Police preparing to enforce nuisance ordinance.

This week city officials add a new ordinance to Panama City code but it won’t be enforced just yet. Police say more information is needed before officers can begin taking action. There are strong opinions from those who both like it and don’t like it. Authorities say, however, that raw call numbers could be misleading. Police respond to calls for help daily. But not every call generates a report, and not every report is a crime. PCPD Chief John Van Etten says many are informational. “People contact law enforcement to ask questions to ask questions about an issue and might have a problem but don’t wish it to be documented or it’s not a crime or municipal ordinance violation or criminal offense.” This week police administrators are examining an ordinance. The law, now known as the “chronic nuisance” ordinance, was passed last week by Panama City officials. The first section allows the city to take action against a property with five or more police calls in a month. The police chief says he needs clarification. “The last thing we want to do is for people not to be calling us when crimes occur. The commission has said that’s not the intent.” For instance the mall had 25 total calls and the Rescue Mission had 34 calls in March. Some resulted in reports, and most calls didn’t result in arrests. In the month of March even News13 had five calls for service. Two were traffic-related; drivers were speeding down Harrison Avenue and were pulled over in our parking lot. One instance happened back behind our station on Grace Avenue when a person hit his head and police were called. Section 3 of the new law throws out nuisances caused by third parties. Chief Van Etten says enforcement could be difficult without more specifics. “Section 2 outlines and talks about criminal activity and violation of city ordinance or in the state of Florida statute, so those are some of the areas where we’ll seek clarification before any enforcement is done.” Commissioners say the intent of the ordinance is to crack down on properties that drain city resources and cause problems for neighbors.


Springfield Commissioner sets the story straight

In reading The News Herald’s April 3 “Our View” “Searching for facts,” I felt the need to respond on why I voted as I did during the March public hearing.
Recent Bethel Village coverage would paint Springfield an uncaring and inhospitable community. I disagree. Taking my responsibilities seriously, I research, read, listen and weigh a position I can justify —to myself, my family my community and my God. Such was my vote on Bethel Village made in good faith.
Bethel Village was an issue before I joined the Commission. Staff and I presented several concerns at that time. While some issues remained at a “verbal” level, I voted to approve at the December 2011 meeting. The overall disapproving vote evolved to the second public hearing.
Since December, many issues have come up — purpose clarification, master plan definition, etc. — all noted during the latest public hearing. In addition to other presentations offered at the public hearing, I voted to deny the project in upholding my oath to serve the public interest.
My rationale is:
Repurposing. During the public hearing, moving all women from the Rescue Mission to Bethel Village — making the Rescue Mission “male only” — came to light. Originally, the project was for modest expansion of the Women’s Recovery Program. Now, a much larger expansion and two separate endeavors — the Women’s Recovery Program and the Women’s Emergency Shelter program from downtown — are requested.
The “softer” media coverage has Springfield denying an expansion to the Women’s Recovery Program, which is not true. Mr. Lowther has looked at the issues with the Rescue Mission and Bethel Village in their entirety and made the correct decision for our community. In this editorial, Mr. Lowther described the media’s coverage of the issues of the rescue Mission as “soft”. The commissioner is probably well aware that local media outlets are quite biased when it comes to the facts of the mission. When information has been presented to the News Herald asking for them to cover the details with a sense of balance, the editor has refused to report all of the facts and has censored any post that are critical of the mission.  The request now described is not about expanding the Recovery Program but expanding the property usage. While phase one was innocuously modest with a few buildings and approximately 100 folks, the full master plan could see up to 19 buildings and more than 300 women and children. The added burden on the community would not be in the public interest.
Project scope and land use. Within my background is an ingrained standard to review projects based on their entirety, not pieces, because it is how it all “fits together” that decides overall benefit. Originally, focus was on phase one — other pieces were simply “Future,” not defined. With the visualization presented at the public hearing by engineers and drawings, a significantly greater community impact was painted.
As many as 19 buildings (including a 10,000-square-foot facility) are possible. The 6-acre property, on paper, would comply with engineering requirements (land-use density, permeable surface, etc.). The fact is, only roughly one-half of the property is habitable — where people can live, sleep, eat, reside. It is traversed by major power transmission lines — easement rights or setback requirements for safety purposes preclude use of a large portion.
Imagine the full scope of the master plan and its 19 buildings compressed to half the parcel. Visualize that with the existing single-family residential and mixed-use appearance that are the majority of the area. Tangibly and factually, this would be detrimental to the public interest.
Crime and safety. Chief Thorne’s presentation very clearly identified what the community could expect with project approval, whether phase one or the entire master plan. Whether it is law enforcement, fire protection, property valuation or the cost of providing services, the community would be lessened by expansion of Bethel Village beyond the current level of service. The neighborhood Power Point presentation visually identified existing vulnerabilities (fence, etc.) that the Bethel Village group would note as not existing. I do not see the public interest well served by project approval.
Inconsistency. Throughout this project, the one consistency has been inconsistency. The numbers and scope have changed often, both verbally and written. “We’ll take care of this — or that” is the norm. As a city, as an elected official, accurate and unchanging information is needed to make knowledgeable decisions. Getting a master plan was difficult and, even at a public hearing it was only discussed as “in planning — changeable.” Far more concrete information is needed if consistency and direction are to be maintained within the community. This is the magic that is Billy Fox. It is always smoke and mirrors. To visit the Rescue Mission website or look at their fundraising literature, one could easily be deceived into thinking that the facility is just a group of  local Christians wanting to help those in need. This could not be further from the truth. This is a multi-million dollar organization that creates revenues off of  deceiving the community while creating a toxic facility that is crushing the communities where they exist. Ask the folks in Port St. Joe.  Mr. Fox rolled into town thinking he was going to do whatever he wanted. With an aggressive community backlash, Fox finally scaled back the proposed facility to something that hopefully will have no negative impact on that town. Look at the downtown Rescue Mission. It was less than  a year ago that Mr. Fox boldly bragged that he was not going to move unless someone came up with ten million dollars. In many cities with old-style gangsters, Fox’s activities would be considered extortion. The “inconsistency” is by design. It is the classic “bait and switch” by which his organization operates. Find a way to go in with as little exposure as possible and once in do whatever they want. The reason this works so well is that there is a large percentage of the community that just because the mission claims to be a “Christian based organization helping the homeless” they are given carte blanche to do whatever they want without scrutiny of the public. It is the perfect storm for a community that is invaded by the mission crew.
I honor several things in life as an elected official, community member, father and citizen. At the end of the day I am bound to do the right thing based on life experiences and that put before me, no matter the cost. Throughout this matter I have done just that, casting my vote based on the information presented by all sides.
Upholding my vow to serve the community is all I pursue. My oath encompassed that which we are to uphold and far more than mere public opinion or emotion. Mindful of the judicial requirements laid out, I very objectively follow the law — even in disagreement. Doing so with no pleasure, for I do believe in the overall goals of the Rescue Mission or anyone else who extends a hand up to those needing such, I was obligated to vote for denial of the request. The “goals” should be that an organization helps those in need in a way that moves them back to being contributing members of society while blending well in the community that it serves and ask donations from. The rescue mission does not meet this litmus test.

Gerry Lowther represents Ward 3 on the Springfield City Commission.

Read more: http://www.newsherald.com/articles/gerry-101667-springfieldin-herald.html#ixzz1r7ZZNVY1