Benjamin: Where is the community development?

Published 12:34 am Saturday, August 29, 2009

SELMA — Communities in this city need help from the Community Development Department and they aren’t getting sufficient assistance, says a council member.

During a recent work session at City Hall, Selma Council member Angela Benjamin fired a salvo at the Community Development Department, saying that it doesn’t work closely enough with all wards in the city.

Benjamin is the chair of the council community development committee.

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The issue came up during a discussion of the bond issue list and consideration of more money for projects in side each ward to destroy dilapidated and abandoned buildings that pose safety and health hazards.

During recent months, the city has destroyed a variety of these houses, determined by ordinances as nuisances.

Initially, the city had $150,000 in the budget for the project, but hard economic times forced the council and Mayor George Evans to cut the line item to $50,000.

Nearly all the money is gone with about three houses left to raze, the mayor said.

Benjamin said all the wards need to work together to ensure each portion of the city is clean and presentable.

“The missing component is from the office of planning and development,” Benjamin said.

The council member said the office of planning and development, directed by Charlotte Griffeth, concentrated heavily on the Riverfront project, a proposed park to run along Water Avenue by the Alabama River.

“That’s as it should be,” Benjamin said. “That’s going to bring in revenue and all those kind of things. But my other concern was, and still is, that the development of these other eight communities may not fall somewhere under the office of Planning and development. … We’re missing the community development piece of all this.”

Evans quickly defended the department, saying it once thrived with five or six employees, but now because of cuts, had two and a secretary.

Benjamin said she wants to know if there is a person in the department who could focus on grants in the communities or help with community projects.

Evans said he knows that Griffeth and Patty Sexton, the other employee in the office, had worked toward securing grants.

“We don’t have a grant writer, per se, that’s assigned or paid to be a grant writer,” he said.

Evans said the department had worked with a person in Columbus, Ga. on grants and had some meetings and discussions with Sunrise Selma, a group of investors who want to revitalize older buildings downtown and turn them into retail and living spaces.

In her defense, Griffeth said planning and development do work with neighborhoods within a structure that includes developing neighborhood associations and allowing them to help themselves.

“I cannot be everywhere,” Griffeth told Benjamin. “I want the council members to let us know what your needs are.”

Griffeth said her department is working in Wards 3 and 6 and is consulting with the council President Dr. Geraldine Allen on another project.

Griffeth said the department has about 52 projects on a list she gave to Benjamin when the council member became chai of the community development committee.

“We have not stumbled or faltered on any of them,” Griffeth said.

Further, Griffeth told Benjamin the department would work with her to get grant help.

“We have not heard from you,” Griffeth said.

Benjamin lit up.

“You have heard from me more than once,” the council member said.

Shortly after taking office, Benjamin had asked the department to investigate writing a grant for playground equipment. Benjamin had found the information and turned it over to Griffeth.

“The day before the the deadline, you told me we had better wait until later,” Benjamin told Griffeth.

Benjamin said she thought the department was working on the grant all along.

Griffeth said she talked to Benjamin about the time on the grant and it was not something the department could do.

“That was the one thing I heard from you,” the department head said.