There are now two Hope Mills media resources residents can depend on for accurate and dependable Hope Mills news. And both are free and accessible to everyone. They are Up & Coming Weekly and the blog HopeMills.net, which is hosted by Elizabeth Blevins. Below is a sample of Blevins’ journalistic talent and unrelenting resolve for seeking out the facts. We welcome Blevins as a journalist and media partner ready, willing and able to serve the residents of Hope Mills.
Stay informed. Sign up today at www.upandcomingweekly.com and HopeMills.net.
– Bill Bowman
Interview with Terry Jung, executive director, Lone Survivor Foundation
In March of 1865, Gen. Sherman stormed through our small town, burning the mills around which we’d built a community. His intention was to bring absolute destruction to the South, to ensure future generations felt his wrath. He succeeded. It would be the last time the town of Hope Mills knew real industry. More than 150 years later, our town center is a disorganized mix of pawn shops and nail salons anchored around a long line of fast food joints, regrettably known as “Hamburger Hill.” We’re a bedroom community. The residents of Hope Mills choose it for its proximity to Fayetteville and Fort Bragg.
Despite that, Terry Jung, executive director of Lone Survivor Foundation, chose us. He chose a forgotten piece of swampy land as the future home of a Lone Survivor Foundation facility. And, ironically, the very fact that we’d neglected it for 50 years is what made it so appealing. It’s secluded, tranquil and the perfect retreat for soldiers suffering from PTSD.
I spoke with Jung about his search for the perfect piece of land and ongoing battle to buy the property.
More than a year ago, Jung began his search. He was diligent, looking at more than 50 properties in Cumberland County before a series of introductions led him to the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Center.
The FCCEDC staff, which includes Hope Mills’ Mayor Warner’s son, Teddy Warner, were instrumental in pairing Jung with the property in Hope Mills. Several commissioners have accused Mayor Warner of collusion, implying that she and her son somehow manipulated the process in which Jung brought his proposal to the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners.
But Jung disagrees, “I’m confident they’re wrong because we’ve dealt with two other cities in the Cumberland County area – Godwin and Fayetteville – and that’s exactly the procedure we have followed (each time).”
On June 4, Jung and members of the FCCEDC presented the board with their proposal in a closed session. By all accounts, most of the board was receptive of the idea. “Pat Edwards, Jessie Bellflowers and Meg Larson all expressed very positive thoughts to us. All three of them, when the meeting was over, said to either Tim (Byrom, LSF president) or me directly, ‘We’re gonna get this done.’”
But Commissioner Mitchell was hesitant. After quizzing Teddy Warner about the tax value of the land – which has never been assessed – and without conferring with the other board members, Mitchell quoted a price for 60+/- acres that was much higher than market value. This is interesting in that Mitchell has steadfastly maintained the land was not for sale. Jung, who was never interested in buying the entire parcel, was bewildered by Mitchell’s behavior.
“I didn’t know any of the history of Mitchell and Warner; I didn’t know anything about him being beaten twice in a mayoral election. I quickly sensed something
During the initial meeting, no one discussed the 2030 Southwest Cumberland County Land Use Plan or the McAdams Group Parks & Recreation survey. In fact, we know now that the land in question wasn’t initially included in the McAdams survey. It was included July 31, when commissioners Mitchell and Larson reached out to the McAdams Group and asked that it be added. There was no discussion of the 1999 and 2014 PWC surveys at this time.
According to Jung, no one mentioned that the land wasn’t technically for sale. In fact, not only did Mitchell suggest a selling price, but the other commissioners all requested Jung make an official offer as a jumping off point for negotiations.
And no one seemed at all concerned about the way in which the presentation had come to the town. No one suggested a conflict of interest or collusion. They were all, except Mitchell, in favor of the project and incredibly excited to move forward.
“We left the meeting feeling like this was a done deal … the majority, three out of five commissioners, said we were gonna get this done.” Jung wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
The morning of July 18, Jung received a call from the Hope Mills attorney informing him the board had rejected his offer and wasn’t interested in any further offers. He and other supporters of LSF had also been removed from the agenda of the next board meeting. Undeterred, Jung made the pilgrimage back to Hope Mills (from Houston, Texas), and addressed the board – not once, but twice.
“I don’t want to be in the middle of all of these politics – I’m just trying to look out for what I believe is the best for the veterans, and you’ve got a community that is very veteran-centric that seems adamant they want this,” Jung said.
Jung credits the Hope Mills community, which has been overwhelmingly supportive, with bolstering his resolve to fight on. But he also admits to being frustrated with the antics of the board and the time wasted. “We’re willing to fight some more, but there’s going to come a point where it’s not to the benefit of the soldiers anymore,” he said.
Jung won’t give an exact timeline, but when 22 veterans commit suicide every day, every day spent waiting is a tragic waste of life.
Crystal Beach, Texas, the home of LSF’s first facility, is thriving. After being devastated by Hurricane Ike, which destroyed 7,000 homes, the town had no economy to speak of. When LSF chose the community to operate out of, it gave confidence to residents who’d lost their homes and they began to rebuild. Today, more than 5,000 new homes have been added, and affiliates of LSF have purchased 52 acres of land for hosting largescale events. Each spring, the LSF affiliates host a Memorial Day Concert that brings more than 5000 people into the community. They’ve also hosted Jeep and motorcycle rallies. The town’s economy is rebounding … LSF and the town’s reputations are growing.
The media blitz surrounding the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners has helped spread the word to neighboring communities, which have adopted a “your loss is our gain” mentality, and LSF is fielding offers from towns more than willing to support the organization. We can only assume they recognize the prestige associated with hosting a nationally recognized nonprofit organization.
But do the commissioners of Hope Mills recognize the devastating effects of rejecting a nationally known nonprofit organization? Jung was hesitant to divulge details, but he indicated the story of Hope Mills and our squabbling board is spreading outside of this community. Other organizations and businesses are taking note of the trouble LSF has dealt with these last two months. We can’t expect them to ignore our bad decisions. We’re standing on the wrong side of history and the nation is watching.
There will be a rally in support of LSF at Grace Place Christian Church, 3748 S. Main St., Hope Mills, Aug. 16, at 6 p.m. The purpose of the rally is to measure public support for the LSF and discuss the next course of action. The public is invited to attend.