The city of West Frankfort is seeking to shut down what it claims is a shelter for women, operating in a single-family dwelling on Poplar Street.
The occupant of the house, however, says he is merely opening his home to friends who need a place to stay.
Captain Edward Prak, who is purchasing the home at 802 E. Poplar St. on a contract for deed and has given it the name "The Wildflower House" in honor of his deceased wife, was formally served with a cease and desist letter two weeks ago drafted by city attorney Mike Riva.
Mayor Tom Jordan said a second letter, with details including the date when the "shelter" must stop operating, would be sent after last night's (Aug. 28) city council meeting.
Mayor Jordan said the city has no objection to someone helping women and having a place for women to go and be housed if they're having problems, but it has to be done in the right way.
"In this case, good will and intentions have overshadowed common sense," he said. "We just want them to meet statute requirements."
Jordan said the situation came to his attention after the city received a call from a resident, "who was stopped by a man in a pickup truck wanting to know where the women's center was." Jordan said citizens also have witnessed "somewhere upward of eight women" who appear to be living at the house.
"They don't have an occupancy permit," he said. "If you change your residence and decide to bring people into your house, that makes it a rooming or boardinghouse."
Mayor Jordan says the city has codes that regulate and define single-family dwellings, and that Prak needs a certificate of occupancy in order to operate a residential center. Under city codes, the residence and its new use must pass an inspection by the codes officer and the fire chief.
Prak, meanwhile, said the city is mischaracterizing what he is doing.
"I've just opened my house up to friends who need to get clean and sober in a safe environment," he said.
Prak, who said he is an ordained minister, said the house has room for 12, and the number of women staying there fluctuates. About 10 days ago he said there were eight; on Monday, he said there were currently five women in the home. He said the women attend church and receive medical care and counseling.
Prak said he does not take money from the women staying there, and said the house has a woman who volunteers as a live-in.
The current owner of the house, Cecil Plock, confirmed that city officials threatened to fine him $500 a day if Prak did not shut down his operation.
"I don't know what he's doing over there," said Plock, who confirmed that Prak is buying the home from him via a contract for deed, an agreement the two have had for about eight years.
Plock added that he is paying off the mortgage and will accept a 2004 Corvette from Prak as well as mortgage payments until the house is paid for.
"It doesn't mean I approve of what he's doing," said Plock, "but if I'm going to get fined, I'd rather just give him the damned house."
Plock said he's told Prak in the past that he cannot "minister" in the house.
"I told him he can't do that," said Plock, "that it's not in the contract."
Prak meanwhile, said he thinks West Frankfort is trying to kill his deal to buy the house. He claims the city is playing "the only trump card they have ... attempting to get the guy I'm buying the home from to cancel the sale."
Prak and a small group of supporters came to the West Frankfort City Council meeting Aug. 14 to argue on behalf of The Wildflower House. Prak read a prepared statement that he said answered the cease and desist letter from the city.
"The definition you have given meets the criteria for one and only one type of shelter, and solely pertains to as it states in the body of the law, Department of Human Services-funded domestic battery shelters," he read. "My home is not funded by anyone but myself."
Prak said that no one in his home meets the criteria as "one who is fleeing from domestic violence." He also said there are no children living in the home.
Prak said past communication between him and the city may have caused hard feelings. "We have not always seen eye to eye and that is partially my fault," he said. "For that I am sorry."
Prak added that the use of the house has not changed from a single-family residence. "Therefore," he said, "no certificate of occupancy is needed."
Prak, in talking with this newspaper, invited us to speak with Julee Dodd Jordan (no relation to the mayor), who said she volunteers at Wildflower House and also runs her own ministry called T.M.A.D. (Teens Make a Difference), which is housed at LifeSource Church in West Frankfort.
She confirmed Prak's count of eight women in the house as of Aug. 13.
"They come right off the streets," she said. "It's word-of-mouth, really. They're homeless, in addiction, and have nowhere to go other than a drug dealer's house."
A June 28 post on the The Wildflower House Facebook page seems to back this up: "The Wildflower House is a faith-based, woman's sober living environment in the City of West Frankfort, IL. If you or anyone you know needs help please message us to become a part of our family. You'd be surprised how many friends I have."
Julee Jordan also said the volunteer living in the house is a recovering addict who brought in several of the women herself.
She's "like a mother to the girls," Julee Jordan said. "She grew and blossomed and gave her life to the Lord and now she's helping other women to do the same."
Prak, meanwhile, said he has had no further contact with city officials since the Aug. 14 meeting, and Plock said city officials have given him no date for the matter to be resolved.
Mayor Jordan said the first letter was intended to fulfill the legal requirement to give notification.
"The next letter will be very formal. It will state deadlines," he said. "We're going to make it financially impossible for (Wildflower House) to exist. That's the only way I know to make him comply. Our course is set, we're following the code."
Mayor Jordan said the city's actions are not personal.
"We're not singling him out. We're not persecuting him," Jordan said. "We're not doing anything but enforcing the code."