Monday, January 13, 2014

GOOD NEIGHBOR AGREEMENT: Howard Brown's Side

Michelle Wetzel, Howard Brown's General Counsel, has been representing the organization's Broadway Youth Center at recent Southeast Lakeview Neighbors association meetings. 

She sent us this email with BYC's version of events regarding the apparent break-down in creating a Good Neighbor Agreement.

Dear Crime in Boystown –

I am writing to clarify a misstatement that you have posted on your blog.

Your original statement of support was greatly appreciated and was well rooted in facts.  Sadly, someone from the South East Lake View Neighbors (SELVN) has misled you which has caused you to withdraw your support of Howard Brown and the Broadway Youth Center’s (BYC) special use permit.  I am writing to you to clarify what has transpired with the Good Neighbor Agreement.  Most importantly, you need to know that at all times throughout this process Howard Brown Health Center (HBHC) and the BYC have been ready, willing, and able to enter into the Good Neighbor Agreement.  We have worked diligently with the mediator from the City Jose Rivera, with Alderman Tunney, with the Wellington Avenue UCC, and with SELVN in good faith and in a spirit of collaboration on the Good Neighbor Agreement.  It was however SELVN that withdrew from the process and refused to execute the Good Neighbor Agreement with us.


Here are the details of how the Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) has evolved:  We were approached by Alderman Tunney’s office regarding the idea of entering into a Good Neighbor Agreement in October 2013.  We were given a template that had been utilized by other neighborhood groups and used that as a starting point with which to create a draft of a similar agreement to use with BYC, WAUCC, and SELVN.  We sent our draft back to Alderman Tunney’s office for his input.  In November, Alderman Tunney connected all of the parties with Jose Rivera from the City of Chicago to act as a mediator to help the parties craft the terms of the Good Neighbor Agreement that would satisfy all of the parties.  Mr. Rivera took the draft we created, made some of his own comments and suggestions and sent the document to SELVN.  On Friday, December 6, SELVN sent their own draft of the Good Neighbor Agreement to Alderman Tunney and HBHC/BYC with a copy to Mr. Rivera with an email that said, this is “a draft for your review”.  The draft was also distributed to all of SELVN’s members by the SELVN President Jan Sumrall with the agenda for the Monday, December 9, SELVN meeting, with the caveat that “this is a working draft and [I will] note when BYC and the Alderman’s Office received the GNA and the GNA is subject to BYC’s and the Alderman’s Office reviews and comments.”  The mediator Mr. Rivera responded to SELVN both in writing and at the SELVN meeting on December 9 stating that there seemed to be some confusion on SELVN’s part as to the authority of the City of Chicago’s Zoning Board of Appeals.  In SELVN’s draft of the GNA they wanted the ZBA to have the authority to be able to take away the BYC’s special use permit if the BYC violated the terms of the Good Neighbor Agreement.  Mr. Rivera explained that is not how the law or the zoning process works.  He and Alderman Tunney both explained at theDecember 9 SELVN meeting that there were other due process means by which the BYC could lose the special use permit if the BYC violated the law but not in the way that SELVN was asking.  Because of that reality, SELVN has determined that the Good Neighbor Agreement “doesn’t have any teeth” meaning that, in their view, the GNA is “unenforceable” and they have stopped engaging with HBHC/BYC and Mr. Rivera on the GNA.

Let me be crystal clear that HBHC and the BYC continues to be absolutely committed to working with all community partners, including but not limited to SELVN, in the safe, legal, productive, collaborative operation of the BYC.  We, more than anyone else, want and expect our program to be safe for our staff and participants and also for the neighbors who live and work nearby.  Regardless of whether SELVN collaborates with us on the GNA HBHC/BYC intends to proceed with executing a GNA with the Wellington Avenue UCC and Alderman Tunney as a public act of our commitment to continue to be a responsive and responsible community organization.  Further, it should be noted that HBHC/BYC has already undertaken some of the security measures outlined in the GNA even though the GNA has not even been finalized.  We believe that our actions speak volumes about our commitment to the community and to this process.  We want the neighbors to know that we have heard their concerns and have not only taken them seriously, we have acted upon them.  Unfortunately, a few vocal detractors would have you and others believe otherwise.  That is why facts are so much more helpful than rhetoric. 

Finally, as for facts, one of the greatest arguments against the BYC being allowed to operate at its current location is that it has and will increase crime in that neighborhood.  However, the facts do not bear that out.  The BYC is located in Beat 1934 of Chicago Police District 19.  According to the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications, since the BYC began its services at 615 W. Wellington there has been one “event/disposition” that was classified as a “street disturbance/no person found” in September; one “other miscellaneous incident/other service” in October, and one “support unit request” with no disposition listed in December.  Based on these facts directly from the Chicago Police Department the allegations of increased crime is simply not valid.  In addition, violent crimes are down 10%, property crimes are down 30%, and quality of life crimes are down 50% over this same time last year across Lakeview.  We sincerely hope that these facts help allay the fears of the neighbors regarding crime and its connection to the BYC.         

Based on the foregoing information, we hope you will rethink your position and continue to support Howard Brown and the BYC and our petition for a special use permit to continue the good work of the BYC at its current location.  And if you have any influence on the SELVN Board please encourage them to come back to the table and work with us generally, and on the Good Neighbor Agreement.  We stand ready and willing to continue our collaborative work.

Sincerely,

Michelle Wetzel
General Counsel
Howard Brown Health Center