Old Milk Barn - Cherri Drive - Pimmit Hills

Old Milk Barn - Cherri Drive - Pimmit Hills
Old Milk Barn - Cherri Drive - Pimmit Hills

Monday, March 12, 2012

Response to PHCA Editor's Libelous Editorial

Name-Calling is No Substitute for Facts
The Frace-Heller Family's response to the editorial authored by PHCA's Webmaster

By The Frace-Heller Family
Pimmit Hills
Falls Church, VA 22043
Contact us

The Pimmit Hills Observer: http://www.pimmithillsnews.blogspot.com/
Yahoo! Pimmit Hills Moms and Dads Group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/pimmithillsmomsanddads/

Pimmit Hills, Falls Church, VA -- That sniping, libelous rant entitled, "Executive summary of the March 6 PHCA meeting", saw publication Thursday, March 8th on the Pimmit Hills Citizens' Association Internet Web site (www.pimmithills.org) , two days after PHCA's evening 'Town Meeting' held at the Pimmit Hills Senior Center on Lisle Avenue.

PHCA's Webmaster, Cindy Kwitchoff, who doubles as editor of The Pimmit Hills Dispatch newspaper as well as the organization's e-mailed Pimmit Hills News, closes her attack with the lament: "It's a very sad time for the Association on its 61st anniversary."

When private citizens in Pimmit Hills are defamed and attacked falsely for conducting due diligence, for fact-finding, for alerting neighbors, and for inviting public discourse regarding a County-proposed project that offers no positive benefits for the neighborhood, then indeed, it is a sad time.

PHCA Parroting-Back County's Official Line
Further, after keeping up to date on what has been published thus far in the PH Dispatch, Pimmit Hills News, and on PHCA's Web site, it appears to us that PHCA's Board has all along been merely parroting back to its membership County officials' public statements and press releases without bothering to check the veracity of any of it.

Article II of PHCA's Articles of Incorporation states the following:

"The purpose for which the corporation is organized is:
To promote and advance the welfare of the residents of Pimmit Hills subdivision and immediately adjacent subdivisions. In furtherance of this purpose, the corporation shall endeavor to promote cultural, social, moral, educational and recreational activities for the benefit of the residents of Pimmit Hills subdivision and immediately adjacent subdivisions."

There is no mention in PHCA's Articles of Incorporation any notion of promoting County projects that could negatively affect Pimmit Hills' quality-of-life and property values. Also, there is no mention of promotion of projects that fail to "advance the welfare" of PH residents.

Yet, at the March 6th PHCA Town Meeting, Fairfax County Supervisor John W. Foust (D) and Fairfax County-Falls Church Community Service Board (CSB) officials admitted that the County could offer no guarantees whatsoever that Pimmit Hills residents or their relatives would ever have opportunity to reside in the proposed Cherri Drive facility, let alone have first-priority for the group-home's few available openings.

Before any judge us based on the malicious, factually incorrect PHCA Web site editorial, consider the following:

Since the County wants to place this project on the same street where our children play, and on what is now Fairfax County Park Authority land where our children also play, and since we only just got wind of the County's proposal in the weeks after that first January 11th 'informational' meeting, we decided to find out what was really going on.

First 'Informational Meeting' Not Even Held in Pimmit Hills
Please note, that the January event at Lemon Road Elementary School, labeled as an 'informational meeting', was the first public notice anyone has had about this project. This, despite the fact, as we have since learned, that this project has been in the works in County Supervisor John W. Foust's office and at CSB for as long as two years!

The Lemon Road ES meeting, sponsored by Supervisor Foust, was also noteworthy for the fact that the meeting did not take place in Pimmit Hills, but rather on the southern-most edge of Supervisor Foust's Dranesville District, in a school located nearly 2 miles by car from the proposed Cherri Drive project.

No Public Notice Posted at Barn Site
Let's be honest: how many even saw the notice Supervisor Foust's office posted regarding that January meeting?

What's more, there was never notice of any type posted at the Barn site on Cherri Drive where the project is intended to be built, as is customary practice in Fairfax County, notably on large orange DayGlo signs whenever official 'hearings' of any kind are scheduled to take place related to a parcel of real estate.

Foust Waits Til After Re-Election to Announce Group-Home Project
It seemed plain to us at the time that Supervisor Foust's office was trying to slide/sneak by the public in as quiet a fashion as possible with little public awareness of what actually was being planned, this entire matter and all its ramifications for the neighborhood.

