Residents of The Acreage have a new vehicle to share their opinions on a Facebook group called “The Acreage Speaks.”
Created in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaac, the group has grown rapidly in just two weeks. As of Wednesday, there were 782 members — more than the Acreage Landowners’ Association Facebook group (450 members) and the Indian Trail Improvement District’s Facebook page (539 “likes”).
“We saw there was an outcry from residents looking for a place to vent and to get answers, and voice their concerns,” former ITID Supervisor Sandra Love-Semande told the Town-Crier on Wednesday.
Love-Semande began the page, but had no idea it would grow so quickly.
“This was in response to several people who — I really thought it would only be a few — would be interested in voicing their concerns on a page that they didn’t have to worry about it being political, and be something that would give them the opportunity to voice their concerns, get answers, reach out to neighbors in need, be able to help if they were able to, or get help if they needed it.”
Paramount was to allow a free flow of expression, Love-Semande said, noting that the ITID page and the ALA group were censoring discussions that strayed off topic into the political arena.
“I understand the reasons for the [ALA] deleting some comments, and also Indian Trail, because that’s really not the place for those types of comments,” Love-Semande said. “However, the comments that I saw, I didn’t feel were inappropriate or misleading or derogatory in any way, so that was another reason why I felt the need to create the page, to give the people the opportunity to speak freely.”
She pointed out that there is a disclaimer stating that if anyone is offended by any of the content, they are free to leave the group and not participate.
Holly Beck, an active participant at “The Acreage Speaks,” said she was one of the residents who had comments deleted from other pages. “They weren’t personally attacking anyone,” Beck said. “There was no profanity used. A lot of comments that were negative toward the board were deleted, so you could basically only post if you had positive things to say.”
Love-Semande said she thinks people are concerned that the ITID board does not take their concerns seriously and has not been looking out for the community’s best interests.
“People wanted to voice their concerns without having to worry about upsetting people,” she said. “A lot of people are scared to voice their opinions, and you can see now more people are speaking up.”
Love-Semande and Beck both say the page is not politically motivated, although elections are heating up for two ITID board seats, with President Michelle Damone being challenged by Kenneth Hendrick in the race for Seat 4 and Supervisor Carlos Enriquez facing Gary Dunkley in the race for Seat 2.
“I’m done with politics,” Love-Semande said. “That’s the great thing about this — it has nothing to do with politics. It’s strictly for the residents so they have a place to vent. All the board members are welcome to become members of this group, which I believe four of the five have.”
She said the page is open for anyone to share information with residents, including established organizations like ITID or the ALA. “It has nothing to do with politics, whether it’s with the landowners’ association or Indian Trail, or the county, for that matter,” Love-Semande said.
She said she was also upset that the media seem inclined to portray residents of The Acreage as backwoods, low-income, unintelligent, uneducated people.
“That’s not the case,” Love-Semande said. “We felt this page would give all those intelligent, hardworking property owners the opportunity to voice their concerns with the recent flooding and how the district is being run. It’s something that I think is long overdue. This has given them an outlet to where they feel more empowered to voice their concerns.”
Beck said she really wasn’t pointing fingers until she saw a news conference about the flooding last week with ITID Engineer Lisa Tropepe, ITID Administrator Tanya Quickel and Damone, which she did not feel was done well. “It was very unprofessional,” she said. “It made The Acreage look very negative.”
Love-Semande and Beck both say they are offended at the TV news’ coverage of Acreage residents in general, and derogatory comments they see online from people outside The Acreage. “The comments on some of the news stations’ Facebook pages about residents [included] horrible things like, ‘You guys get what you deserve for living out there,’” Beck said. “They don’t know. They just know what they see on the news.”
Damone said she understands Acreage residents’ need to vent their frustration.
“Unfortunately, some of it is politically motivated,” Damone told the Town-Crier on Wednesday. “Indian Trail will have an opportunity to fully report on the aftermath of Isaac, and hopefully at that time, a lot of the fears and concerns will be answered.”