The U.S. Department of Justice settled a lawsuit with the Town of Garner today that alleges that the town violated the Fair Housing act by refusing to allow eight recovering drug and alcohol addicts to live together and receive treatment.
Federal investigators filed the discrimination suit in May 2009 after Oxford House, a nonprofit Maryland-based group that runs more than 1,200 rehabilitation centers nationwide, claimed the town and its Board of Adjustment violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to listen to their requests to increase the number of residents from six to eight. People with disabilities including drug addiction must be granted equal opportunity to housing.
Under the settlement, the town must also submit periodic reports and train their staff on the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.
“The Fair Housing Act requires equal access to housing for persons with disabilities,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, stated in a press release.
“The Justice Department will continue to ensure the right of people with disabilities to live in housing appropriate for their needs.”
This post was updated Jan. 4 with changes in italics.
Southern Durham Development overcame a major roadblock Monday night as Durham's city council approved a policy change that could allow the company to obtain water, sewer and other services from the city for a controversial development planned for rural South Durham.
Council members voted 5-2, with opposing votes from members Mike Woodard and Diane Catotti, who unsuccessfully implored their colleagues to wait on the matter until a lawsuit against Durham County related to the proposed development is settled.
The public hearing was solely on the extension of the Urban Growth Area—a consideration that doesn't even begin to delve into the details of the project. But that didn't stop a roster of proponents and a few opponents from presenting an overview of the vast and complex issues that have surfaced during the four-year battle that preceded Monday's hearing. (View timeline, "A brief and tortured history of 751 South")
On its side, Southern Durham Development counted the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, the local Realtors association, the Friends of Durham political action group, planning commissioner Melvin Whitley, as well as its engineers, consultants and team of attorneys from K&L Gates. They cited the jobs the fully built development could create, and also tried to mitigate concerns about storm water running off paved surfaces and polluting the Jordan Lake watershed. Former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham was also sitting between two representatives from Southern Durham Development, but didn't speak. Cunningham is an attorney representing SDD as an interested party in the lawsuit filed by opponents of the project against Durham County for its rezoning of the 751 South land.
Opponents to the project included the Durham People's Alliance PAC, planning commissioner Wendy Jacobs, and Melissa Rooney and Tina Motley-Pearson, two citizen activists who have expressed concerns about how Jordan Lake's poor water quality could be tainted further by intense development so close to the lake, which is a drinking water reservoir for several communities.
In their first meeting of the year, the Republican-dominated Chatham County Commissioners today cut two positions and eliminated the Pittsboro-to-Chapel Hill bus service that began Aug. 17, 2009.
During a tense and packed meeting, at which Chatham County Fire Marshal Thomas Bender turned citizens away due to fire codes, Human Relations Executive Director Esther Coleman and Sustainable Communities Director Cynthia Van Der Wiele lost their jobs.
By a 3-2 vote along party lines, Chatham County Commissioners eliminated the positions. The Obesity Coordinator position was also cut, but it was vacant.
Democrats Sally Kost and Mike Cross voted against cutting the positions. Republican newcomers Brian Bock, Walter Petty and Pamela Stewart voted for the cuts.
Coleman earned $80,000 annually, Van Der Wiele $96,000.
Supporters of the new commissioners reminded Bock, Petty and Stewart that the three had run their campaigns on cutting “government fat,” and that their voters expected them to do that today.
The cuts are expected to save the county $2 million over the next four years, according to Chatham County Community Relations Director Debra Henzey.
The meeting agenda didn’t specifically say the job cuts would be considered, but they were tucked in Item No. 21, “Cost Containment/Streamlining Discussion.”
The newly elected GOP commissioner, Brian Bock, Walter Petty and Pamela Stewart, eliminated positions quickly, which upset many citizens present who hoped the incoming commissioners would not rush their decisions.
“The commissioners can eliminate a position at any time,” Henzey said. “No one was fired, the commissioners chose to eliminate offices as part of their budget decisions.”
Coleman has been executive director of the Human Relations Commission since 2007. She oversaw the county's diverse communities. Nearly 13 percent of Chatham residents are African-American; 13.3 percent are Latino.
However, pockets of the county have high numbers of minorities. For example, Siler City's population is 50 percent Latino.
“Don't think racism does not still exist in Chatham County,” urged Rita Spina, vice-president of Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities. “Please do not go backward in your thinking."
Loyse Hurley, president of CCEC, said, "The human relations director averts and preempts issues by dealing with discrimination, labor violations, hate bias, and hate crimes before they become problems and expensive lawsuits for the county."
As sustainability director, Van Der Wiele coordinated planning, environmental resources, soil erosion and sedimentation control, central permitting, transportation, green building and affordable housing. Her primary charge was to develop and implement a long-term comprehensive community sustainability plan for Chatham County.
Van Der Wiele was hired in 2009.
The commission also voted 4-1 to eliminate the express bus service between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill for 18 months. When the service started in 2009, Chatham County and Pittsboro matched a state grant with an additional $176,000 each year generated by alcoholic beverage taxes.