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No one seems to have authority for Twelve Bridges neighbors

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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I understand why several Twelve Bridges residents are mad at City Council. It’s not easy to come home to your neighborhood when you feel it is not safe anymore for your family. Seven Twelve Bridges neighbors, not mincing any words, told city officials at the Oct. 26 City Council meeting that they don’t want a sex offender living nearby in an adult residential facility. About 42 neighbors listened. The Twelve Bridges Elementary School is .2 miles from the home. “Parents want the home out,” said Ray Sanderson this week. “We’re fearful for our kids. With $700,000 homes, we didn’t pay that kind of money to put our kids in harm’s way; it’s to keep our kids out of harm’s way. We worked hard to live in this neighborhood and it’s a slap in our faces.” Crime is rising, the Twelve Bridges parents said at last week’s City Council meeting. “We started noticing break-ins. My son’s motorcycle was stolen. Before that, there wasn’t anything happening here,” Sanderson said. “The Police Department noticed crimes going up here.” There were eight calls for service at the Adult Residential Facility since Sept. 19, according to police. The facility, located at 2058 Letterkenny Lane, is operated by Turning Point Community Programs, which has a regional office in Roseville. Turning Point Community Program operates in six area counties. On Tuesday, CEO John Buck of Turning Point Community Programs said he can’t answer any questions about the Letterkenny facility “because of the HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) Law,” a federal law that protects clients from having their medical and psychiatric records and services shared. The facility’s “clientele will be adult mental health outpatients,” the city of Lincoln’s assistant director of development services George Dellwo said Tuesday. “Certain facilities are not required to be licensed by the state,” Dellwo said. “This one isn’t providing high level of care. These folks are not being provided any medications. They have a counselor come by three times a week.” The facility, not yet licensed by the state, opened in 2008, Dellwo said. The sex offender moved out last Friday, according to Dellwo, three days after the City Council meeting. “I am here to take a neutral stance and apply the law,” Dellwo said. “Two sectors of law are at play here. If it’s an adult residential facility and they stay under six people and it’s licensed, we’re preempted by the state. The other point of law that comes in is a city ordinance that applies to rooming houses, boarding houses and lodges that is defined as a facility that rents out more than three bedrooms. As long as this (Letterkenny) residence is kept to a couple, we don’t have an issue.” If the facility becomes licensed by the state, Dellwo added, more client services could be offered such as dispensing medication and providing counseling. Twelve Bridges residents wanted City Council to act on the agenda item about the facility’s status to ensure their families’ safety. “The City Council meeting was a joke. It was more political nonsense. The council found a way to get an audience for their illegal campaigning right before the election,” Sanderson said. “We were there, hoping the city would enforce CCRs in our neighborhood.” Sanderson was referring to the CCR that says lots shall be restricted to single-family occupancy and no owner shall rent or lease his lot or residence for transient purposes. Mayor Tom Cosgrove told the residents at last week’s meeting that “we don’t have the authority to get rid of the house…” He also said that, “We can’t treat this, according to state law, any different than you treat your home or your neighbor’s home.” Cosgrove and another council member suggested the residents contact state Assemblyman Ted Gaines on the matter because “the state has the ultimate authority on the status of the home,” according to Cosgrove. However, the assemblyman’s spokeswoman Jenna Nielsen said Tuesday that concerned residents should meet with the facility’s company or individual operating the house, and if that isn’t satisfactory, then meet with the Lincoln Police Department. “Nothing on a state level can be done because the facility’s not licensed or certified by the state,” Nielsen said. “There is nothing Ted or any other state official can do. It has to be done at a local level.” Gaines’ staff was familiar with this issue because Cosgrove contacted Gaines’ office prior to the council meeting, according to Nielsen. “Even from the city’s perspective, they’re limited to what they can do. Constitutionally, they can’t discriminate because someone had former substance abuse problems,” Nielsen said. Lincoln Police Lt. Paul Shelgren also said his department is limited in what they can do. “We’re waiting for a decision from the Attorney General’s Office to the challenge on whether sex offenders can live 2,000 feet near a school, church and other places. Right now, there’s not a whole lot we can do to restrict where sex offenders live.” While Shelgren understands why Twelve Bridges residents don’t want the facility in their neighborhood, Shelgren said City Council “did a good job of explaining how we don’t have control over these houses.” “It’s more of a zoning issue, licensing issues with the state. There are a whole lot of things beyond our control. We’re limited as to responding to complaints or calls,” Shelgren said. “It’s a very difficult situation. Just be aware of any issues that occur in the neighborhood, give us a call, we’re investigate and take appropriate action. Just because a transitional house is there is not a crime.” Cosgrove, on Tuesday, said the city is setting up a meeting before next Tuesday’s City Council with the facility’s property owner, Turning Point Center representative and residents. “We have certain limitations,” he said. “We’re hoping the property owner will understand concerns of neighbors and they’ll come to an agreement that’s more compatible with the neighbors. If that special meeting doesn’t work, residents have a chance to meet face-to-face with Gaines at his next mobile office hours in Lincoln this Tuesday. Gaines will talk to any Lincoln resident from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce office on 540 F St. Gaines e-mailed a sympathetic statement Tuesday. “I understand the concerns of the residents in the area,” Gaines wrote,” and I am hopeful that by working with local law enforcement and local officials, any specific concerns can be addressed and mitigated at the local level.” There has to be a solution through one of the governmental bodies.