GARLAND — A conflict regarding the future home of the police station and the placement of a community group continues to be an issue of concern.
During a Tuesday meeting, members of the Garland Community Action Committee made a plea for town commissioners to reconsider a decision to use the annex building as the headquarters for the station. The group is currently using the location as meeting place to plan events and festivals. But commissioners said the space in Rotary Park will increase visibility and provide more working space for Chief Ronald Matthews, who is currently working in smaller section at town hall.
Resident Jacqueline Johnson represented the group and spoke about her experiences such as raising six children when the town didn’t have a playground or basketball court. But she expressed how assistance from the North Carolina Small Town Economic Prosperity (NC STEP) improved the town. The program was developed by state officials to help towns facing economic hardships. After funding for NC STEP ended, volunteers continued their work of planning events through the Garland Community Action Committee. Some of them include Community Day, a Halloween Trunk-or-Treat, a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. An Easter Egg hunt is scheduled for the spring.
Johnson made remarks about how the group does not request a lot of financial assistance from the town and that the volunteers need a place to meet.
“But we enjoy doing this for the community and I think the community has enjoyed us doing it,” Johnson said about events. “We have got a lot of positive feedback for the events we put on.”
After making a request to use a portion of the annex building, the commissioners did not change their minds on the matter. Mayor Pro Tem Ralph Smith said a decision has already been made. Town officials picked Monday, Jan. 15 as the official move-in date. Smith questioned why the town should provide a place for the group to gather.
“Most clubs have their own meeting place,” Smith said.
Committee members said they’ve not had time to find another location. Commissioners previously suggested the town’s old fire station, a building next to the town shop and a spot at the Senior Citizens Center. Johnson said the group once met at the Head Start building, which is now abandoned. Smith said it was shut down because of a firewall requirement that the town could not afford to fix.
“We would be grateful to use one of the other buildings you were talking about so we can continue our work in Garland,” Johnson said.
Items such as computers, camera, sound system, fax machine and electrical equipment were purchased with NC STEP and are housed at the annex. Town officials are unsure who the equipment belongs to since it was purchased with state funds. Commissioners are seeking guidance from Board Attorney Micheal Porter. A decision to table the equipment matter for a future meeting was approved by commissioners. A suggestion was also made for the community group to seek nonprofit status.
Mayor Winifred Murphy was not present during the meeting due to illness, but released a statement Wednesday morning. She said she was against the decision to relocate the Garland Police Department. She believes it’s a tragic move for the group and other community organizations.
“The inventory which was purchased from NC STEP funds belong to the community and the town of Garland, not one particular group,” Murphy said. “At this point, there is no intent to form a nonprofit by this group and it was the vision of the NC STEP program for this program to be sustaining for economic growth and downtown development.”
When it comes to security, Murphy said there was no valid justification or evidence that the police department will make the town safer by moving to the annex.
“Rather than community policing and patrolling for the citizens, the commissioners and the Garland Police Department have slapped the citizens in their faces and is moving Garland backward instead of forward,” Murphy said. “Rather than building community relationships, sharing a building as was done with the Sampson County Sheriff’s Department and beginning peaceful initiatives, roadblocks and selfishness is at play.”
As of Jan. 16, Murphy said the town will no longer have a place for its residents to do things such as meet, plan, hold forums or host events. Murphy also mentioned and suggested the reopening of the Garland Community Building, which was padlocked in January 2014.
“As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day, it is a sad commentary for Garland for another injustice to be done (not to the Mayor and the very active volunteers) – but for all Garland citizens, all Garland businesses, all Garland shoppers and all Garland visitors,” Murphy said.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.