Facing the loss of its director and cuts to what was supposed to be a $1 million community enhancement grant, the Eastside Weed and Seed program is at a crossroads as it enters its second year.
But James Moreland, chairman of Weed and Seed’s steering committee, says community leaders aren’t going to let all the work they’ve put into the program go to waste just because they’ll have to make some changes.
“We’re going to do what we can do with what we have,” said Mr. Moreland, who also serves as president of the Eastside Task Force. “If you don’t have the money to buy a steak, you might at least have money for some pork and beans.”
The federal grant program, designed to weed out crime and seed positive programming, originally promised to bring the community $1 million over five years, which would equal $200,000 a year. The first payment of $175,000 was to be followed by $225,000 in January 2009. But Mr. Moreland says he expects budget cuts to whack some $25,000 from that figure.
Sharry Dedman-Beard, spokeswoman for the Eastern Tennessee District of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which oversees the program, confirmed that there have been cuts to the Weed and Seed program in general but said she could not provide any specifics because this year’s budget hasn’t been finalized.
Federal agencies have been ordered to work off of last year’s budget until March, she said.
Also still up in the air is who will lead the initiative in the upcoming year, Ms. Dedman-Beard said, confirming that Director Ron Cook, pastor of Rock Island Baptist Church, has resigned.
EASTSIDE WEED AND SEED
The Eastside is the third area of the city to obtain Weed and Seed grant money after the Westside and the M.L. King neighborhood. The five-year grant, which was awarded last fall, focuses on 11 communities:
* East Chattanooga
* Edward Steiner Apartments
* Glenwood Heights
* Judson Lane
* Harriet Tubman Development
* Orchard Knob
WEED AND SEED POLICE ACTION
In the first year of the Eastside Weed and Seed program, the Chattanooga Police Department recorded the following:
* 120 misdemeanor drug offenders arrested
* 80 felony drug offenders arrested
* 46 firearm offenders arrested
* 346 other offenders arrested
* 217 warrants served
* 360 field interviews completed
* 784 citations issued
* 1,160 calls for service answered
* 35 federal cases indicted and pending
Source: Chattanooga Police Department
The resignation does not indicate problems with project management, she said, explaining that the project should continue seamlessly.
“I don’t think it’s anything more than just a matter of him having another job, and to be fair to the (project), he wanted to step aside,” she said.
The Rev. Cook said Wednesday his schedule was too full at the moment to discuss Weed and Seed.
The Weed and Seed program has sponsored several community meetings, set up dance, martial arts and music programs for youth and worked on creating programs to develop community leaders and mentors.
Project leaders already have teamed with the Memorial Health Care System, which is located in the Glenwood community, one of 11 areas within the grant zone. Memorial announced last month that it was using a $37,806 grant from the Mission and Ministry Fund of Catholic Health Initiatives to improve health care in the Eastside district, according to hospital spokeswoman Karen Sloan.
Meanwhile, existing funding will continue to go to the “weed” side of the program, which pays Chattanooga police officers overtime to patrol in the districts. Despite several recent violent incidents in Eastside, police officials said the program is helping to reduce crime.
“We think it’s been a very successful program,” Assistant Chattanooga Police Chief Mike Williams said, citing the approximately 600 arrests in the area over the program’s first year.
Those arrests have led to more federal gang cases to prosecute, noted Ben Scott, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Chattanooga office and a Weed and Seed advisory board member.
“There is always more to do, of course, but they have been a success from my point of view,” he said.
Harriet Tubman Development Site resident Christopher Hudgins said he appreciates the effort. But he said it needs to be more pronounced to get full community support.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Mr. Hudgins said. “But I don’t hear about it much, and I don’t hardly see it.”