Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Community Call To What???

Did Our Mayor Exclude Community Leaders?
Was It In Order To Score Political Points?

Many of you reading this will automatically experience a knee-jerk reaction. I only ask that you read on as I place a context with the question.

On Saturday Feb. 13th 2010 Peoria's Mayor Jim Ardis along with State Representative Jehan Gordon and Senator Dave Koehler are sponsoring a Community Call To Action to uncover and develop new strategies in dealing with crime and violence in the Peoria area. If that were all there was to the strory, that would be a good thing, but as usual, it's not all.

Let's Go Back:

On Thursday Feb. 12th 2009 after the murder of Mario McGee, I and the Pastor's Association called a Community Call To Action at the Higher Dimensions Church (Pastor Bob Randle). This meeting was attended by over some 40 indivuduals representing various church groups and concerned citizens. We talked about the conditions of the city and made our best efforts to commit to strategize to change things at a grass roots level. We discussed gangs and their influence and how we as community groups and concerned citizens can change our community together.

Before I go into the heart of the matter and my concern as expressed to Mayor Ardis regarding the Feb. 13th event, I must lay some ground work so that the reader, even those critical or misinformed regarding my statements, can get a grasp on my concern.

These Are The Facts:

1- On Tue Jan 5th 2010 at 1:55 PM,  I contacted the Mayor's office with the following email:
God bless and Happy New Year!
Can we get together at your earliest opportunity. I have some ideas I'd like to share and some things I need your help with as it pertains to the community. Thanks.
2- The Mayor responded to my request on Tue. Jan 5th at 3:15 PM with the following email:
Rev Burnett
I have asked Kristie to try and confirm some times/dates that will work for you so we can get together and talk. I have to tell you that I find it difficult to come in on the discussion after the press conference/photo-ops have taken place but I will continue to try and get together asap. We need to communicate better I guess. I look forward to our meeting.
ja (emphasis added)
My request to the Mayor took place around the same time that we conducted a community prayer vigil for the last (17th) murder victim of 2009, Diondre Nunn. The best I can figure is that the Mayor had seen me on TV along with the family carrying on this vigil. That was the context in which I greeted his statements. This led to the following response by me:

3- I responded to the Mayor's previous email on Tue. Jan 5th 2010 at 3:42 PM with the following email:
Mr. Mayor,
Thanks for the response, but I am at a complete loss regarding it. To hear you say things like"photo-ops"/ "press conference" concerning anything that I would like to discuss or even recently discussed is baffling. Please expound on your concern regarding this matter, if you would.

I had also wanted to meet with Jim Mont.., Eric Turner, and Clyde Gully to go over some new ideas but I think a private meeting may be best for you and I so that we can be as specific as necessary. I appreciate it. Thanks again.

Pastor Harvey Burnett

4- On Tuesday Jan 5th at 8:42 PM the mayor responded in the following manner:
No disrespect intended Reverend. I look forward to our meeting and appreciate your attempt to encourage a safer community, and I mean that very sincerely.

5- On Wed. Jan 20th 2010 at 12:03PM, I received the following email from Kristie Collier, the Mayor's Administraticve Assistant:
Pastor Burnett,
Mayor Ardis is available to meet with you on Thursday, January 28, at 3:00 p.m., at City Hall. Please let me know if that works for you.

Thank you,
6- Little to my knowledge, the same day (Wed. Jan 20th, 2010) that Kristie Collier contacted my office regarding my Jan. 5th request, the Mayor's office through Alma Brown announced a Community Call To Action. That can be found on the City's web site HERE

Being totally oblivious regarding the Mayor's call an appointment was eventually set with the Mayor for 4:00PM Jan 28th, 2010 in the Mayor's office. Councilman Eric Turner was  present and took good notes regarding the meeting and is assisting me and the association in our requests.

