Belleville plays hardball

May 8, 2013 

Boy, it looks like Bethany Place has missed its window of opportunity. Executive Director Angela Barnes perhaps wishes she could rewind time to October, when Belleville asked the AIDS service organization to apply for a zoning variance to operate its controversial needle exchange program. Maybe back then the organization could have convinced city leaders that the offshoot program is valuable to the community and obtained the needed permission.

Instead, Bethany Place ignored the city's request and along with it the chance to resolve this amicably. The city took the issue to court and is playing hardball. After the judge ruled that the program violates the city's zoning code, the city asked for fines for each day Bethany Place has been out of compliance. That could mean $1.2 million in fines. Ouch.

Our guess is the city doesn't want the full fine as much as it wants the needle exchange program to cease operations. Bethany Place still could appeal the court ruling, but at this point all the bargaining leverage seems to belong to the city.

Moral of the story: Don't ignore City Hall.

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