Talk of tackling problems in Micha Way begins to take shape
By Kathryn Purcell
When property owners, managers and residents of Micha Way properties met with representatives of the City of Madison as well as city and county law enforcement Wednesday, they were given a small bit of hope.
And it came in the form of John Lowe.
Lowe explained that when he purchased Madison Woods, a manufactured home community on Pine Tree Circle in Madison, it was riddled with potentially criminal activity, from suspected drug dealing through the early hours of the morning to large crowds of 50 to 75 people loitering in the street.
“They were very comfortable there doing whatever they felt like doing,” Lowe said. “It was our job to make them feel uncomfortable…My daughter and I basically went out and confronted them in the most non-confrontational way possible. We asked them to leave face-to-face, nose-to-nose, then we backed off and let them slowly disperse.”
Lowe’s greatest weapons became his cell phone and a camera, which he used to take pictures of those who continually loitered. Additionally, because the road into Madison Woods is private, Lowe was able to put up a security booth to record who went in and came of the facility.
Lowe also became very picky not only about who came and left Madison Woods, but also who resided in the community.
“Basically, anyone who didn’t learn what they were supposed to learn in Kindergarten, they weren’t invited,” Lowe said. “We didn’t tolerate anybody who caused problems.”
Tearing down manufactured homes that were falling apart, maintaining a fence and keeping a manager on-site also made a difference.
While business took a hit the first year, it has picked up since. Lowe is still very particular about who he allows to reside in Madison Woods, however.
“If anyone who lives in the park does anything and ‘Madison Woods’ hits the paper, they’re gone,” Lowe said.
Lowe credits part of his success to the Madison Police Department and the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department, especially as he was once in a similar situation to what those residents concerned about their Micha Way neighborhood face each day.
“When we first came, we called the police three, four, five times a day or night,” Lowe said. “At first, we weren’t getting a big response. I went in and talked to the police chief and Sheriff Markley, and they got behind us 100 percent. When the residents figured out they would actually come, they thought we were with the CIA or something.”
Madison Square Manager Bobbi Randall agreed with Lowe, stating that local law enforcement made a positive impact in the neighborhood as of late.
“I just want to thank the police and the sheriff’s office for the work they did for us last week,” Randall said. “Please keep it up. They really got some things taken care of last week.”
Since the last meeting of the same group two weeks ago, there have been two road checks in the Micha Way area and an increased foot patrol several times a day, according to Madison Police Chief Travis Stapp. An arrest was also made this weekend.
Property owners and managers also discussed some problem residents, and non-residents, that they suspect of criminal activity, specifically criminal trespassing, as well as some evictions they’ve made to rid this problem.
“We’re evicting someone that pays rent because we’re trying to get rid of the problem,” Mindy Burns, of Madison Duplexes, said.
Discussion also centered around suspected drug dealing going on at Micha Way. Rick Burns, owner of Madison Duplexes, stated that he spoke to a representative of the sheriff’s office twice within six months, and that he’d yet to see something being done.
“People bring us information and we take that information and we try to work with it in some form or fashion,” Sheriff Robert Markley explained. “It doesn’t always turn into an arrest. It’s a piece of a puzzle…You’re not taking into consideration the wheels of justice don’t turn fast.”
“Sounds like they’re smarter than the police,” Rick Burns said.
Property owners and managers agree that the problem, for the most part, isn’t the residents, but those that find their way on to the property, whether they’re associated with residents or not.
“Really it’s not our tenants that are a problem; it’s the people coming in to the property,” Mindy Burns said. “If we could lock the doors and only let our tenants in, we’d be fine.”
In fact, property owners, managers and some residents expressed concern that they have been threatened at their homes and at their jobs.
“I was told if I didn’t simmer down there on my side, there was going to be a drive-by shooting,” Rick Burns said.
“I’ve been threatened five times,” Randall said.
Residents present at the meeting attested to cleaning up items like alcoholic beverage containers from a party in the middle of the day, and fearing for the lives of children playing in the street.
“Tenants say to me, ‘Our children are not lost kids, they just don’t have anywhere to go but to play in the streets,’” Mindy Burns said.
Part of this discussion, Rick Burns repeated a request to Nunn for speed bumps on the public road, used by residents and non-residents alike, that runs through Madison Square and his facility. Nunn stated that the way the road is constructed, with 90-degree curves, doesn’t typically require speed bumps.
Markley asked if there was a way the road could be made private, so that a security gate could be constructed in an effort to control who comes in and out of the complexes.
Property managers objected, concerned with the cost of maintenance. Nunn objected, stating that a measure like that would be one of the last things done to cede control of the neighborhoods.
However, the road leading into Orchard Grove is, in fact, private and a security gate could be built there, should the property owner so choose.
Lori Palma, regional property supervisor with Mercy Housing, of which Orchard Grove is a part, was skeptical of the idea, she said in a later interview, not sure that a gate would make a difference.
Representatives of both the Madison Police Department and the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office assured all present at the meeting that more was being done in the way of policing Micha Way, but couldn’t disclose everything to them publicly.
“I’ve learned you have to trust in law enforcement that things are being done behind the scenes,” Nunn said.
A more visible measure of taking back the neighborhood, Sgt. Mark Williams of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office gave a presentation about the Neighborhood Watch program.
Bill Doyle, owner of Madison Square, expressed concern about the potential repercussions for individual residents who chose to participate in Neighborhood Watch.
“They put out neighborhood contracts,” Doyle said, of those who don’t belong in the Micha Way communities. “They threaten bodily harm and otherwise if you try to do anything…Once they feel you’re on to them, word gets out and it’s not worth it.”
Doyle stated that there was a wealth of information about suspicious people and suspicious activity in the neighborhoods, but that residents were afraid to bring it forward.
“If we bring the level of security up, start giving them ownership in the property, they’re more willing to fight for their community,” Markley responded. “We got to get that security level up to them to where they take an interest in their own community and do what they have to do.”
Williams urged property owners to gather residents and divide them into blocks, each with a block captain. The block captain is to be responsible for maintaining a list for each household on their block to include items like contact information, number and ages of children and information about the number and kinds of vehicles in the driveway, among other things. From this list, neighbors will be able to determine what’s normal from what’s suspicious for the neighborhood.
“You’ve got a better idea of what your neighborhood make-up is; you’ve got a better idea of who belongs,” Williams said.
Markley also promised a representative of law enforcement, whether from the City of Madison or from Morgan County, would attend initial Neighborhood Watch meetings, in an effort to instruct residents and get the program off the ground.
Also part of these meetings, the law enforcement representative is to teach residents what information police need in order to do their job.
“The purpose of Neighborhood Watch for the people who want to have a nicer place to stay, for the people who want to feel safer, is that people stand together and they are the eyes of law enforcement,” Williams said. “What we want them to do is know what information we need [when they call] so that we can better do our job.”
Additionally, a City of Madison police officer, Corporal Elder, has specifically been assigned the area. He will function as a staple of law enforcement within Micha Way, where residents can bring information on suspicious people and activities.
Markley assured those property owners and managers and residents of Micha Way that law enforcement would do all it could to better the situation, but that it would up to those residing in the neighborhoods to continue what law enforcement began.
“We’re trying to fix some of these problems,” Markley said. “We’re going to do a portion here and then it’s going to be up to you the rest of the way…We can only get you to a certain point, then it’s going to be absolutely imperative that you take it the rest of the way and, once it gets there, not to let it go in any direction again.”
Property owners and managers are pensive, but hopeful.
“From my perspective, if they [the residents] see one little glimmer of positive out of it, they’ll keep it up,” Doyle said.