the impending meeting on Tuesday. The concern raised was that there seemed to be no clear plan in the budget as to what the funds are going to be used for.
It seems as if Sheriff Hall is always one step ahead of council members, according to one attendee.
Another attendee clarified, “We are very concerned that money is budgeted to places without a plan in place so we want to pull everything (funding) until there is a plan in place.”
One attendee pointed out that moving the Sheriff’s headquarters was squashed in the first council term. Now, all of a sudden, Hall seems to take part of the plan piece by piece and presenting it in front of the new council and they don’t know what is going on.
Alma Sanford, president of the Crossings Nashville Action Partnership, also pointed out, that she saw District 13 was listed. Sanford also said that it was a waste of taxpayer’s money to tear down buildings to make way for another one.
“This may not mean this will happen. I was under the impression that it’s not a done deal,” said Coleman.
Lorinda Hale, a Southeast community organizer and one of the leaders of the group Southeast Nashville United, which successfully fended off an effort last year to relocate all inmates to Harding Place, further clarified, “The problem we’ve got is that the Metro system is broken. We have people spending money without permission.”
Hale further pressed Coleman to submit amendments made prior to Tuesday’s budget meeting. Deadlines for amendments are Monday, June 20 at noon. Coleman said he wanted to address issues properly.
“We (Metro Council) need to make sure we’re acting legally and appropriately. I would be willing to stand with you. But for me to stand here and say ‘yes I’ll do it’ is not the proper channel,” said Coleman.
Miscommunication seems to continue to run rampant and council members continue to struggle to remain informed about what’s going on, in terms of the CJC.
Coleman was pleased the Southeast community helped keep him informed during a previous meeting, recently. He expressed his willingness to sit down and communicate openly with the community. Coleman wants the Nashville government to regain the community’s trust and do right by them.
Coleman also said he has found out in his time as a councilman, that when council members were not aware of events and they failed to speak up, that their chance to speak up will be taken away. He went on further to say that he didn’t want to appear be locked in.
“I know there was a lot of bad blood last year; but I was a guy who was refreshed, not new on the scene, and I wanted us to come together and focus on the issues in the community like traffic… I always wanted to repair the relationship (between government and community),” Coleman said.
Social media exploded Saturday with dozens of comments expressing concern about the issue in general, including the lack of notification about Saturday’s meeting.
“…I’m thinking about Mr. Coleman and the extreme lack of notice before this meeting,” Ann Chrisman wrote in a post on Southeast Nashville United’s Facebook Page. “IF he sent out flyers, one was not delivered to my house before Thursday June 16th at 2PM.”
Both on Facebook and in a phone conversation Sunday with AntiochTenn.com, Sanford, who worked hard to help elect Coleman, expressed disappointment in his level of engagement with the community and what she perceives as not standing with the other council members who represent areas of Antioch and Southeast Nashville.
At one point, a discussion online about the possibility of recalling Coleman was being held.
As another attendee at the meeting Saturday pointed out, the sheriff and others involved are doing right in their minds, but just because they think they’re doing right doesn’t mean they should continue in propagating their agenda.
After Saturday’s meeting, the online conversation continued in earnest.
“He tried to explain, but I honestly didn’t understand a lot of what he said,” Betty Ensor Thomas, owner of Ensor’s Custom Shoes and soon-to-be District 33 resident, said. “Hopefully, he understood the people that spoke to him today.”
“I see red flags everywhere on this,” Karen Kelley, who is active in helping protect the Southeast Nashville community, said on Facebook. “Last year, our understanding was that the CJC would be renovated. Now it can’t. We never wanted these inmates to come to SE Nashville. He (Daron Hall) knows this.”
On June 7, Lorinda Hale summed up Southeast Nashville’s frustration with the project simply while speaking before the Metro Council at a public hearing regarding the capital budget.
“None of this has been transparent,” she told the Metro Council on June 7. “We have not been given the information we needed. We’ve asked for two years for the Judicial Campus Master Plan that was funded by the council in 2014 at the cost of one and a half million public dollars. The plan never surfaced.
Further frustration was raised by Council Member Coleman’s remarks during the same June 7 meeting.
He said, “We have to move forward here.” He said the mayor and sheriff are respecting the community but said, “There are dollars involved and we cannot stop… We cannot put our city on hold just because we don’t have all the answers today.”
“We know exactly what’s going on, but maybe not all information is in hands of residents at this time,” Coleman continued at the June 7 meeting. “We are not sitting by idle letting anyone pull anything over our eyes. This is progress.”
He voted to allow the capital budget to go forward.
NOTE: Clay Morgan also contributed to this story.
Stories from AntiochTenn.com:
The Tennessean, May 24: It’s not too late to rethink jail decision
Metro Council: June 7 meeting and public hearing. Note: Discussion about the CJC project begins at 1 hour, 19 minutes.