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Councilors ask city to review handling of Greenmont area homeless camp


Morgantown City Council member Zack Cruze said he believes a homeless camp placed on a Greenmont property with the landowner’s permission is being harassed by the city.

Cruze was joined by other members of council in asking city administration to report on how code enforcement and law enforcement are handling the situation.

He explained that the camp is not visible from any city street and is being kept clean. He provided photos to council, and said the reality of the situation doesn’t match some of the discourse taking place on social media and in emails to council members.

“It has been so overwhelming, with the number of times code  enforcement has been down there, and the number of times the reason for code enforcement being there has changed … I would like to see the city address code enforcement, because it’s looking to me like harassment,” Cruze said.

A number of public speakers addressed the issue during council’s committee of the whole session, including Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, and  Dani Ludwig, a peer recovery coach with Milan Puskar Health Right.

Ludwig joined the remote meeting from the camp. She was joined by four of the 12-15 folks living at the site.

“These are people. They have permission to be here. The landowner has gotten 12 phone calls in one week from code enforcement, the police department and the health department. He’s gotten no written notice, no certified letters, nothing. That’s harassment,” Ludwig said. “We are in a pandemic … I’m disgusted to say I’m a member of Morgantown, and this is my home. How sad.”

Nichole Rose is staying at the camp. She said some of the comments being made in public and on social media have many at the camp feeling unsafe.

“We experience enough when we go out, just wearing a backpack and being homeless … We’re trying so hard to make the best of a situation we never thought we’d be in,” she said. “There are people of all kinds out here … We are somebody. We are somebody. We’re your daughters, your sons, your moms and your dads. Whenever you think about the homeless, just look in the mirror.”

Ludwig said the camp, which has been in place for about two weeks, has a portable restroom facility and will soon have gravel in high-traffic areas.

In other news from Tuesday’s meeting, extending the length of city council terms will once again receive consideration.

As it did in early 2018, council will look at whether the current setup outlined in the city’s charter — all seven seats up for reelection every other year — is still effective.

City Attorney Ryan Simonton provided council a list of options, including staggered, four-year terms and three-year terms combined with annual elections on a 3, 2, 2 rotation.

There seems to be consensus among council — as well as the city manager recruitment firms it just interviewed and recently departed City Manager Paul Brake — that two-year terms introduce too much uncertainty.

Where there is less agreement is on the question of whether the city should continue to hold its elections independently, in April of odd-numbered years, or combine with the county, state and federal elections in November of even-numbered years.

This was ultimately the issue that bogged down the 2018 effort.

If council were to opt to move forward with changing the city’s charter, it would need to go before the city’s voters either during the next regular city election or in a special election, which could be held during the November general election with permission from the Monongalia County Clerk’s office.

According to information provided by Simonton, Beckley, Bluefield, Bridgeport, Charleston, Clarksburg, Fairmont, Huntington, Martinsburg, Parkersburg and Wheeling all have four-year terms — some staggered, some concurrent.

The various options for both council term lengths and election dates will posted to the city’s website in the coming days.

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