Fight against possible detention facility heats up again in Hobart
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent April 22, 2014 8:04PM
Protected by plywood sheets, the former St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Hobart has been purchased by GEO Group. | Karen Caffarini~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 24, 2014 6:11AM
HOBART — Mayor Brian Snedecor may have withdrawn his support of The GEO Group’s plans to build an immigrant detention center in the city, but the company hasn’t given up on Hobart nor has its opponents given up efforts to derail the facility.
“We’re not stopping. We’ll absolutely continue with petitions and people need to keep their (No Hobart Prison) signs up,” said Sandy O’Brien, one of several members of the Concerned Citizens of Hobart group who attended Wednesday night’s City Council meeting.
The Concerned Citizens of Hobart was formed in opposition to the possible for-profit detention center and has been meeting every Sunday.
O’Brien told Snedecor she appreciated his letter. After the council meeting she said GEO is just beginning to do public relations for the project and is planning to come to Hobart in May. She said she was asked to meet with GEO then as a member of the Friends of Robinson Lake.
“It’s a good thing we got a head-start,” she said.
GEO spokesman Pablo Paez said in a recent email that GEO’s outreach efforts reflect the federal procurement process. He said the company looks forward to communicating with Hobart residents as part of that process.
“We still believe there is a great opportunity to promote economic development and create high-paying jobs in Hobart for the same reasons that attracted us to the region in the first place,” he said.
Darlene Vassil, another member of the Concerned Citizens of Hobart, said she’ll keep coming to the City Council meetings. Vassil defended the mayor at one of the early Concerned Citizens meetings, saying he’s listened to the community before and she thought he would do so again.
“I’m so glad I stood up for the mayor back then,” she said, pleased with the stance he has taken.
Snedecor sent a letter to The Boca Raton, Fla.-based GEO Group on April 8 informing the company that he would no longer advocate for the project, and would in fact, oppose it.
He said he lost confidence in GEO because it made no meaningful attempt to deal with the public criticism of the company and its proposal and had yet to file any petition for rezone or other actions needed to move ahead with the project.
“The company will be treated fairly by the city, like any other applicant. I took that stand as mayor. The various city boards will vet the proposal according to their responsibilities,” the mayor said Wednesday. “But I will not advocate on (GEO’s) behalf.
When asked if he’d received any communications from GEO since his letter, the mayor said he had one letter from their attorney. He didn’t elaborate.
Councilman Dave Vinzant, D-4th, said the city needs to continue to be business-friendly, given these economic times.
“When people are willing to come to town to start or expand their business, the city needs to be pro-active,” Vinzant said.