A LONG-BREWING battle between City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and a Mantua community group is headed to federal court.
The Mantua Community Planners Inc. filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Blackwell and the city claiming $420,000 in lost property after they were shut out of a second-floor office inside a recreation center last year - and decades of records were tossed without notice.
In the suit, the group alleges Blackwell is trying to silence them while backing the Mantua Community Improvement Committee as the leader among Mantua organizations. The suit also claims that as Blackwell drove away from a community meeting last year, she struck and injured a woman with her mirror.
"Many things have been taken from us to the extent that now we are filing a lawsuit," the Rev. Andrew Jenkins of the Mantua Community Planners said during a news conference. "We're on the battlefield," said Jenkins, who was a deputy mayor for housing in Ed Rendell's administration.
The suit alleges that Blackwell ordered the city to change the locks to the office inside of the James L. Wright recreation center on Haverford Avenue near 34th, where they held meetings. The group had used that space rent-free since 1978, under an agreement with the city.
Recreation Commissioner Susan Slawson said she did not notify the group before its files were trashed and did not have a copy of the agreement. Gerald Washington, president of Mantua Community Planners, said the city trashed all of its records in May 2011 and he also did not have a copy of the agreement.
"They want complete control of public space," said Blackwell. "It's not their office space. They will not have exclusive rights to that space."
Blackwell said city workers found trash up to the ceiling when they moved in to clean while Slawson described the scene as "horrendous," noting there was rat feces.
Slawson said the space will be open to the public. She said Mantua Community Planners can use it to conduct meetings but must get a permit to do so.
As for picking favorites, Blackwell commended the head of Mantua Community Improvement Committee Rick Young, whom the suit describes as Blackwell's business partner and political supporter.
"I like Rick. Rick has done more to help Mantua than anybody," Blackwell said, adding that Mantua Community Planners has not been active recently.
Meanwhile Samantha Monroe, a Mantua resident and the plaintiff in the suit, described an incident at a community meeting on Nov. 16. She alleged that when she tried to ask a question, Blackwell's staff tried to force her to shut up and sit down.
After the meeting ended abruptly, she said, Blackwell's staff suggested she talk to Blackwell - who was in her car. Monroe said Blackwell then sped off, striking and injuring her stomach with a side mirror. The suit says surgery is recommended.
Monroe said she filed a police report. Since the incident, according to the suit and a news release, she says she has received death threats and found a dead dog on her doorstep.