Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown made a public relations mistake on Tuesday. He got quoted playing “blame the media” with the top news station in town, regarding the scandal-plagued slumlords of Global Ministries Foundation.
“My position, if I can get things done without bringing the media and the cameras to the residents that are economically challenged, I will do that. I am not going to exploit the residents. We do not need (to bring) the cameras on into their living quarters.”
The quote was from last week. The subject: Eureka Garden and Washington Heights, two GMF properties.
The problem? The media, in Jacksonville as in Memphis, has been instrumental in calling attention to the blight at Eureka and at Washington Heights … attention which led to an 18-0 Council resolution to urge HUD to pull funding from Eureka in June.
It was the “media” that called attention to the shaky financing of Eureka Garden in the first place, via a private company that Tripp Gulliford of the Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority said “will essentially finance anything, with no third party credit underwriting, lack of ongoing monitoring, and no requirements beyond the minimums in the code …. Schemes to earn interest on bond proceeds and to pay fees to financing professionals … poor management and lack of capital to properly maintain the physical property.”
And it was the “media” that Brown talked to earlier this year, regarding Washington Heights, when he lauded GMF owner Richard Hamlet for being “serious” about improvements, which include only spending six years to rehab the complex, fixing minor issues like mold infestation and rotting wood floors.
Has the media changed in the last two months?
Or has Reggie Brown’s dispensation toward it?
Regarding Washington Heights, which Brown was fine with having fixed up sometime in 2022 according to First Coast News in February, Brown said he’d had a “great meeting” with Hamlet.
Now? Tear the whole thing down!
“It’s time to demolish those apartments and provide the taxpayers, those that are in need of service, a better quality of life,” Brown said, apparently after being unable to produce a copy of Global Ministries Foundation’s “strategic plan to improve the properties” for WJXT reporter Lynnsey Gardner.
What changed in the last couple of months?
It’s obvious to anyone with basic sentience that Hamlet’s shadier than a 500 year old oak.
At least one other Councilman, Tommy Hazouri, has been frustrated in attempts to get information about what’s really going on at these properties.
Hazouri also wants answers regarding what’s really going on at Washington Heights. But, say sources, the former mayor is being stonewalled.
The former mayor has attempted to attend meetings with the tenants’ association at Washington Heights, but has been advised, by Brown, to wait a week, as Brown has a conflict.
Meanwhile, say sources, the tenants’ association would prefer to meet solely with Brown, the district Councilman.
There’s a problem with that: Hazouri, as an At Large Councilman, represents the entire city. The oldest joke in the old joke book of Council meetings is when an At Large person says “everyone’s my constituent.”
But it’s true nonetheless.
Public housing has a different threshold than a private development. It is taxpayer subsidized, and therefore is every bit as subject to oversight as a road project would be.
Brown, rather than calling for the rampant problems in these complexes to be handled quietly and without media notice, should, if interested in public safety and health outcomes, be calling for the press to camp out at these places, to depict how life really is in a Global Ministries Foundation property.
Because we know it isn’t good.
He should call for all of his colleagues to join him on a fact finding tour. And bring the media along. Let’s see what tax dollars are allocated toward. Let’s see how Jacksonville treats its poorest citizens.
Let’s have some real talk.
Instead, Reggie Brown would rather keep the press and his colleagues out.
We’ve seen how this works with Eureka Garden. Keep the press out, and people can suffer for years and years.
Consider the sad story of Mona Lisa Arnold, an officer in that HUD complex’s tenant’s association, as told to Council last spring.
“We feel threatened for our life with bullets flying through the air,” Arnold said, adding that “I feel like I need a Purple Heart” for living in Eureka Garden.
Arnold, who has lived there since 2006, said she sent Mayor Alvin Brown a letter in 2013 about the conditions, but he didn’t respond.
“At this project in the heart of the ghetto, no one came to my aid.”
Who will come to the aid of those in Washington Heights?
And will it be this decade?