Hogansville City Council made the right decision Monday night in denying a special use permit for Dream House Youth Services.
Jimmy McCamey, who made the request, has operated a home with about six boys in it for more than five years in Hogansville. Police have been called to the house on Granite Street 21 times, for “minor” things according to Hogansville Police Chief Moses Ector.
But a representative of Callaway Middle School told council Monday night a student and resident of the home was in her school for just a day and a half and verbally threatened students and staff, including an assistant principal.
The admission was just a glimpse into what Hogansville’s future may be like had McCamey’s plan been approved. McCamey wanted the permit for the former West Side School, which would be converted into a group home that eventually would house up to 60 boys.
“I submit to you, this isn’t a group home, this is an institution,” former Hogansville City Manager Bill Stankiewicz told council in the hour-long public hearing on the proposal.
Mayor Jimmy Jackson opened the hearing by announcing the decision was not a racial issue for the council. McCamey is black and the home would be located in a black neighborhood.
He’s right, too.
It would cheapen the debate to boil it down to a black and white issue when there’s so much more going on and so much at stake.
But McCamey’s plans are too big and broad and his baggage too heavy for it to be a good idea for Hogansville, and council didn’t have to look far for proof enough to deny the proposal.
One resident Monday night told council, “Why don’t you give him a chance and see if it works out?”
Just ask the folks in LaGrange how McCamey’s group homes have worked out. Back when McCamey first came to light, his group homes were under the name of the Center for Creative Growth and Development. 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.
By the way, Caruso is white and Boison was from Africa.
LaGrange wound up writing a comprehensive ordinance regulating group homes after the murder, which required accreditation, among other rules. Hogansville adopted the same ordinance. But the problems persisted.
In the last year, 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. Two boys ran away from one of the LaGrange homes earlier this year, taking a van from the home in their escape. The boys eventually were found, the van is still missing.
McCamey’s homes are licensed to take juvenile boys who have exhibited sexually inappropriate behavior.
The Callaway Middle School principal was one of at least five representatives of the local school system who spoke out against the group home, becoming a new voice in the effort to stop it from coming to Hogansville. Superintendent Cole Pugh said after the meeting the school system was afraid if it kept silent it would be seen as not having a problem with the homes. To the contrary, the system has “significant concerns” with the homes, which were outlined in a two page letter to mayor and council. Boys at McCamey’s homes attend public school.
Part of the new ordinance requires McCamey to submit a “good neighbor” plan for working with the local police and reporting and handling any incidents. He did that in his Hogansville application. But LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar, who was in attendance in Hogansville on Monday night for another matter, said the homes have not been “good neighbors” in his city.
“I would say the neighborhood has significant disorder issues,” he said. “There’s a lack of supervision and a lack of response by staff.”
A city elects its city council to look at the big issues facing a city and make the right decisions. This is an issue where council has the discretion to do that. It was the right thing for council to reject this application, and it still will be right to do it if McCamey applies again.