The Greenlee County Substance Abuse Coalition withdrew their application to temporarily lease a town of Clifton-owned building on Chase Creek after public furor erupted at the Clifton town council meeting Thursday.
The coalition had hoped to lease the building for use as an office.
Theresa Greenwell, the owner of The Headframe Apothecary and the Chase Creek Boarding House, said that with the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on businesses, combined with the ongoing construction on Chase Creek, the addition of the substance abuse coalition’s office would be “the nail in my coffin” and cause her to close her business.
She’s worked hard over the years to remove drug paraphernalia from Chase Creek and “get that element out,” Greenwell said.
“That building will be used for office work,” said Hannah Landers, the executive director of the coalition. “Our goal as a coalition is to be the voice for everyone in the community.”
Landers explained the coalition works to prevent youth substance abuse by educating kids, mainly from the ages of 12-17, about the dangers of substance abuse and promoting resilience and autonomous thinking. The coalition also organizes community events and activities around those themes.
One of those activities, Landers said, is helping kids in Blue carve pumpkins.
Starting next month, the coalition will speak to freshman students at Morenci High School in their health class. Landers said they’re hoping to start working in Duncan Unified School District soon, too.
The coalition also received a grant to provide school staff and community members with naloxone, a nasal spray that rapidly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
Landers said she currently works from her home and drives from Morenci and Duncan often to meet with school officials about the coalition’s work.
The building, Landers said, would serve as an office for her, the only full-time employee of the coalition and the coalition’s three part-time employees. It would have also served as a meeting space for the coalition’s monthly member meetings.
Currently, the coalition rotates meeting locations each month in either Morenci or Duncan’s schools’ library. Not only is jumping between towns confusing to community members, Landers said, but Duncan residents often don’t want to or can’t go to meetings in Morenci and Morenci residents often don’t want to or can’t make it to meetings in Duncan.
Clifton, Landers said, was “neutral” ground between Duncan and Morenci.
“This is not a rehab center, in fact, it consists of one person,” said Mayor Luis Montoya about the coalition’s planned office space. “It’s a place with an administrative office where the director is hoping to put a phone and a place to work.”
Montoya is a member of the coalition.
“I don’t think we’re opposed to helping the community, we’re just opposed to it being on Chase Creek,” said Clifton resident Monica Miller.
Councilmember Karen Crump-Frye questioned why the proposed lease agreement would have been ‘in-kind,’ meaning the coalition wouldn’t have been asked to pay rent, just to cover the building’s utilities. Crump-Frye said lots of business owners would love to have a similar deal with the town.
Montoya said the town had also given an in-kind lease agreement to both the Art Depot and the food bank in town because both are nonprofits that provide services to the community.
The lease agreement with the town stipulated the coalition would only be allowed to lease the building on a month-to-month basis for up to three months while the town looked to lease the building to a business on a long- term basis, said Town Manager Rudy Perez.
Before the council could vote on approving the lease, Landers withdrew the coalition’s request.
“If this is the attitude of the community, I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the community to accept this if the community doesn’t want us here,” Landers said.
Although she didn’t expect the coalition to be met with such “vehemence,” she has no hard feelings for the people who spoke against the lease, Landers said Friday.
“We need to be better about civic engagement,” Landers said. “I can’t blame anybody for not knowing who we are if we haven’t done a good job in telling them who we are.”
Landers said she’ll continue to talk to people in the community and go to town council meetings to get to know community members and talk to them about the work the coalition is doing and the work they want to do in the future.
“I think it would be nice to have a place for people to come,” Landers said.
It would not only be a place for the coalition’s members, which she said include local educators, law enforcement, people in the healthcare field and more, but it could also be a space for young people to come to get flyers, information and resources on emotional problems they might be dealing with and ways to find support to deal with those problems.
“Our goal is supporting the youth. It would be great if they had a place to come if they need to,” Landers said.
The coalition will still move forward and attempt to find another office space, preferably in Clifton, Landers said.
“We’re looking forward to building more relationships in the community,” Landers said.