Maybe I’m being mean, but…

I have to admit to Mr. Greg Aymond of the website CentralLaPolitics that, even though I removed his website from my blogroll because of his penchant for (what I consider to be) incendiary, divisive posts about African-Americans, I’ve still been following his blog.

Forgive the inside baseball jargon here, but for those engaged Alexandrians paying attention, I think some clarification is in order:

Mayor Roy ran on a platform of increasing government transparency and pledged to increase access to the Mayor’s Office. He has definitely lived up to that promise. He constantly corresponds with the media. He gives a media briefing every week, never pre-scripted or screened (and contrary to what Mr. Aymond implies, the Mayor isn’t hosting a regularly-scheduled TV show; it is simply a media briefing, something Mr. Aymond’s never attended).

The Mayor didn’t pledge to give interviews to bloggers like Mr. Aymond, who, in the past, has compared the graduating class of the majority African-American Peabody High School to the KKK and who has labeled a handful of African-American elected officials as “n**** street thugs,” while suggesting that because he misspelled the n-word, he somehow was not being racist. Whenever he makes these remarks, it’s difficult for his readers to forget that he was a former member of the Ku Klux Klan and that he has admitted to being attracted to the organization by none other than David Duke.

The truth is, of course, that all of questions Mr. Aymond submitted to the Mayor have been answered, publicly and often on television. He continues to pretend as if his questions haven’t been answered, but they have. His problem, I believe, is that the answers weren’t specifically directed to or intended for his blog.

Sorry about that. I’ll take the blame, Greg. Chalk it up to my competitiveness as a blogger. Call me a jerk and impugn my character, if it helps.

Paul Carty of The Town Talk may champion the guy as a Freedom of Information Act specialist, even though Aymond himself admits that such a description is inaccurate. There’s a difference between FOIA and State Public Records laws, and I guess one would presume that the editor of a major statewide newspaper should know that.

Maybe he does.

But what gets me is this: Mr. Aymond has never fully revealed that he’s an attorney for a man currently being sued by the City (for… umm… ask Mr. Aymond…) and that at least one of the records requests about which he has written was actually filed by this very client.

Mr. Aymond also seems to neglect the fact that the Mayor invited all interested and credentialed media to review and analyze the Cleco case. The ironic thing is that Mr. Aymond actually posted the radio interview in which the Mayor first made the offer, yet neither Mr. Aymond nor anyone else, in the media or otherwise, requested the access.

Yet somehow, Mr. Aymond suggests “deception.”

I think it is a conspiracy of complacency.

Remember this, fellow Alexandrians: For better or worse, the City didn’t hire a local blogger to represent them in the Cleco case. The City, instead, put together a team of legal experts.

Again, sorry Greg, and I am particularly sorry to your de-facto expert, distant cousin, and dude-seeking-a contract-for-professional-services-from-the City, Mr. Patrick Lacour, who just so happens to be a former employee of Cleco.

I can’t blame you, though, Greg, for indulging. I remember when Mr. Lacour’s “family” e-mailed me to argue that I should write about group homes for the disabled. I think they wanted me to write about how terrible it would be if yet another home full of disabled people lived near them. Even though I live one block away, I was supposed to be convinced this would pose major problems for the entire neighborhood.

This is the very first correspondence I have ever received from Mr. Lacour. It’s from October of 2006, months before the Mayor was sworn in:

Attached is the e-mail that my wife, Michelle Lacour, sent to various local and state officials.  She copied local mainstream media, but I have since suggested that she also speak with you.  I like your blog and, since NewsChannel 5 has other priorities, such as reporting how a local resident had become a certified weather watcher, your blog has gained influence covering topics such as the mayoral race (congrats on the NOLA.com citation for Brewer story source).  Billy Gunn ran a brief story in Friday’s paper and we hope to speak with him some more.  If you are interested in speaking to Michelle, please call us at home, 44*-****.  We would love to get more of the story out.  Our councilman, Louis Marshall, just notified us this morning that there will be a meeting to discuss the group home and Lewis Property Management, LLC on Monday, 10/23/06, at 6:00 PM at City Council Chambers at City Hall.  We’d love for you to get the word out to anyone who is interested in speaking on behalf of their neighborhood.  BTW, Lewis Property Management operates or has plans to operate 4 group homes in
Alex/Pineville:

511 Kimball
528 Bob White
600 Edgewood Drive
3207 Madonna Drive

Attached:

