The Monday community meeting out here in Antioch about the proposal to put a WIC services center in Hickory Hollow Mall is still on track, but is being moved to Apollo Middle School due to the anticipated crowd. This proposal has become a hot issue partially due to the fact that it slipped through the first two readings before the council without attracting notice, and it feels to many like this was something that was trying to be slipped through the cracks. Some have also expressed frustration with Councilman Sam Coleman, who appeared to many in early media reports to oppose the proposal but has since reversed course and stated that he would support the placement of this office by the Metro Health Department in the mall. The meeting will feature comments by the council persons, representatives from the mall and the health department, and possibly a realtor talking about the impact of this decision on property values.
As I’ve talked to folks, the opposition about this seems less about having such a center in the community and more focused on the propriety of having this center located in the mall. Some of this is driven by the hope and desire to see the mall revitalized around retail shopping, something that is probably not possible in our current economic climate. In my own case, I am hesitant to support this without a broader master plan about the inclusion of other community services in the building. There are several proposals being bandied about that neither governmental leaders nor the mall management are willing to talk about publicly, but they include such things as a regional community center, and a satellite of the Matthew Walker Health Center. One councilperson even suggested that he is pushing for the Southeast Branch of the Public Library (which is at capacity) to be moved to the mall, and that they believed that the old existing library location would be a better location for the WIC office.
Part of the community angst comes from an inability by the Health Department and city leaders to keep community leaders informed and encourage openness and transparency about the project. The legislation in the council for this did not originate with the councilperson in which the mall is located, and no notification was given to area council people about the proposal. While a public hearing would have been possible on second reading before the council, no notification of the plan was offered that would let local residents know what was being proposed. This lack of transparency and an unwillingness to engage with local communities about issues in their areas has been seen regularly in the Dean administration, and this entire project has a “top down” feeling which suggests that the leaders saw local community members as incompetent to judge the worth of the project, and as hindrances in doing something they wanted to do.
Well the genie has been let out of the bottle, and by all indications there is a rising groundswell of opposition to the proposal, driven primarily by the unwillingness of these leaders to communicate and work a gaining community support. This may ultimately lead to the defeat of a good project.
My preference is that the council will defer adopting this proposal until the community can meet with leaders from the Health Department and the mall to discuss the project and how it fits into an overall vision for Hickory Hollow.
The losers in this are those persons who are served by WIC. The fact is there IS a need for this type of office in our community, and delaying the creation of such a center puts an additional burden on these clients. It would have helped if those who are charged with providing these services had been willing to do their work on the front-end to create community support. They weren’t and now those who need services have to wait.