Hogansville grants special use permit for group home

Published 6:54 pm Tuesday, February 19, 2019

HOGANSVILLE – Before a standing-room-only crowd and after approximately an hour of discussion, the Hogansville City Council voted 3-1 Monday to grant, with stipulations, a special use permit to Jimmy McCamey and Family Life Center, Inc. for the purposes of creating a group home and private school named West Side School within the Hogansville city limits.

McCamey first approached the city council during a public hearing on Feb. 4, stating his desire to open a group home and private school at 301 Pine St. in Hogansville. Per McCamey’s application for the special use permit, the group home would operate as a 24-hour group home and private school facility for boys ranging in age from 12-17, with up to 25 tenants at any given time. Children would be placed in the group home/school from across 10 counties, placed there through the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS or DFACS). With the approval from the city council, now Family Life Center, Inc. must seek approval at the state level to operate in Hogansville.

“What we’re here for tonight is to request a special use permit,” McCamey said at the beginning of the meeting. “That will allow us to move forward to get all the other state requirements in place. Our goal is to gain access to the special use permit, then we’ll have to jump through about seven more hoops with the state department to even operate. That’s a process that could take another year.”

The Hogansville Planning & Zoning Commission recommended the city council approve the special use permit by a vote of 4-0 with one abstention on Jan. 10. However, concerns were raised from the Troup County School System and the Hogansville Police Department, both of which sent memos to the city that were included in the council agenda for the evening.

The memo sent by the Hogansville Police Department, and signed by Chief Brian Harr, noted historical information as well as future concerns. Per the memo, McCamey operated the Dream House group home in Hogansville from January 2012 to September 2014, during which time 22 incidents were reported to the HPD from the group home. Those incidents included six assault/battery cases, one aggravated assault case, two terroristic threats, two theft cases and four unruly juvenile cases.

In September of 2014, a staff member was arrested and charged with terroristic threats and battery on a juvenile, and the home was subsequently shut down.

The concerns listed in the HPD’s memo included the private school’s close proximity to a child care facility, code compliance concerns as well as concerns related to the reporting of future incidents to the police department.

The memo was not discussed during Monday night’s meeting, but can be found online at the City of Hogansville’s website.

McCamey, who currently operates a residential treatment program in Talbotton, Georgia under the Family Life Center, Inc. umbrella, came to the meeting equipped with support letters from the mayor of Talbotton, Tony Lamar, as well as the Talbotton Chief of Police, Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of the Talbot County Board of Education, the Talbot County Sheriff and principal of LaGrange-based Unity Preparatory Academy.

“I got these letters last Friday. I didn’t read them until I got home,” McCamey said. “I got a chance to read these letters, they brought me to tears. I did not realize the impact that we’ve had in Talbotton.”

The memo that was submitted on behalf of the Troup County School System, and signed by interim Superintendent Roy Nichols, expressed concerns over the accreditation process of the private school, and the fallout if the school does not receive accreditation.

“My experience with accrediting agencies is that a school must be in existence for five years before they will be considered for accreditation,” Nichols wrote in the memo. “If DFACS will only send children to accredited schools and it takes five years before you are accredited, where do those kids go to school during the first five years?”

When Hogansville Mayor Bill Stankiewicz asked if the process would take as long as Nichols’ suggested to gain accreditation, McCamey said that claim was incorrect.

“That’s not accurate, according to the state guidelines that I’m looking at,” McCamey said. “According to my consultant, after we admit our first child, we can be accredited. What he [Nichols] could be referring to is SACS Accreditation, which is a whole different accreditation.”

Nichols confirmed on Tuesday the accreditation process he was referring to in the letter was AdvancEd, an accreditation organization formed in 2006 when multiple accreditation agencies, including SACS, merged. McCamey’s organization is currently seeking accreditation from the Georgia Accrediting Commission. Per the GAC website, Unity Preparatory Academy in LaGrange is a GAC-accredited school.

Nichols’ letter went on to state it would be “problematic” for the Troup County School System, specifically for Callaway Middle and High Schools, if the responsibility for educating these children fell to the public school system, and that “such an influx of troubled youth into the two schools surely will overtax the resources we have available.”

“I understand the school system not wanting to be taxed with a lot of children that they have to deal with,” McCamey said Monday. “Our goal is to have a private school in our location. We would not want to overwhelm the school system. I think we all know we have a lot of challenges here in Troup County. We’re almost dead last in everything in terms of academic achievement for middle schools and elementary schools.”

After additional discussion amongst McCamey, the mayor and the city council, Councilman Reginald Jackson put forth a motion to approve the special use permit request with a one-year renewal stipulation, meaning McCamey must come back before the city council in one year’s time to ensure the organization is abiding by all City of Hogansville ordinances and code stipulations, allowing the council to view the progress of the project at that time and make adjustments to the special use permit as needed. The motion passed 3-1, with Jackson, Theresa Strickland and Marichal Price voting in favor and Fred Higgins voting against. Councilman George Bailey was not in attendance.

Now that the city has approved the special use permit, McCamey and Family Life Center, Inc. will be required to go to the state level, seeking necessary licensing and approval from the state prior to opening.