To all (Distribution List below):
>
> I recently learned that a group home, for patients of Pinecrest
Developmental Center, is scheduled to open soon at 3207 Madonna. I was
surprised to learn this because the property owner of record, Lewis
Property Management, LLC, has not filed any documents with the City of
Alexandria Planning Division, has not requested any exceptions to city
zoning ordinances, has not advertised, and has not provided any notice of
zoning exception to the immediate neighbors. When I contacted the City
Planning Division last week, I was further surprised to learn that a group
home already existed in my neighborhood. The owner of record for the
existing group home is, not coincidentally, Lewis Property Management, LLC.
>
> When advertising of a zoning exception is required, it gives citizens
time to ask questions and get answers on how the exception will impact the
neighborhood. Because Lewis Property Management, LLC did not request an
exemption from city zoning ordinances and did not give proper notice of the
variance, I have spent many hours over the last week with city
administrators asking questions and trying to piece together facts by
myself.
>
> There are more concerns with this property than the failure of Lewis
Property Management, LLC to follow the law. Will the home have sufficient
parking? How will property taxes be levied – residential, business, or
commercial? If the property owner is a landlord, is the operation
considered a group home/residence or is it more appropriately considered a
business? If it is a business, why should it receive an exception to zoning
ordinances? Who will be responsible for the obvious increase in garbage –
the city or the home operator? Will the group home produce medical waste?
Who will be responsible for collecting the medical waste – the city or the
home operator? Does the home have a universal power source in case of power
outages? Will city utility workers have to focus power restoration
resources on each group home, much the same as is done for hospitals, to
the detriment of other city taxpayers? Who will be responsible for
installing wheelchair accessible ramps around the property – the city or
home operator?
>
> In my talks with city officials, I have been told that there are
provisions of federal law which pre-empt our local zoning ordinances.
However, according to the Department of Justice web site, “The Fair Housing
Act is not a land use or zoning statue; it does not pre-empt local land use
and zoning laws. This is an area where state law typically gives local
governments primary power.” The Department of Justice makes it clear that
the intention of the federal laws are to fight discrimination, not to
destroy neighborhoods and create chaos.
>
> According to the Louisiana Secretary of State, Lewis Property Management,
LLC is a limited liability corporation with one member: Rodney Lewis. I
question whether Pinecrest authorities have given sufficient consideration
to the business continuity plan of a corporation with one owner. Is there a
succession plan for Lewis Property Management, LLC? Is there a lease
agreement between Pinecrest and Lewis Property Management, LLC and, if so,
what is the value and term of the agreement? What happens to the patients
if Mr. Lewis decides to sell the property? I ask that Pinecrest officials
follow up on the issues of parking, medical waste, power outages,
wheelchair accessibility both in the home and around the property, and
perform a risk analysis to determine if other concerns exist.
>
> I am asking our city officials to issue an injunction on occupancy at
3207 Madonna until Lewis Property Management, LLC applies for an exemption
and the prescribed legal process can be followed. I am also asking city
officials to call an open public meeting concerning group homes so that
city taxpayers can voice concerns about the effect of these homes locating
in our neighborhoods. Finally, I am asking city officials to levy fines and
penalties on any property owners who have not followed the proper procedure
for zoning exceptions, namely Lewis Property Management, LLC.
>
> Sincerely,
>
> Michelle Lacour
> (318) 44#-####
>
> Distribution List:
>
> Congressman Rodney Alexander (via fax)
> Senator Joe McPherson
> Representative Curtis Israel
> Mayor Ned Randolph
> Councilman Chuck Fowler
> Councilman Everett Hobbs
> Councilman Myron Lawson
> Councilman Louis Marshall
> Councilman Charles Smith
> Councilman Harry Silver
> City Attorney Kelvin Sanders
> Planning Director Cecil Raggio
> Chairman Ellis Saybe
> Jim Leggett, Editor – The Town Talk
> Michelle Godard, News Director – KALB

It was a generic e-mail, dispersed to a number of outlets.

Here was my response, sent on October 22, 2006:

I’ve thought deeply about the letter you sent me and about what to do with it. Let me ask you these questions:

1. Do you believe that a group home for the developmentally disabled could negatively impact your home’s value?

2. Do you believe that group homes for the developmentally and physically disabled should only be able to locate in designated neighborhoods?

Look, I understand your concerns, and no one is more committed to government honesty and proper protocol than I am– and if it is true that this guy, Rodney Lewis, is using his connections to bypass protocol in order to cash in on a lucrative group home deal with Pinecrest, then we should be asking questions.

But I don’t really have a problem with a group home for patients of Pinecrest.

You may not be aware of this, but I have a physical disability. For me, this story is about disabled people’s right to live where they please without seeking permission from neighbors wary of the economic impact their presence could make.

One more question:

3. Do you really have a problem with the concept of taxdollars being used to build wheelchair ramps? (By the way, in this case, the homeowner would be responsible for the installation of these ramps, not the government).

I would post your letter on my blog, because I think it sheds light on sloppy government. But because I also believe that neighbors should not be allowed to ban group homes for the disabled in their neighborhoods, I have a problem with your true motivation. Maybe you can assuage my concerns.

Perhaps you should consider meeting your new neighbors, getting to know them as people. It’s possible you’ll make a friend.

I’m sorry. I didn’t buy it then, and I don’t buy it now.

So Greg, blame it all on me. It’s cool.

3 thoughts

  1. There is a part to all of this that people do not think about…and that is the people that are hired to watch the residents at the group homes. I live right next door to one and let’s just say that it is cracked up to be.

    1. We have had residents walking over to our property late at night unsupervised leaving trash in the yard and banging on windows.

    2. The shift change is 10pm and again at 6am so we have horns honking when the employees transportation arrives and car doors slamming, people talking (loudly) and our bedroom window is right by their driveway. I have had to call the administrative offices several and complain about the noise late at night.

