South Bend’s next mayor will decide how money for anti-violence programs is spent

By Jeff Parrott | South Bend Tribune
Oct 15, 2019

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SOUTH BEND — A crowd of people concerned about gun violence sat through three hours of a South Bend Common Council meeting Monday night before ultimately learning that it will be the city’s next mayor who will decide whether the city funds their efforts.

The council approved Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 budget, the final budget of his eight years in office, which includes $360,000 to be awarded as grants for violence prevention.

Many of the people who came to the council meeting also had attended the Oct. 5 Peacemaker Summit organized by the St. Joseph County chapter of Faith in Indiana.

They left that event feeling like the city was ready to spend public money on Peacemaker Fellowships, a new violence prevention initiative that a growing number of cities are adopting.

“We want, specifically, to see that Peacemaker fellowships are included in the $360,000 Community Initiatives Fund,” the Rev. Gilbert C. Washington, pastor at St. Paul Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, told the council before their vote.

But that didn’t happen. Those supporting Peacemakers will have to compete for the grants with other established programs, such as Mamas Against Violence, because Buttigieg wants the next mayor to decide how the $360,000 will be spent, his controller, Dan Parker, told the council.

At the summit event, attended by more than 500 people, Washington asked Buttigieg if he would commit, by the end of the year, to help the group assemble funding, from the city and private sources, to try a Peacemakers program next year.

“The answer is yes,” Buttigieg said, triggering applause. “As you mentioned, there are details to be worked out. We must do this in a way that is right for us. But Lord willing and Common Council willing, the funding will be there, and I will commit to raising outside funds as well.”

But council member Regina Williams-Preston joined council member Jake Teshka, the council’s lone Republican, in voting against the budget, partly because she said it wasn’t “bold” enough. She said DeVone Boggan, Peacemakers’ Richmond, Calif.-based founder, has said it would cost about $1.5 million over five years, or $300,000 annually, for him to bring the program to South Bend.

“I just thought we could do more to invest in reducing violence by fully funding the Peacemaker Fellowships,” Williams-Preston said afterward. “We sent three council members (to Detroit) to learn about it. They endorsed it. We brought the program founder to town for several days to meet and talk with local leaders about it. We are talking about saving lives. It’s worth it.”

Peacemakers works with community members to identify the people in a community that are most directly involved in gun violence, and help them attain services, education and skills for better opportunities.

The two men running for mayor, Republican Sean Haas and Democrat James Mueller, attended the summit event and pledged there to meet with Peacemakers proponents within 30 days of the election.

Haas, if elected, said he would spend the entire $360,000 on violence prevention programs and he likes what he’s heard about Peacemaker Fellowships but he likely wouldn’t devote $300,000 of the grant money, or 83%, to the concept.

“I think we’d have to look at all the plans they present,” Haas said,”but it is a program worth looking at.”

Mueller included “pursue Peacemaker Fellowships” in his 10-page Reforming Public Safety plan that he released last week, but he said Tuesday that it’s too soon to commit a dollar amount if he’s elected Nov. 5, or even to promise that he’ll support funding for that specific initiative.

“We don’t have the implementation details ready to go on these things,” Mueller said. “Next year’s actually going to have to be some exploring of how that might work. You need to be able to reach these folks that are hard to reach, and you need to figure out how we’re going t

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