Down Home North Carolina’s misleading claim is not their first

Perhaps the only true statement in a June 7 email from Down Home North Carolina is that the fight against prison expansion in Haywood County is far from over, but given the rest of the content misleading email, it is no longer clear whether the nonprofit activist group has the credibility to continue to be a part of this fight.

“When I first opened the email, it surprised me a bit,” said Haywood County Commissioner Brandon Rogers. “It’s definitely misleading.”

The email arrived hours after a Haywood County budget meeting on June 7; Down Home members had organized against the possibility of Haywood County building a $ 16 million jail extension almost from its first mention in late 2019, speaking at meetings and staging protests while demanding funding for mental health and addiction treatment instead of incarceration.

When the Haywood budget was approved that morning, Down Home’s communications team grasped the fact that the budget did not list the $ 16 million prison expansion plan.

“Today, with a 3-2 vote, Haywood County Commissioners chose not to include the $ 16.5 million jail expansion project in the county budget,” it read in the email, which read: “This morning a win at Haywood!”

The email goes on to say that “not including this costly project in the budget should be seen as a great victory for our community” and that “our efforts prove that when we work together and build our power, we can and we do. will win. . “

There is just one problem with that, however. The prison project will likely never show up in the budget, as that is not how local governments pay for capital projects.

“The prison project was never in the budget. It wasn’t even a question of putting it in the budget, so I don’t know where they came from with that, ”said Commissioner Tommy Long. “They didn’t dissuade anyone from putting it in a budget or voting for or against, so the statement they made was just totally inaccurate.”

Large capital projects, such as the prison expansion or the new Waynesville sewage plant, are typically funded by any combination of grants, fund balance allocation and / or loans – commercial or institutional – but are almost never budgeted as an item for the full amount.

Although the county is still very early in the process and has spent only a small amount on soil assessment tests at the proposed site, Down Home’s role in moving the project forward is overestimated, according to the Commissioner Jennifer Best.

“When people come to Commissioners meetings and speak up, we certainly listen to their concerns. I met members of the Down Home group right after I sat down, ”Best said. “Many of them came on different days and spoke at the Commissioners’ meetings and we certainly listened to them, but their efforts did not prevent us from proceeding with the expansion of the prison.”

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick said there is much more talk to come about the prison project and funding for mental health and addiction treatment will not entirely prevent the need for a new prison, but he agreed that Down Home’s claims were not correct.

“Yes, email is misleading, but how many things are not these days? Kirkpatrick said.

President Kevin Ensley said at least two other media outlets asked him about the email and felt the project had been put on the back burner.

“I said, ‘Look, that was a little bit of misinformation,’ Ensley told them.

When contacted for comment, Vicente Cortez, a field organizer at the Down Home office in Burlington, could not demonstrate his understanding of local government finances.

“I know the budgets need to be finalized by July 1 and that’s what the spending will be for next year and we expected the county commission to include allowances for this prison extension in its budget, ”Cortez said. “They didn’t, so we consider it a victory.”

Faced with comments from the five commissioners who called the email misleading, Cortez declined to give up calling the event a victory.

“We won this campaign arc,” he said. “The commissioners passed their biggest spending budget of the year, and no funds were allocated to the prison.”

The misleading claims in the June 7 email are not the first made by Down Home, but they do contribute to a pattern of exaggerated claims of success.

In April 2018, nearly 30 Down Home supporters showed up at a meeting of the Waynesville Aldermen’s Council to ask the city to pay all its employees a living wage of at least $ 12.30 an hour.

They were quickly told that only seven of the city’s 175 employees made less than that, and the lowest-paid workers were making $ 12.15 an hour, and that long-standing budget plans would soon raise the remaining seven employees. at least $ 12.30 an hour. .

When the group walked out of the meeting, they immediately turned to Facebook, proclaiming, “Thanks to the efforts of our Haywood County Chapter, City Council has committed to increasing wages by July 1.

A dubious claim, of course – given pre-existing budget plans to raise those seven employees from the $ 12.15 level.

“I’ll say I appreciate their involvement, their willingness to get involved, but when you’re not factual or deceptive like them, I don’t know if they have the credibility they need for you.” listen to what they have to say, ”Rogers said. “I’m always willing to listen to what someone has to say, but when they’re deceptive and he’s a role model, you take a little break. It doesn’t make you want to listen. ”

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