    3. I caught a resident spitting on one of our vehicles.

    4. There was a mentally disturbed patient from New Orleans who was throwing bricks into the neighbors yard across the street…

    So before anyone glorifies how great these group homes are please think again. The people we purchased the house from did not mention this b/c I guarantee we woulda said “No dice” so I’m afraid we are stuck here for a looooong time. Thank you for letting me gripe and please excuse grammatical errors,,,I get upset when I talk about this situation.

    1. Trey, I understand your frustration, believe me. My neighbor owns the two most annoying dogs in all of Central Louisiana; they bark all day and night, right next to my bedroom window. It can drive a person insane.

      But then again, I am sure I have not always been the best neighbor either. When I was a kid, a certain younger family member of mine accidentally set fire to our neighbor’s yard. Don’t play with matches, kids. And I have a big dog with a loud bark, and I know she is sometimes out of line.

      All of that said, as a disabled person, I can’t help but be offended when anyone objects to having other disabled people living next to them, especially when they pretend as if they are really just arguing procedure and codes. I live in close proximity to a number of group homes, and unless I pointed those homes out to you, you’d probably never know.

      To borrow a phrase from George W. Bush, it’s a type of “soft bigotry.” The disabled shouldn’t be institutionalized and segregated, kept away from the community in which they live. To me, this is a very basic civil rights issue.

      I included this exchange with Mr. Lacour to underscore another point: Every time Mr. Aymond posted his exchanges with Mr. Lacour, I kept thinking about when he petitioned me to post something against a group home for the disabled.

      I also wondered why it was never properly disclosed that Mr. Lacour, while leveling criticisms about a legal strategy to which he was never privy, was also, apparently, attempting to secure a contract for consulting. So, it was always strange to me that anyone who believed they had special insight into a legal case, which qualified them for a consultant agreement, would also, at the same time, use a blog site to openly criticize the very people with whom he sought to work. It seemed like an overly aggressive tactic.

      The Cleco case has been the subject of a ton of news coverage over the last four years; it’s been really high-profile. I personally believe Mr. Aymond’s constant criticism of the City’s decisions to conduct executive sessions belies the fact that these sessions were always conducted to discuss internal legal strategy. As I said in the post, the City didn’t decide to hire local bloggers for the case; they assembled experts.

      I doubt I will ever convince Mr. Aymond of this, considering his goofy belief in my so-called “white guilt” complex. Greg, you can call it “Lamar White guilt,” if you like; I think it’s more clever. But as someone who sees the hard work and the dedication of people who serve their City every single day, I don’t, for a second, believe anyone is attempting to deceive. (And yes, you did suggest the City was attempting to deceive; see your post on the MLK Day speech).

      It’s just a scurrilous charge.

      By the way, Greg, I absolutely believe in the First Amendment and in your right to pretend as if you understand the language and meaning of hip hop music when you label African-American elected officials a slightly altered version of the n-word. A very convincing argument. I’m curious: What hip hop or rap music do you listen to?

      Greg, I appreciate your respect for my father, though I have to admit that, as someone who lived in his home for nearly twenty years, I never heard him discuss you even once. It is strange to me that you consider yourself to have been an acquaintance of his; I guess the word “acquaintance” is broad enough. My father knew a ton of people. For the record, he didn’t have a bigoted bone in his body, and I think he would have also immediately recognized the intellectual dishonesty of a former member of the KKK who argued his misspelling of the n-word was really a shout-out to hip hop and nothing else. Riiiiight.

      The truth is: You’ve been backpedaling and crawfishing on that post since the minute after you hit the “Post” button.

      Maybe you don’t think any of this is relevant.

      But I do.

      (Because of this comment, I received this response: “The facts are that Lamar is a spoiled rotten little rich kid, who is now a paid employee of the City of Alexandria, and is a cheerleader of all things Democratic, liberal and Mayor Jacques Roy. I prefer to pick and choose what I believe in and not be a mouthpiece to apppease (sp) this blog’s readers with any particular political party or person.” I hope that made him feel better. Like I said in the original post, I’m cool with you impugning my character. I’ve gotten used to it).

  2. Okay, the group homes are designed to allow (usually, no more than 6, with 2 staff members) a group of individuals with some degree of disability to live in a less restrictive housing arrangment than that of a more traditional and confining institution, such as Pinecrest. Usually, the occupants are not going to need as much supervision as maybe a person at Pinecrest. In addition, all the law on such an issue is all for it. Meaning, good luck injoining a group home from being established. Maybe, just maybe, the existance of another one in the same neighborhood negated the need for said notice. Finally, as for that, the only restriction I’m aware of is they cannot be within 1,000 feet of another. It sounds like some traditional procedural issues may have been bypassed for some reason.

    Trey, as for your issues, I beleive you should do what you can with the administration of said group home. In my opinion, that is where you have a gripe.

    As for how this is handled locally, I have never read or became aware of any local gov procedural errors. From what I have read and seen; this issue has always been addressed consistantly with Federal and State Law.

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