Noteworthy as well is that though this project has been near two years in the making, Supervisor Foust waited until after his re-election this past November to let the public in on this controversial and plainly divisive project.

If this project is so good for Pimmit Hills, why didn't Supervisor Foust brag about it in his campaign and about his role in bringing it to fruition in our neighborhood?

What does all this say for Supervisor Foust's honesty and transparency?

PHCA Board Failed to do 'Due Diligence'
So, after our Family heard about the January Lemon Road ES meeting (which few actually attended -- wasn't it PHCA president Martz, speaking at March 6th's PHCA Town Meeting, who said "six people showed up"?), we decided then that it would be appropriate to perform the kind of 'due diligence' that appeared to be sorely lacking based on what we had been reading up to that point on the PHCA Web site and in the PH Dispatch.

What we mean by 'due diligence' is not accepting as Gospel that which the County says.

The first thing we did was to read, in its entirety, CSB's own '2011 Housing Needs Report' (33 pages). That document identifies CSB's 'clients' as: "people with intellectual disabilities, mental illness or substance use disorders."

It bluntly states that many CSB clients have had "Interaction with the criminal justice system," and that most of CSB's clients "(86 percent) need supervised or intensive levels of assistance."

Further, CSB's report makes abundantly clear that "CSB clients who need affordable housing require flexible housing programs with adaptations and modifications that address key housing barriers including accessibility, credit issues and criminal history."

Indeed to this day, neither Supervisor Foust nor CSB officials have been able to give any assurances nor specificity concerning just which kinds of clients would be housed in the project other than that they will be elderly or 'aging'. County officials refuse to say whether those elderly clients will have criminal histories, drug addictions, mental illnesses (e.g. schizophrenia, bi-polar), or other maladies which might lead to violent behaviors.

Group-Home Residents Free to Roam Neighborhood Day and Night?
Further, CSB officials have yet to answer questions as simple as whether clients assigned to the proposed Cherri Drive facility will be free to roam around the neighborhood without restriction, or whether they can have driving privileges and access to motor vehicles?

Yet, nowhere in any of the material being published at the time on the PHCA Web site was there any mention of the percentage of CSB's clients who had criminal histories, who exhibited schizophrenia and/or bi-polar disorder (with the inherent potential for sudden violence that such conditions can evoke) , who needed supervision to stay on their medications, and who had the kinds of dangerous mental conditions that were scaring the bejeebers out of us as we read through CSB's own 'toned-down' 33-page report.

We thought about what daily life here would be like with such persons -- and the visitors and friends they might attract -- having free reign about our Pimmit Hills neighborhood, where on an average sunny day there can be at least a dozen elementary school-age children running around within just the first half-block of where the Park Authority Barn now sits.

CSB Officials Misquote Laws Governing Their Own Field
So we started by asking CSB officials for a list of addresses of CSB's facilities around the County so that we might survey neighbors in those neighborhoods where CSB already maintains group-home facilities.

We considered this to be a minimum level of 'due diligence', which had PHCA's Board been 'promoting and advancing' the welfare of Pimmit Hills residents per the organization's Bylaws, one might expect the Board to do as well.

We telephoned CSB on January 26, 2012 and were quite clear with the official with whom we spoke as to our intent to conduct a survey of CSB's neighbors in the neighborhoods surrounding its other operating locales.

Yet, the very first thing this CSB official did in response to that good-faith request by a constituent of the Dranesville District seeking information on CSB-related matters was to deny, immediately and categorically, the request both verbally and then in writing.

Jeannie Cummins Eisenhour, CSB's investment & development manager, claimed in that phone conversation that to honor our request would compromise "the civil rights" of residents of the group-homes in those various neighborhoods. Ms. Eisenhour followed-up in an email sent the very same day, writing: "As I mentioned on our call, Fair Housing laws and Health Information privacy laws prohibit me from sharing addresses of our group homes with you."

That same day, Ms. Eisenhour e-mailed PHCA president Martz reiterating her denial of our request. That letter received prominent posting, of course, on PHCA's Web site by PHCA's Webmaster.

The problem with all this is that CSB's Eisenhour, and subsequently as well CSB's executive director, George Braunstein, were wrong.

< Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board investment and development manager Jeannie Cummins Eisenhour

Neither the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968), nor HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) have ever contained any language whatsoever that would prohibit release to the public of information regarding location of facilities, which are, after all, government-owned and/or operated buildings.

Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board executive director George Braunstein>

CSB's Executive Director Makes-Up Own Policies
And it gets worse. Once CSB officials were informed of their error by the County Attorney, did they correct their error and produce the addresses?