In that meeting (Jan 28th,2010) I outlined community efforts to address issues at a grass-roots level and spoke regarding our "I Am My Brother's Keeper" 2010 Safe Community Campaign that was announced by the Pastor's Association on Jan. 5th 2010During the entire 30 minute meeting, Mayor Ardis never mentions, hints or intimates in any manner that there is or will be a meeting set to discuss any community initiatives, neither does he offer any reflection regarding our efforts or any effort for the last year.

Now for those who can follow this, I am confident that you can better understand the background and the nature of my concern to the Mayor regarding this program. Since Feb of 2009 I have personally called upon individuals to help in whatever manner or form regaring crime and violence within the community. Since Jan 5th 2010 I've tried to meet with the Mayor to address these specific issues and the Mayor on every occasion failed to even hint that he was concerned, supportive or had any plans eyed to address the issues in general. This is called EXCLUSION.  For whatever reason the Mayor chose to exclude me and others like me from the vital process of serving our community in this matter. A single individual such as myself being excluded is not the problem in and of itself, but other leaders such as association members and others who have sought to address issues were also excluded or simply disregarded as essential to this process also.  This is offensive in light of the fact that NONE of the political leaders have shown up to address these issues for over a year since the call was made. There hasn't been even a phone call to offer well wishes. 

When the full scope of these events was brought to light, I placed the following email to our Mayor on Fri. Feb. 12th at 1:04PM:
Mayor Ardis,

First, I do not wish to rebuke you, for I do not believe that it is my place and I certainly respect your office. I do wish, however to express my concern over your actions regarding the upcoming Community Call To Action that will take place Saturday Feb. 13th 2010 at the Peoria Dream Center.

First, my concern is not with the forum itself as the Pastor's Association under my direction endeavored to do this type of event, having a meeting almost exactly one year ago, Thursday Feb. 12th 2009, as confirmed HERE or paste under the EXACT name, A Community Call To Action. Our second meeting was at the same location, The Peoria Dream Center. This information is confirmed HERE or paste

Personally, as you know, I encourage efforts rendered to the community from multiple facets as you and I have discussed as recently as 2 weeks ago. I think that it is in the best interest of the community for as many individuals as possible to be involved in this important task especially in light of the crime that we witnessed last year. None of us want to see those things duplicated at any time in the future.

The problem I have is that you, in planning this event, totally overlooked or minimized the participation of people who have been identified to avail themselves in service to this community. Speaking frankly, if there is anyone that should have been asked to participate in this event, I would think it certainly would have been myself. I can't speak for others as I don't know if they were asked to be involved, but I know that myself and others who I can identify and have also availed themselves openly over the last few years were not asked or considered by your office for this event.

I don't mean and or intend to sound like I or we deserve some sort of special treatment or am prideful in any way, but for you to totally exclude me and persons like me as a part of a process to develop effective strategies against crime and violence, especially in light of the fact that I personally have such a great investment into the issue and a proven track record of community service addressing this issue, makes your actions highly suspect as political posturing. I hope and believe that I am totally wrong, but this is how it appears.

This event, to me, signifies that it is business as usual in Peoria. None of the people, including the State Representatives that you feature in this event, have ever contacted my office in any way shape or form to assess the needs of the community, victims or the victims families. Although that isn't a measurement of their commitment to the community, I can only say that I have personal dealings and interactions with many of families of violent crime victims and have been vocal in looking for solutions and preventive measures in times past. I don't believe that I am unique in my efforts, but I have taken measures that others haven't from time to time and have gladly done what others haven't done in service to this community. This is why I find it difficult to understand the motivation behind calling a community to action and not involving leaders who have been identified through personal service to be dedicated to that cause and the betterment of our community.

In conclusion, I don't believe that there is anything that I would like you to “do” regarding this other than make a commitment to better involve citizens such as myself who are on the front-line of this battle for the safety of our community in all aspects. I believe that there must be a greater interaction between political, and social factions of this community to truly address the issue of crime and violence and promote the message of community safety in the best possible manner.

