PORTSMOUTH — Saturday morning saw a packed house at the Portsmouth Little Theater, as Portsmouth City Council held a special meeting to discuss proposed zoning ordinances within the city that deals with addiction recovery treatment facilities, their locations and quality of operations.
Many speaking at the session were adults that had been through recovery and benefitted from the treatment facilities and gone on to lead productive, socially responsible lives. Others that spoke were long-time residents of Portsmouth that are fed up with what they perceive as an increased crime rate and devalued property because of the number of treatment providers in the city.
In a document provided by Portsmouth Mayor Sean Dunne, the First Ward Councilman noted that the special meeting was in conjunction with updated zoning guidelines from the firm hired by Council to update Portsmouth’s zoning structure. Dunne also made clear the difference between the topic of the day and from “establishing mandatory standards of care.”
Tyler Clifford, a local probation officer and a life-long resident of the city, was one of the first to speak.
“I came back to this area after getting a Bachelor’s Degree because I love Portsmouth. I became a probation officer for the City of Portsmouth and I have dealt with numerous drug addicts and probationers on a daily basis. To give you an example of what we deal with, we had someone that was on house arrest for 42 days. He had been in a treatment facility, he was clean, fine and everything was good-42 days, I took him off and the very next weekend, he gets arrested for theft. I said, “What are you doing, man? Forty-two days’ good and he said he relapsed and he needed money for drugs. He was stealing and thieving and these are the people that are coming to our community from out of town, these probationers and this has to stop. These rehab facilities want to come into our residential neighborhood, where working class people are-we pay our taxes, we work, we don’t commit crime and they want to plop these residential rehab facilities into our neighborhoods near our homes and our kids and we don’t want that. We support the treatment stuff, get clean, yes, we want that but we do not want them in our neighborhoods.”
While the early part of the session featured citizen speakers that echoed many of Clifford’s sentiments, the second half of the meeting was dominated by addicts in recovery, most with their stories of perseverance and eventual success.
Aaron Lanier, a county resident was one such instance.
“I am four years clean from meth and oxycodone. I have two prison numbers and the last time I got out I took a job at a call center making $9.00 an hour, then I went to work at a local treatment facility making double what I was making at the call center, I struggled when I first got out of prison and now, I own my own home-I grew up in Rosemount and these problems we’re hearing about today began long before these treatment centers came.”
Lanier also said that the treatment facility for which he works does not turn probationers back out onto the streets of Portsmouth following the completion of their program, stating that nine times out of ten, he calls the county of their residence to let them know and he sees that they are “shipped back.”
A powerful and emotional testimony came from Stephanie Miller, who opened up by confessing she was an addict in recovery with a steep criminal history and a history with Children’s Protective Services. She stated that because of the efforts of The Counseling Center, she has recently been accepted by the University of Kentucky for her Master’s Degree in Social Work and is now employed as the Director of Stepping Stones at The Counseling Center.
A voice that spoke from experience and with a deep knowledge of the city’s needs also shared his voice, as City Enforcement Officer Andy Gedeon addressed those in attendance.
“I have read this proposed legislation six or seven times and while this is much needed there is a lot of work left on the code enforcement side. I see, on a daily basis, a huge issue on property maintenance for these sober living houses. My personal opinion is that we need to regulate these-there are a lot of pop-up facilities that are in it for the profit and there are a lot of good treatment centers here that do a lot of good for this community. I got to celebrate my Dad’s birthday yesterday because of one of these treatment centers, he’s been clean and sober now for thirty-plus years. We do not want to run these facilities out of town, but we do need to have some kind of common ground to make certain they are putting people into proper housing and they are following the rules. This legislation is not set in stone, it’s not going to be passed tomorrow, we need input from everybody involved.”
Immediately following the four-hour session, the Portsmouth Daily Times spoke with Dunne.
“I thought this morning’s meeting exceeded my expectations, there was a lot of powerful testimony, there was a lot of passionate opinions expressed and I thought by and large, it was a great way for the community of Portsmouth to not only talk to Portsmouth City Council but to one another, as well. It gave everyone something to think about and in many ways, this is what democracy looks like-people talking to and presenting ideas to those that at the legislative level. It was great to be a part of it.”
Vice-President of Council, Charlotte Gordon, also expressed her view on the special meeting.
“I came in with a totally open mind and I feel like we got a good cross-section of our community. We are all in this together and I do feel like today is a good seed for future legislation, legislation that needs to be tweaked, as there are a lot of people who have different needs that need to addressed and it is the first discussion of many as we all move forward.”
At this point in time, there is not a firm timetable set for a final legislative document that will alter the landscape created by the pill-mill tragedy, but many more voices with significantly different perspectives will be heard
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