WM mayor ‘pleasantly surprised’ by old hospital’s neighbors’ response to ACC plan

Quorum Court meets on women’s rehab center proposal tomorrow

By John Rech news@theeveningtimes.com

The Arkansas Department of Community Corrections (ACC) have made two identical presentations in West Memphis regarding their proposal to move the women’s treatment center from Pine Bluff to the former Crittenden Regional Hospital building. Doctors and neighborhood businessmen heard the same presentation Feb. 16 at the Chamber of Commerce conference room. The second meeting, attended by the community at large, was held on Feb. 29. West Memphis Mayor Bill Johnson attended both meetings. Johnson said he observed a positive response from stakeholders at the earlier meeting. “The meeting was with business owners and medical people that are invested near the hospital,” said Johnson of the first meeting. “I was pleasantly surprised with the response from the medical people, that they were as positive as they were.” Johnson said he didn’t call the meeting but had been invited to the presentation and attended, along with about 25 other people. “We had wondered how they would feel about it, being that they have high-priced investments in the area — nice buildings in a nice community,” said Johnson. “But they were cautiously supportive. I didn’t sense any real negative at all. I think we were all skeptical coming into the meeting. They made a good presentation.” During the question-and-comment period in the at the second meeting, a more vociferous negativity, about the city of West Memphis in general and the ACC proposal to lease the hospital in particular, didn’t go unnoticed by the mayor. “I don’t know how this is going to come out,” said Johnson. “There appears to be quite a bit of opposition in the community. It is not the city’s responsibility. The Quorum Court and our County Judge will have to make the decision. I have an opinion because there is a large building in the middle of our city sitting vacant.” Some outcry was also heard at the second meeting about the wisdom of having supervised work teams out on the street. Some were concerned with the safety. West Memphis has some experience with this already. According to the mayor, men in the same ACC program from the treatment center in Osceola have helped the city before. “They are the ones that cleaned the ditches for us,” said Johnson. “They had a guard with them while they were here, who rode a horse. They did a great job cleaning up the main bayou. I’d like to have them back sometime. We only had to feed them lunch everyday — that was our cost. There were no security problems at all.” Johnson emphasized the lease arrangement is “in the county’s hands,” and appraised the ACC’s presentations. “I thought they did an excellent job,” said Johnson. “I feel they alleviated some of the fears. I felt pretty good about it and the response from the doctors. I’d love to see a good rehabilitation center here. It is needed.” The Crittenden County Quorum Court is expected to address the proposal tomorrow morning at its regular meeting at 9 a.m. The meeting is open to the public.

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