February 14, 2013 in Washington Voices

Funding Peaceful Valley Youth Center proves contentious

By The Spokesman-Review
Neighbors worry about activities

Also during last week’s Browne’s Addition Neighborhood Council meeting, All Saints Lutheran Church Pastor Alan Eschenbacher responded to complaints from neighbors about the social services programs at the church.

Some neighbors say All Saints’ free dinners and other programs draw homeless into the neighborhood and contribute to problems in Coeur d’Alene Park, illegal camp sites on the bluff west of Browne’s Addition as well as trash, human feces and hypodermic needles left behind.

Eschenbacher told the neighborhood council that 80 percent of the people who attend the meal program are poor, but not homeless, and that 90 percent of the people who visit the food bank are poor, but not homeless.

“Our meal program on Tuesdays is well-staffed, we have plenty of security and we have many volunteers,” Eschenbacher said.

Neighbors wanted to know why the church allows camping in its parking lot and on nearby streets. Eschenbacher said he tells people they can’t camp there, but he doesn’t have staff to patrol the parking lot late at night. Other neighbors shared stories of prostitute sightings and people yelling outside the church in the middle of the night.

Pressed, Eschenbacher said: “Well, if you are so upset about what’s going on, call the police.”

That comment set off a storm of comments from neighbors loudly opposed to the programs at the church.

“It is comments like that that make us feel like you are not taking our responses seriously,” said neighborhood council Chairwoman Katherine Fritchie. “You are not taking the neighborhood’s concerns into consideration.”

A meeting with church officials, neighborhood representatives, the city of Spokane’s homeless outreach team and the possible formation of a block watch was suggested as a solution to some of the problems.

The Browne’s Addition Neighborhood Council meeting on Feb. 6 grew increasingly chaotic as it progressed.

There were so many people at the meeting, which was in the downstairs meeting room at the Museum of Arts and Culture, that many ended up standing along the walls and spilling into the lobby.

The big draw of the meeting was a vote on whether the neighborhood council would give $37,000 in community development funds to support the Peaceful Valley Community Center youth program’s proposed move to All Saints Lutheran Church on Spruce Street.

It took three rounds of voting to reach a result that was expected to be challenged at a special meeting on Wednesday. However, potential challenges will have to wait until the next general meeting on March 6, because the Browne’s Addition Neighborhood Council executive committee took the Peaceful Valley Youth Center off this week’s agenda. (For an update on Wednesday’s meeting, visit www.spokesman.com/voices.)

The youth center funding was the last item on the Feb. 6 agenda, when neighborhood council member Timothy Finneran made a motion that the council should not support the youth program until the program had secured all other funding.

“I do not want to commit our funding to a project that may or may not happen,” Finneran said. “When they have all the other funding they can come back and ask us again.”

His motion failed.

Another motion was hurriedly put forward asking the council to give $37,000 to the Peaceful Valley Community Center youth program.

That motion appeared to pass with 12 votes for and nine votes against.

However, when chairwoman Katherine Fritchie asked for members to show their hands again for a recount the vote changed to a 13-13 tie.

That’s when Finneran challenged one vote as coming from someone who, according to Browne’s Addition Neighborhood Council bylaws, was not eligible to vote and Fritchie quickly announced that the motion did not pass.

By this point the meeting had run past its ending time at 8 p.m., and MAC staff was flicking lights on and off and asking people to leave – many ended up standing around the parking lot trying to figure out what had just happened.

“I was really surprised by how the meeting was conducted,” said Mark Reilly, director of the Peaceful Valley Community Center and the youth program. “Our project got a letter of support from the Browne’s Addition Steering Committee in the fall. I don’t know what’s going on.”

The steering committee is formed by members of the neighborhood council who can vote because they are at least 16 years old, own property or live in Browne’s Addition and are attending their third meeting within six months.

Jim Red, vice-chairman of the council, said after the meeting that some of the sign-in sheets have been lost so the council is unable to establish meeting attendance.

Anticipating the controversial vote later in the meeting, a voting affidavit was passed around at the beginning asking people to sign if they met the voting criteria established by the bylaws.

“We had no choice but to do what’s basically a nonlegal affidavit,” Red said. “I know people are going to challenge this vote.” He said he did not believe the meeting was conducted in a professional manner.

Red said he liked the idea of moving the youth program to Browne’s Addition and that it would be a benefit to the neighborhood to have it there.

“We had an opportunity to do something nice for low-income people in our neighborhood and then we didn’t,” Red said.

After the meeting, Finneran said people accused him of sabotaging a vote that went against his own wishes.

“I did challenge that one vote, but we should follow the bylaws; people should read the bylaws,” said Finneran. “And I’m opposed to this deal for the same reason everyone else is: I don’t think the situation with the church is ideal.”

Fritchie could not be reached for comment on this story.

Finneran said the meeting was so chaotic because it had been crammed full of supporters of the youth program and All Saints Church – some carrying signs saying, “We support youth.”

“If you took those people out of there it would have been a civilized meeting,” Finneran said.

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