What follows is the text of an e-mail Mr. Braunstein sent us Sunday, February 26, 2012 after asking for and receiving from Fairfax County Attorney David P. Bobzien his interpretation of the two federal laws. CSB executive director Braunstein writes:

"I have received consultations from our County Attorney and they are clear that while there is no definitive mention in the code about publishing addresses of our homes.(sic) Therefore, it becomes a question of where we establish our policies. Obviously we do not publish the addresses of the homes of any of the other 20,000 people we serve every year, including those that we regularly visit in their private homes as part of our effort to provide our disabled customers the same rights as any other resident of this county. To live in the community of their choice.(sic) Therefore, I am making the judgment to uphold our policy and require a submission of a FOIA request. Otherwise, we have been willing to offer you a visit to one or two of our residential sites that serve a similar population to the home we are proposing at the Pimmit Barn property. Thank you for your efforts to make sure we are accountable to the residents of your district and Fairfax County."

In other words, two federal laws quoted by two senior County officials, Eisenhour and Braunstein, did not say what they claimed the laws said, and so CSB executive director Braunstein on his own, without CSB's board voting on or even considering the matter, made up a new policy to cover his continued refusal to release requested information. CSB's board never signed-off on Mr. Braunstein's made-up new policy because CSB's board was not scheduled to meet for another month.

It finally took until March 2nd to obtain release of the information that our Family had first requested January 26th. What this goes to show is that County officials all along were either woefully misinformed regarding federal laws governing their special area of expertise, or alternatively, that CSB officials were intentionally being deceitful. Let the reader decide. Why do you think CSB officials would not want people from a neighborhood where CSB was seeking to build a facility to survey folks in neighborhoods where CSB already has facilities?

Can County Officials Be Relied Upon to Tell the Truth?
This dismal experience in getting simple information out of County officials also begs the question: Can County officials be relied upon to be forthcoming and transparent with the public regarding matters under their jurisdiction and purview?

Experience tells us: apparently not. Please note that though Supervisor Foust assured PHCA's members attending March 6th's Town Meeting that there are CSB-operated group-homes located in McLean, the list CSB provided to our Family, a list that is supposed to be 'comprehensive', shows no such CSB facilities anywhere in McLean nor even nearby. Further, none are listed in Great Falls nor in Langley.

Our survey of CSB's neighbors in the communities where CSB operates its group-homes is simply intended to inquire whether CSB is a good neighbor. We want to know whether, if a neighborhood were given the chance all over again to invite CSB to establish a group-home, would its own neighbors agree to let CSB in?

Just as important, we want to inquire as to what CSB's presence in those neighborhoods has done for neighborhood property values?

PHCA Refused to Publish Facts the Public Needed to Know
Please note that when our Family followed-up by sending letters to PHCA's Webmaster for publication on PHCA's Web site in order to keep our fellow Pimmit Hills residents informed regarding our 'due diligence', PHCA's Webmaster, except for our first letter of January 23rd and our brief update of January 26th, refused after that to publish any more of our letters.

Yet, PHCA's Web site, in a claim posted prominently by PHCA's Webmaster, continued to insist in the five-week run-up to the March 6th PHCA Town Meeting that "In this post is all the information, pros and cons, concerning the proposed redevelopment of the old barn on Cherri Drive in Pimmit Hills."

Except, that claim was disingenuous at best. Our Family was continuing to provide PHCA with more detailed information based on facts as we continued our 'due diligence', only PHCA's Webmaster totally refused to publish on PHCA's Web site any of our subsequent letters nor did the Webmaster publish any of the information contained in those letters. So if one were to be relying on the PHCA Web site for information regarding CSB's proposal, one would certainly not be getting "..... all the information, pros and cons .....".

We subsequently set up Web sites: The Pimmit Hills Observer and the Yahoo! Pimmit Hills Moms and Dads Group in order to aid in dissemination of information as we got it. We note as well that it is not just our letters that are not being published on PHCA's Web site, it appears as if no one else's are either. This, despite our having received many e-mails and posted comments pro and con on the subject. <<<<<

Horror Stories About Group-Homes:
'Chelmsford group-home resident indicted on assault charges'
'Disabled Joliet man beaten to death in group home, authorities say'
'Woman fatally attacked in Denver group home identified'
'Family of man who died following attack at a Charleston group home to receive $450,000 in settlement'
'Group home attack builds fear'

'Teen Charged With Murder In Fatal Group Home Attack'
'Man Pleads Guilty In Duluth Group Home Attack'

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