Hobart mayor to GEO: Go elsewhere
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent April 12, 2014 5:23PM
A discarded sofa sits in the parking lot of the former St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church on 49th Avenue in Hobart. The building, which has been vandalized in the past, recently was boarded up by its new owner, The GEO Group. | Karen Caffarini~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 14, 2014 6:51AM
HOBART — Mayor Brian Snedecor has written a letter to the GEO Group suggesting it find another location outside of Hobart for its possible immigrant detention center, according to a member of the city council.
The mayor is supposed to read the letter, written Tuesday, to members of Concerned Citizens of Hobart group at its 3 p.m. Sunday meeting at the First Unitarian Church in Hobart.
Neither the mayor nor a GEO spokesman could be reached for comment Saturday, but Councilman P. Lino Maggio, D-3rd, said the mayor read the letter to him over the phone and Snedecor advised GEO it should look for another location.
The Boca Raton, Fla., builder of for-profit prisons and immigrant detention centers owns the former St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church property on 49th Avenue. It has not formally requested the rezoning needed to build such a center, but a report issued by the company stated it intended to build a detention center there.
Concerned Citizens of Hobart, which formed in opposition to the possible development, did not say what the mayor’s letter contained but called it a significant moment for Hobart.
“We appreciate it when our leaders are front and center, paying attention,” said Barbara Sullivan, a Hobart resident and member of Concerned Citizens.
Tom Dubois, a 30-year resident who met with Snedecor earlier this month with five other members of the group, said he is sure residents will be pleased with what the mayor has to say Sunday.
“Having met with the mayor to discuss the matter, I’m convinced of his sincerity,” Dubois said.
This is the second time Snedecor will be addressing the group. At a previous meeting, he indicated he needed to keep an impartial stance until GEO put in a request to rezone the property, according to a news release from Concerned Citizens.
Snedecor and city council members repeatedly have said there was nothing for them to comment on because there was no proposal before them.
The city did ask GEO to secure the former St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church building after Dubois said at a council meeting that it was a safety hazard. GEO quickly boarded up the building.
Concerned Citizens recently began a petition drive opposing a prison or detention center in the city, and members said they’ve collected about 1,000 signatures so far.
Maggio said he believes the location on 49th Avenue, which is adjacent to a city park and in close proximity to a nursing home and a residential area, is not a good place for that development.
However, he said residents told him that some of the people seeking signatures on the petition were claiming there were secret Board of Zoning Appeals and plan commission meetings. Maggio said no such meetings took place.
“I also feel apologies are in order for the lies being spread about the mayor and council, and they should come from the leader of the group,” Maggio said.
Sandy O’Brien, a member of the group, said Concerned Citizens never have said there were secret meetings.
Councilman Pete Mendez, D-2nd, said Saturday he’d just heard about the letter from someone other than the mayor. He said GEO still could petition the city for a rezone.
“If anyone from GEO comes to the city I will hear them and I will do what is best for my constituents,” Mendez said.