“I think this is a very cruel hoax on the citizens of our community. This is sneaky. It’s deceitful. I don’t like it and I don’t like my citizens to be in fear,” the mayor said.
Rowland said it is a gray area as to whether or not an actual crime was committed by distribution of the fliers which were said to be spreading false information about the future of the area, but “whoever wrote this should be exposed to the public and to those people who called Greg (Planning Director Greg Thomas) with fear in their hearts. They ought to know who wrote this.”
The Council voted 7-0 to request the city attorney, police and district attorney’s office to fully investigate the matter to determine if any laws were broken and try to uncover the source of the flier.
“I think this flier is very inciting and I don’t find anything, other than some terminology here and there, that’s even true,” Rowland said. “We formed the Southside Development Committee, but that would do nothing but increase values in that area by getting rid of the blight in our city and enhance the value of the property around it.”
The flier was anonymously distributed in neighborhoods south of the old Whirlpool plant in downtown Cleveland warning homeowners of their impending loss of property rights if they didn’t immediately act. The flier was written as an informational handout by an unknown author. It stated that homes in the area around 18th Street S.E., between King Edward Avenue S.E. and Wildwood Avenue S.E. are targeted for demolition and redevelopment.
Rowland said more than 20 people have contacted Cleveland Planning Director Greg Thomas who were either concerned or afraid the city was going to take their homes through imminent domain.
“We’ve never removed anybody from their property and we don’t intend to do it,” Rowland said. “We do want to get rid of the eyesores and the blight and that’s what we intend to do with the old Whirlpool property.”
He said, “My concern is this, that 20-plus families who called a city telephone number were fearful of the propaganda in this flier. I’m upset that our citizens are upset. I’m upset that somebody, who is anonymous, thinks they have a right to spread untruths to the citizens of our community and to put fear into fear in their minds concerning things that are not true and of things very unlikely to happen.”
The flier stated the only people who have bought into the Bradley Cleveland Charleston Comprehensive Plan (see related story) are politicians, Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, favored developers and environmental groups.
“I don’t know who the favored developers are — I’ve never seen any. Numerous public meetings have been held, not only by the BCC 2035 Plan, but in this venue as well and at the Bradley County Commission. The public has had plenty of time to hear comments on this issue,” the mayor said. “This is entirely untrue that the only people who have bought into this plan are those I just mentioned.”
He said local politicians are elected by the people to make decisions and nothing is going to happen without elected officials acting on behalf of the people. It’s the American way, he said.
The flier asked how new development would be funded.
“What new development?” Rowland asked. “I don’t know what new development they are talking about. We don’t know how we’re going to pay for it because we don’t know what we’re going to do. We do know we don’t want this old factory to become a blighted part of our community and that’s why we formed the Southside Development Committee.”
Rowland said the city of Cleveland had a plan for sustainable development in 1958, which was 34 years before Agenda 21 was developed by the United Nations.
According to the United Nations website, Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Statement of principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests were adopted by more than 178 Governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, in 1992.
At one point, Thomas confirmed someone had commented publicly that officials could possibly find their homes in ashes if the comprehensive plan continued to move forward.
“I hasten to add that the vast, vast majority of people I talked to, we had great conversations. I learned about their needs and I’m really, really glad they called me, but this flier did evidently fall into some hands of some people who were willing to get upset and maybe take it a step further than they should.”
Rowland said it is ironic that two people attended Monday’s Council meeting asking about blighted property in their neighborhoods.
District 2 Councilman Bill Estes said he was looking for the good that came out of the incident.
“I think a lot of good can come from this because the right information is out there now,” he said. “What someone meant as a scare tactic and misinformation is actually benefiting the city in that the truth is out there now.”