Editor’s Note: This editorial appears in the December 2022 edition of The Rant Monthly.
We’re not against the idea of a “dream center.” There are hundreds of them in the United States — the first and largest in Los Angeles, its mission to fight homelessness, hunger and lack of education through various outreach programs. The one in Raleigh provides outreach to the homeless, as well as abused and impoverished young people and families. The connecting thread is that they’re run by faith-based nonprofit organizations.
We bring this up because of the recent vote by the Lee County Board of Commissioners to award a three-year, $500,000 grant to the Life Springs Action Team (born just months ago as a ministry of Life Springs Church in Sanford). The grant will go toward Life Springs’ Dream Center, which according to its website seeks to prevent human trafficking, provide education and therapeutic activities, and build a better community through outreach programs.
The funding will also go toward an ambitious $800,000 building (more on that below).
We’re not coming out against the Dream Center idea. Sanford is home to several outstanding outreach programs, and there’s always room for more.
Our concern is with the perceived “behind closed doors” way this half-a-million-dollar grant was introduced, called to vote and passed with little discussion and zero public input, outside of the input from the Life Springs congregation, who helped pack the commission chambers in support of the grant’s passage on the night of the vote.
In that meeting, Lee County Manager John Crumpton presented the grant proposal as a “new business” item and urged the commissioners to take their time in considering the plan before making a three-year commitment. Crumpton’s “think it over” request was brushed aside by Arianna Lavallee, who in her final meeting as a commissioner requested a vote without further study, despite objections by multiple commissioners.
The vote eventually passed, 6-1, with Robert Reives the lone objector.
“There has been no discussion so far about how this is all going to work,” he said before the vote. The problem is — there was discussion. Only Reives apparently wasn’t part of it.
In a recorded Life Springs Church sermon a week prior to the vote, Pastor Dale Sauls urged his congregation to attend the meeting on the night of the vote, saying, “We’ve been invited to petition the county commissioners … and they seem to be leaning in.”
Sauls, with 30 years of experience as a pastor with Life Springs (formerly San Lee Chapel), has a well-documented history of community outreach in Sanford, and some of the programs associated with the Dream Center plan have already been implemented in the last few years. But Sauls and outgoing Commissioner Lavallee (whom he campaigned for in 2018) played the game masterfully in her final act as a commissioner.
Sauls was also front and center months prior at Sanford City Council meetings in September as Councilman Charles Taylor led an effort to remove a 30-year-old ordinance prohibiting churches within nine blocks of downtown Sanford.
Taylor said he “didn’t want Sanford to be open for business but be closed for God.” Sauls stated publicly that he sought legal counsel and suggested following through with a lawsuit had the ordinance remained. It didn’t — the council struck down the ordinance with a unanimous vote.
Which brings us back to the Dream Center — in its proposed budget to the commissioners presented in the agenda before the vote, Life Springs reveals its hope to build the center in downtown Sanford. That’s an important detail that was never brought up publicly during the discussions regarding the ordinance. The September vote now clears the way.
Even if this is a well-intended program that could help a lot of people, it’s being pushed through in a not-so-above-the-board way. The efforts to remove an ordinance had a singular endgame — charges that Sanford was “attempting to kick God out of the city’s center” were just good marketing.
It makes it hard to support something like that.
Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested the $500,000 is taxpayer funded — the funds are through the county’s American Recovery Plan COVID-related allocation.
Of Course Charles Taylor was involved. Mr. Roundabout himself.
We need transparency on this.
Some discussion is needed.
$500,000 spending needs explanation
This is grant money not tax payer money!
You are correct. We have made a correction. The funds are granted through COVID-related American Recovery Plan funding.
How is Federal dollars in the form of a grant not tax payer dollars?
So much blatant corruption.
You make like Dale Sauls push this though but that is not the case . People at life springs are donating their time to make Sanford a better place to live and people have a chance to get back on their feet.We needed to put the politics out of the way and let the people help all they can.
This isn’t about politics. Remember the old saying the “The end doesn’t justify the means”. The Commissioners are elected to represent the people of Lee County. Before they grant a half million dollars to an organization most of the citizens of Lee County as well as at least 3 of the Commissioners know very little about why not take a breath and give some time for the public and the Commissioners to learn about what they plan to do? I personally would like to know who is going to head up this organization. I heard it was an Owens man. What training does he have? How long has the organization been in existence? What, if any, liability does this organization have if someone decides to sue? What does the organizations books look like? Does the organization expect to continue to receive public funds? What is the benchmark for measuring success? Do the other Dream Centers receive tax/grant money? I can go on. Lastly, it bugs me that I heard at least one of the Commissioners is a member of Life Springs. To me, anyone affiliated with this organization on the Commission should recuse themselves from voting.
Something is fishy about this whole thing.
I completely agree. It seems to be a great program but it was definitely pushed through at break neck speed without any input from taxpayers.
It’s not tax payer money!!
Where is the money coming from then? Private donations?
Please God do you not realize any money the government has is tax payers money. Grants are no exception
WRONG! COVID RELIEF MONEY PAID FOR BY YOUR TAX DOLLARS!
I agree with The Rant, too fast and not enough scrutiny. Aaaand again COVID relief money going towards something that is not COVID related. So much money has been spent and none of it to recuperate COVID losses or to implement systems to deal with any future pandemic related issues… huge missed opportunities for the Commissioners and the County.
Dale, it’s money to relive the *fallout* from Covid. The money doesn’t have to go to anything Covid-related.
When I get a phone call that is spoofed (displaying a neighbor’s phone number in caller ID) I would not buy anything they are selling even though their product may be fine. If you market something in a “dark” way there must be more to your product than meets the eye. I suggest a “time out” to further discuss the proposal.
Covid-relief money should be used for Covid relief only. That’s what it was allocated for, that’s what it should be used for. While a center like this may be good for the community, and will benefit those who need it, using Covid money to fund it is immoral and just wrong. You want a center like this, ask for private donations, have fund raisers, or petition a business to sponsor the center. You do not use money set aside for one thing, and then use it for something completely unrelated to what it was allocated for.
You’re just wrong. This pot of money is set aside to help communities recover from all the many horrible things Covid caused or helped cause. Communities have been given wide latitude to define what that is.
No Jay, you are wrong. This money was appropriated to be used to help treat and defend against Covid. Not the fallout associated from it. BIG DIFFERENCE. And communities do not have the right to decide what is and what is not Covid related
And teens were part of the fall out of COVID. They were isolated for so long and many suffered mentally, and the same with adults. Sanford needs a safe place for teens. It may prevent many from taking the wrong path.
I’m curious to know about Covid Relief grant expirations. Is this cook it out of one ending at the end of the year? That would explain some of the rush, although not why it wasn’t taken up before now.
This is a lot of money going to one place, maybe not give them so much & divide it among other places in Lee county that need help also
The Republican commissioners passed a policy capping how much they can give to local non profits at 50K a few months ago. For some reason they say this is different because it is ARP money. It is ALL our tax dollars. Lots of well established non profits in Lee County and this one, who just filed the paperwork to be a nonprofit in July, gets 500K. Elections matter. I have never seen the commission give this much money to anyone without some vetting. This is a big deal but for some reason they could not give them time to digest the data given to them and ask for more data if they wanted it. They knew that had the votes a head of time. Regardless of who the non profit is, this is just bad business.
Thank you Just Sayin, this was helpful information.