Thank you for your time.
Pastor Harvey Burnett
The Mayor responded to that email as follows on Fri. Feb. 12th 2010 at 2:52PM:
Pastor Burnett

In all honesty, I don't know how to begin to answer your email. I'll just say that I'm sorry that neither you or anyone else received a personal invitation to attend the event tomorrow morning. We're hoping to have a strong presence by people who want to make a difference without concern for who gets the credit. I know that neither myself, Senator Koehler or Representative Gordon are looking for any. Have a nice weekend.

Jim Ardis
I took it that it was nice that the Mayor had responded. He did not have to and neither was I expecting him to, but the content of the email is ultimately offensive. To suggest that those out of accord with his plans are not people who "want to make a difference" is ridiculous and further to suggest that any of the concerns that I listed is about getting "credit" is a silly notion. I responded with my final email to the Mayor on Fri. Feb. 12th 2010 at 4:24 PM as follows:
 Mayor Ardis,

Thanks for the kind response but I believe you may have missed my point. I'm not talking about preferred seating, I'm talking about actually pulling those together who are already making a difference. My activities are well known regarding this issue and aside from that there are many others who are rendering their services on an ongoing basis. The information on many of these individuals, including myself, is public knowledge, especially among them who are effected by crime and violence. So we are not hard to find for those who really look.

Unfortunately what we (the community) receives is what I call "window dressing" As a whole we do things that look and feel good, and that are certainly important, but do not get to the root of the issues as it pertains to the segment of society most in need of social and moral value change. This is what I've communicated to you in our meeting that we want to avoid. We have problems that people in Peoria can and should and address and be encouraged to do so by and from governmental officials. The govermental envolvement part is good. However these things cannot be done by overlooking or marginalizing those of us currently doing the work. This is what I am communicating.

So the problem is not a "personal invitation" as you put it. The problem is empowering the very people doing the work right now, garnering them and giving them access and support so that they can extend what they do further into the community. You can't do that successfully by marginalizing their efforts, such as mine, as mere "attempts to get credit". As stated, I can't speak for others but what I do and what I've done is something that speaks for me. It's not about "credit" as you put it, it's about being effective and including those who are the ones suffering at the hands of crime and violence, and rebuilding the moral base of those tempted to do more crime.

As stated in the year since I made our call to action, no political official, including you, stopped to even affirm that what we were trying to do was something even generally that the City felt was important. What I am saying is that in order to do an effective job here, inclusion is your best path. There are many of us, like me, who have placed our resources and families in the danger zone and in harms way just for the sake of restoring this city. You should make every effort to reaffirm those efforts instead of thinking that the efforts are simply an opportunity for publicity.

My part in this is in making sure that you and other officials know that you are accountable to us and to those out here doing the work at a grassroots level. This is the part that is challenging I know, but the part that's necessary. We don't want to be told what the plan is by a few that don't touch the ground with us. We want to actually be a part of making this plan, instituting it and putting it together. I personally feel like we can do that, respect one another, and be accountable to one another and them in the line of fire at the same time.

Thanks once again for your patience with me. What I lack in political prowess I more than make up in sincerity of heart.

Pastor Harvey Burnett
To date the only person that has responded in any way to the concerns that I raise is Representative Jehan Gordon.  Based on her strong background in community service and strong family history in dealing with problematic issues within the community I am confident that Representative Gordon will be a valuable resource to the community's efforts as we seek to change the culture of Peoria and address the issues of crime and violence. This is not said to minimize the efforts or impact of Senator Koehler, but I have never heard from him regarding any matter since 2006.

This community and the effected areas cannot be made better by exclusionary methods such as those emplored by our Mayor. We are seeking individuals to help and assist us in this struggle and battle for the famies and children of the community and the overall safety fo the community. I hope that this information has placed some context to the many suggestions that will be made regarding my personal efforts. What is done is done all we can do is commit to doing better the next time.

Pastor Harvey Burnett

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