Blount County Commissioner Jackie Hill has driven around the Bungalow neighborhood with local residents to personally assess the property that Mayor Ed Mitchell proposed for the transition center.
Hill brought this prospective to a Monday town hall meeting where she urged the members of that community to be a part of the conversation.
“How do we work together to create a win-win situation?” she asked.
This conversation between the Corrections and Recovery Saves (CARES) Committee and several members of the public was centered on topics that varied from concerns about property value to personal testimonies about addiction.
The meeting, which took place at 1st United Methodist Church, was attended by more than 60 people.
The town hall was called after Mitchell proposed a site for the transition center on Thursday. In a CARES Committee meeting, Mitchell announced that the property is on the Russell Farm. This property — formerly owned by Mac Russell and currently owned by his family — is directly across the street from the DENSO 101 plant.
The property is 62 acres, with 42 of that acreage being buildable land.
After construction, the property would hold a facility for non-violent offenders to participate in rehabilitation services, such as educational and job skills courses. Also on the property would be the potential for a halfway house for women.
Blount County currently only has a halfway house for male former inmates.
After hearing a general proposal for the facility by committee member, Jerry Vagnier, several members of the public spoke up in opposition of the proposed property.
“I want to feel safe going to sleep in my own bed at night,” said a resident of the Bungalow community for more than 50 years.
The forum was headed up by members of the CARES Committee, which includes County Commissioners Rick Carver, Robbie Bennett, Jackie Hill and Tom Stinnett.
Deputy Chief Chris Cantrell, who is in change of support operations for the Blount County jail, and Chief Deputy Jeff French were present as CARES Committee representatives for the Sheriff’s Office.
Health care and business professionals are also members of the committee and were present at the town hall meeting.
While most speakers were opposed to the proposed property, several spoke in defense of it.
“A place just like the one y’all are talking about saved my life,” said Hubert Queen, a lifelong resident of Blount County.
“I just want people not to be so fearful of us,” added Paul Oglesby, a recovering opioid addict.
Committee members in addition to Mitchell defended the property.
“This really is the beginning,” Charlie Sterling, project manager for the Community Justice Initiative, told residents.
In order for the property to be purchased by the county, the CARES Committee would have to vote to approve the location and forward the vote to the county’s Budget Committee.
After a vote by that panel, the commissioners could cast their votes in their monthly meeting and approve the purchase.