Hogansville City Council voted 4-1 Monday night to deny a special use permit that would have allowed a group home at the former West Side School at 301 Pine St.
The decision came after an hour-long public hearing, but the issue has been debated in Hogansville for more than a year.
Jimmy McCamey, the owner of Dream House Youth Services – formerly known as the Center for Creative Growth and Development – had applied for the permit. He already operates a home with about six boys in Hogansville and three more homes in LaGrange. He had applied for a similar permit a year ago, but withdrew the request before it came to a vote.
Since then, Hogansville has adopted an ordinance for group homes similar to one LaGrange put in place, which places strict requirements on the homes, including accreditation.
But residents and business owners, along with representatives of the Troup County School System, still were against McCamey’s plan.
“I submit to you, a school building with 60 residents is not a group home, it’s an institution,” said Bill Stankiewicz, a former Hogansville city manager. “It’s something we don’t need in Hogansville.”
In the year since McCamey last applied in Hogansville, both the state Department of Family and Children Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice removed youth from a LaGrange group home about a month after an adult staff member was accused of having a sexual relationship with a juvenile living at the facility.
Both agencies removed children from McCamey’s homes in LaGrange and Hogansville and investigated.
McCamey also filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
Early this year, the homes reopened under the new name and McCamey also received accreditation by CARF International, the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.
“The state gave us the kids back,” McCamey said in May, when asked what the result was on the investigation. He had no comment on the denial after the meeting Monday.
McCamey’s Granite Street site has operated in Hogansville with relatively no problems. Hogansville Police Chief Moses Ector said police have been called there 21 times in its nearly six years in operation for “minor” problems.
The same has not been true in LaGrange, however. In addition to his most recent problems, his homes came under scrutiny after the November 2009 shooting death of Shell Food Mart clerk Joseph “Peace” Boison. Christopher Caruso, 18, a former resident of one of McCamey’s homes who had left the home about a month before the crime, received a life sentence in the shooting.
The incident led LaGrange City Council to spend months crafting the group home ordinance both cities now use.
McCamey’s homes are licensed to take juvenile boys who have exhibited sexually inappropriate behavior.
The youths also attend local public schools, which brought out school officials Monday night. Superintendent Cole Pugh submitted a letter to council outlining the system’s concerns, but principals for Hogansville Elementary, Callaway Middle and Callaway High Schools, which Hogansville youths attend, also spoke.
Tina Johnson, from Callaway Middle School, said she had a student from the group home in her school for a day and a half. In that time, the student allegedly threatened to harm her and an assistant principal and was sexually harassing students, faculty and staff, she said.
Steve Cole, outgoing principal at LaGrange High School, shared his experiences of the youths that came from the homes in LaGrange.
“I applaud Mr. McCamey for wanting to help these boys, but this is putting an undue burden on the school system,” he said.
Bret Bryant, Hogansville Elementary School principal, said the school is already struggling to deal with children with emotional and behavior problems.
“We already have children who are dealing with things that are unlike anything I’ve seen in 19 years of education,” he said. “How are we going to deal with this when we’re already stretched to the max?”
Cole said his school experienced problems reaching McCamey or a staff member when there was a problem with the youths from the homes. LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar, who was in Hogansville to speak on another matter, also said his department had trouble getting a response from the staff.
A few residents did speak in favor of McCamey, including several who live on Pine Street near the site.
“Why don’t you give him a chance and see if it works out?” asked Maddie Walston.
Lamar Thomas said the former school is at his front door.
“I hope he gets it,” he said, speaking of McCamey.
A motion to approve the permit, made by McCamey supporter Councilman Bobby Joe Frazier, died for lack of a second. Councilwoman Jean Crocker motioned to deny the request and the motion was seconded by Councilman Scott Worthy. Councilmen Jack Leidner and Thomas Pike joined in the vote to deny the permit and Frazier was the lone dissenting vote.
There is nothing in place to prevent McCamey from re-submitting his application.