Carbondale leaders last week faced the swift opposition that has resulted from a recently publicized proposal to add a police substation at the Eurma C. Hayes Center, which serves the city's predominately black northeast side.
Meeting remotely, members of the city council heard from several citizens concerned about the prospect of adding a police presence at the aging community center, located at 441 E. Willow St.
Others who apparently planned to speak were unable to due to technical difficulties.
The idea to create a substation, which City Manager Gary Williams said remains "purely conceptual," was the result of a proposal directly from the director and board of the Eurma C. Hayes Center to the police department.
"This issue has not been before the city council," said Councilman Jeff Doherty, echoing others, including Mayor Mike Henry, who pointed out that the city does not own the Eurma C. Hayes Center -- or at least it hasn't since it fully divested itself from the building more than a decade ago.
Others, however, including Councilman Tom Grant, reminded the council that the idea of establishing remote policing locations in Carbondale is nothing new and, in fact, has been discussed in varying forms for decades.
Nick Smaligo, an activist with Carbondale Spring and a candidate for city council this cycle, has been among the most ardent voices in the recent grassroots movement to defund the Carbondale Police Department and reinvest the money into other community programs. Smaligo said the city made a false choice when it walked away from the Eurma C. Hayes Center years ago, suggesting city leaders chose a larger police force over funding a child care program and other needs the center provided.
Smaligo further suggested -- as does a Change.org petition that as of Thursday had garnered more than 2,000 names -- that the city back pay the Eurma C. Hayes Center to make up for the past decade.
"There was a political choice made to invest that money in policing instead, and that political choice was hovered over by a falsehood, that there wasn't the money," Smaligo said.
Rodney Morris, a resident of the northeast side and member of Concerned Citizens of Carbondale, said residents of the neighborhood are overwhelmingly against the addition of a police presence, whatever name it goes by.
"We don't care if it's a police substation, an office or a resource center, or whatever they want to call it this week," Morris said.
He said the addition of police would help the building "become a place of conflict rather than a community building."
"The city council can stop this misguided project at any time, and I wish they would," he added. "I wish they would step in and stop this project."
Two members of the council, Mayor Henry and Councilman Lee Fronabarger, questioned the validity of some of the more than 2,000 respondents included on the online petition. Henry, noting there were no signatures, called the list of names "just that and only that." Fronabarger said his analysis showed only 28 percent of the respondents actually live in Carbondale, although he urged those who added their names from far-flung corners of the country to help financially.
"If they have that much interest, I hope they do mail in a donation to the Eurma Hayes Center board to help them with their program," Fronabarger said.
In response, Smaligo noted that people from Carbondale live all over the world.