Group opposes building site of new health department
SIKESTON - Joel Montgomery has been joined by the Pastor Community Action Association in his fight to stop the Scott County Health Department from building a new facility across from his home on North Main.
The board of trustees of the Scott County Health Department, consisting of Raymond Wright, chairman; Derek Wheeler, vice chairman; Dr. Robert Ahlvin, treasurer; Linda Boyd, secretary; and Duane Decota entered a contract April 26, 2001, to purchase land just south of the First Church of the Nazarene at 1521 North Main.
The lawsuit, originally filed in the Scott County Circuit Court April 22, originally sought to halt the sale but now seeks an injunction to prevent the health department from proceeding further with plans to build the new health department facility at that site.
"It's a horrible, unbelievable arrangement that they've gotten themselves in," Montgomery said of the board's plan to build at the North Main site. "It's incredible they made that decision and it needs to be reversed."
Montgomery said he understands the health department needs a larger facility. "I just feel that it shouldn't be in this neighborhood," he explained. "I believe it should be in the center of town. Build it where the people can use it. The people that are going to use this facility are not living in the north side of town. It needs to be built close to where they reside."
The petition was amended recently to include as individuals pastors Charlie Green of the Green Memorial Church of God in Christ; Audrey G. Hundley of the Jubilee House of Prayer; Ronald Williams of the New Deliverance Baptist Church; Ricky Anderson of the Prince of Peace Baptist Church; Major Lucius of the St. John Baptist Church and Sylvester Morgan of the The Travelers Rest Baptist Church; as well as collectively as the Pastor Community Action Association.
"When we learned about what's going on we naturally endorsed it," said Green. "We were in the dark about what was going on. The board got their heads together on this without any input from the community."
"It should have been brought to the people for input," Hundley agreed.
According to the lawsuit, the proposed facility at that site would not serve the best interests of its clients because the location does not reflect the demographics of residents who use the facility.
"Accessibility is very important for the clientele of the county health department," said Green. "That's one of our concerns."
"It serves the poor people - people who don't have transportation," Williams said. "It should be located on the west side of town."
With the facility very likely to cost over $1 million and the ongoing concerns over the condition of Sikeston's Clayton and Sunset subdivisions, the construction of the new facility is an opportunity to "do something positive on the west side of town," according to Williams. "It would sure make a difference on the west side of town."
"The Scott County Health Department - and it is the Scott County Health Department - represents all of the residents in the county," said Barry Cook, administrator of the county health department and spokesman for the board.
"We were looking for an area centrally located that had some good visibility and room for growth," Cook said. "A place where all of the county's residents would have access to the facility."
The suit also alleges the new site would be a hazardous location for the many pedestrian clients who would be traveling to the facility as well as for motorists because North Main narrows near there from four lanes down to two and has a posted speed limit of 60 mph.
While the health department does not have any hard numbers available, Cook said there are "a very limited amount of people who actually walk to our facility."
Cook also noted that while the conditions are not ideal for pedestrians at the new site, things aren't any better at the present location where the department has been for nearly 10 years as far as safety. "Malone Avenue has lots more traffic than Highway 61," he said.
Green suggested the board of trustees should have a member appointed that is more representative of the health department's clients to better keep the public informed in the future. "There's nobody on that board that represents low-income people," he noted.
Attorney George W. Gilmore Jr. of Sikeston is representing Montgomery and the pastors.
The health department and its trustees are being represented by Al Spradling III of Cape Girardeau who was hired by MOPERM, the health department's insurance company.
A motion to dismiss the lawsuit against the health department was submitted by Spradling.
The next court date for the suit is set for July 25.