Determined manager, residents make a difference at Mountain Shadows

Sean C. Morgan

Editor’s note: This is the third in a three-part series on how Sweet Home neighborhoods that experience high rates of crime and unneighborliness are dealing with the problems.

Of The New Era

When Duane Davis took over as resident manager at Mountain Shadows Trailer Park, he decided some changes were in order.

It took time, but change has happened.

Davis has been manager at Mountain Shadows, which has some 157 families, for 2 1/2 years.

Davis spent 13 years in the military and has had a number of jobs in a variety of industries, including fishing, construction and timber.

“The mill I was working at went down,” he said. “I knew I was going to be without a job.”

He had worked at Mountain Shadows for four years as the on-site maintenance man.

At about the same time, the residents of the park put a petition together requesting a resident manager, he said. “I had zero experience,” he said, but he got the nod.

The park was riddled with problems, many caused by some of the residents themselves.

“I said, ‘I don’t like what I see,'” Davis said. “‘First of all we’re going to get rid of the druggies….’ It was known as Felony Flats. Even today, people come up to me, ‘What are you doing down there?’ Now I’ve got people that (previously) wouldn’t even consider applying coming down here (to rent).”

According to police records, officers responded to Mountain Shadows 361 times in 2005, 362 in 2004 and 305 in 2003. To date in 2006, police have responded to the park 173 times.

While the numbers themselves may not indicate an overwhelming change, “I think there’s definitely a positive change taking place in that park,” said Police Chief Bob Burford. “The vast majority of the residents there are great, honest, hard-working people and by them joining together they have been able to eliminate a lot of their problem residents.

“Although it’s a slow process, I firmly believe it’ll make it a much safer, enjoyable place to live.”

As far as the numbers, “they’re going to create a whole lot of calls just addressing the problem,” Burford said. “Another way to put that would be, the homeowners in the park are calling the police and helping us to proactively address the problems as opposed to responding after the damage has been done.”

At the end of 2005, Dan McCubbins, a local home builder, had carpet and other supplies stolen from a house on Highway 228. Much of the carpet turned up at a home in Mountain Shadows. Davis purchased the carpet from a man in the park, and gave a heads up to police. McCubbins was able to recover about half of his stolen carpet. McCubbins contacted The New Era to compliment Davis for his work in the park.

In the first six months after Davis went to work, the park went from 100 percent occupancy to 35 empties, he said. The park still has a few “druggies” left, but “we went into last winter 100 percent (occupancy).”

When Brock and Louise Bursey first moved into Mountain Shadows from the Avenues nearly two years ago, Davis was just starting to call Neighborhood Watch meetings.

“I had reservations,” Brock Bursey said. “I didn’t want to move to a trailer park. Now my whole view here is totally changed.”

When they moved in, the Burseys would have given the park two thumbs down, he said. “It was not a good place.”

Just after moving in, someone broke into their shed. In the first nine months, they had three bikes stolen. They and their neighbors had gas siphoned on Christmas morning.

“A lot of people were getting tired of it and started coming together,” he said. Police officers work with their lives on the line, and “they’re doing everything they can.” They’re “stretched thin. It really feels good to give something back.”

Early on, Davis said, he would walk through the park at night with a flashlight, just keeping an eye on things.

“What keeps me motivated enough to keep going forward is 85 percent of them are good people,” he said. Staying motivated and positive is probably the hardest part of the job as he has dealt with a park that hasn’t had the best reputation over the years.

Neighborhood Watch has been a big part of the change, he said. In January 2005, he made a first attempt to start a Neighborhood Watch program. That meeting turned into a big complaint session, so he backed off.

“I had to prove myself to the people first,” Davis said, and changing things took a variety of efforts ranging from code enforcement to building a community spirit and pride inside the park.

It cannot be just the constant watch, Louise Bursey said. “You’ve got to have the community involved.”

Davis decided to try the Neighborhood Watch idea again and went to Jo Ann McQueary, Linn County Neighborhood Watch coordinator, for help.

Initially, some residents were resistant “because people don’t like change,” Brock Bursey said.

Last meeting, Davis said, the park had more than 34 people attending. The program has been running since January.

