He wants freedom of speech

Published 9:18 am Wednesday, November 2, 2011

by Thomas Councill

The Franklin City Council by unanimous vote directed City Manager June Fleming to draft a letter expressing support of the Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s effort to obtain grant funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Although the City Council directed the city manager to endorse the Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s efforts, it did the action with the knowledge that the City Council had not officially sanctioned or cleared the project. The FRHA’s Board of Commissioners and staff also are fully aware of the absence of an official approval of the Hayden project in the obtaining of the Capital Fund Education and Training Community Facilities Program Grant.

I’ve spoken before the City Council on the matter during citizens’ time, pointing out the following:

• The City of Franklin Comprehensive Plan does not allow for the development of the Hayden property as proposed by the Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

• The zoning for the area surrounding the Hayden property does not allow for the proposed project as stated by Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

• The City of Franklin’s future land-use map does not allow for the development of the Hayden property as proposed by the Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

• The City of Franklin City Council made a contract to sell the Hayden property for a purpose not considered in the City Comprehensive Plan, current zoning and future land-use map.

• The City of Franklin Parks & Recreation Department and Open Space Master Plan, dated March 2003, states there is a need to determine if the Hayden School property can serve the community as a recreational site and directs that the city do a needs assessment before the property is disposed of. The needs assessment has not been done.

• The City of Franklin Planning Commission has not made a determination on a Hayden property zoning change, or recreation department needs assessment for inclusion within the Comprehensive Plan and Capital Improvement Plan.

• The proposed Hayden plan contains low-income rental housing, and the City Council has stated that it is opposed to more rental housing within the city. The Hayden project will fail without city support for more public housing and low-income rentals. The city does not endorse the Hayden Plan as it has been presented by the FRHA.

• The Franklin City Council adopted the City of Franklin Parks & Recreation and Open Space Master Plan, dated March 2003, and amended this plan to the Comprehensive Plan. According to the plans and land-use maps, the Hayden property is reserved for a public use. The Hayden project has private, for-profit commercial activities within its proposed plan, which is in contravention to the current city policies.

• Knowing the above facts to be true, the Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority is seeking grant funds at best, prematurely, and at the worst, fraudulently, in my opinion.

I also pointed out that Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson and City Councilman Benny Burgess encouraged and endorsed the above application knowing that the FRHA staff had misled the City Council, and asked the City Council to reprimand Johnson and Burgess, and remove them from the FRHA Board of Commissioners.

The mayor told me that he was tired of hearing comments on the housing authority and that he wasn’t interested in me calling for a reprimand or a removal for any reason. His ruling is a clear violation of the city charter, the city’s Citizens’ Time policy, the State of Virginia Code, and the Constitution of the United States free speech rights for all of its citizens.

I ask all citizens to unite and fight for our right to free speech during citizens’ time, and for a reprimand and the removal of Johnson and Burgess.

THOMAS H. COUNCILL JR. is a resident of Franklin and can be reached at thomas_councill@hotmail.com.