Now, “you’ve got more people walking the streets,” Bursey said. If someone doesn’t recognize visitors to in the park, they walk up to visitors, introduce themselves and try to find out who they are and what they’re doing.

The residents started seeing changes, and they started buying into the changes, Bursey said. One of the keys to the changes is a focus on community, whether it’s a Fourth of July barbecue and fireworks or Bursey’s own work on a riverfront park.

Many blocks just get together and have block parties and barbecues, Louise Bursey said.

“It’s just getting to know your neighbors,” Brock Bursey said. “Neighborhood Watch is a great tool for that.”

Residents of the park donated items for a yard sale and raised $700, which was used to purchase signs and helped a woman with space rent.

The people of the park banded together to help fix her home, Davis said. “Now this lady’s got a new roof overhead, and she just got a new start.”

The park has been undergoing a facelift of sorts too through a variety of projects, including playground and park improvements, and the riverfront park.

“You try to do what you can on the positive side to people, earn their respect and trust, and you’ll get it back 10-fold,” Davis said. But a single “bad apple” can quickly turn things bad.

When he started as resident manager, “I knew I was going to be retaliated against, but you can’t let that stop you,” Davis said. He spent his first month in the park keeping a low profile, getting a feel for who was who in the community.

Now, when he receives an application to move into Mountain Shadows, Davis said he delivers what he calls his “three-pet-peeves spiel.”

His first pet peeve is drugs. If he catches anyone using or selling drugs, he’ll start a paper trail on them, and they’re gone.

Second, with 157 families and their children, speeders will be prosecuted.

Third, on the inside of the house, it’s the renter’s business, but on the outside, it’s his business. He wants tenants to keep up the appearance of their homes. He has a system for writing up tenants with violations, and Sweet Home’s city code enforcement officer can eventually get involved.

Brock Bursey, who has been an employee of the park since November, credits Davis for turning the park around.

“He’s meant so much for this park,” Bursey said. “I don’t think the Garbers could’ve picked anybody better.”

In Mountain Shadows, residents rent spaces for the manufactured homes. Some residents own their homes and just rent space. Others rent their homes from the park owner or other landlords who may own multiple manufactured homes in the park.

Landowners can make or break a place, Davis said. In his park, he deals with the park owner, individuals who own multiple units and private parties. Each requires different policies for enforcing the rules. Different ownership situations require different levels of paperwork to deal with problem tenants, often depending on a specific trailer owner’s level of cooperation with the park.

When individuals or groups have problems in the park, Davis said, he educates them. Sometimes he must learn about some city code, but then he in turn educates the tenants, individually or as a group.

Dealing with renters causing problems in a neighborhood, educating the landlord is a good first step, Davis said. In general, many landlords may not even be aware of their rights and responsibilities to their property or communities.

Landlords must be punctual, precise and stand behind their words, Davis said. Taking care of their property and following those practices will preserve their property values as well as potentially helping improve a neighborhood with a crime problem.

Melva Garber, owner of Mountain Shadows “is very supportive of me,” Davis said. “Before Eugene (Garber) died, a lot of things were done back-woods,” but now there are guidelines. When Davis took the job, he said, “I’m not going to buck the system. Let’s use the city to help us.”

Eugene Garber had a vision for the park, Davis said, but he tended to buck the system. By contrast, Davis has used the system to achieve his goals.

That’s where he got code enforcement and even the building inspector involved and started asking questions about improving the park.

The other big difference has been Neighborhood Watch program, Davis said. With so many people from so many walks of life, “I knew there was going to be a certain amount of bickering.”

In the first few months, “everyone was telling on everybody,” he said.

McQueary helped guide him through the formation of blocks and block coordinators, who all meet once a month to develop topics to bring to park residents. They also have been taking advantage of the monthly police seminars offered by Sweet Home Police Department and bringing back useful information.

They also keep Sweet Home police and detectives up to date on what’s going on in the park. They know about problem spots in the park and can share information to help park managers.

In the end, though, the cleanup of Mountain Shadows has been about raising tenants’ expectations for themselves and their park.

“Making them take pride in themselves is the biggest thing,” Davis said.