By Shelby Smithey…
Crime and code ordinances were hot topics at Mayor Ashton Hayward’s “Taking City Hall to the Citizens” town hall meeting last night for residents in district 6.
Hayward held his 14th town hall meeting since he took office at the E.S. Cobb Neighborhood Resource Center on East Mallory Street to address concerns from residents in the neighborhoods of Eastside, Belmont-Devilliers, North Hill and most of downtown Pensacola.
Many residents at the meeting were concerned about what was being done about ongoing crime and violence in their neighborhoods.
Joy Crawford addressed issues about suspicious activity she continuously witnesses near her home on D Street.
Pensacola Police Chief Chip Simmons told Crawford that the goal of the police department is to have a long-lasting effect on the crime in the area. He also discussed introducing a new program called Safe Streets that would further reduce crime.
One resident addressed her concerns with safety in Malaga Square, which is a park on the corner of 10th avenue and Blount Street. She said that she sees drug deals occurring at the park and people having sex in cars after dark.
Hayward responded by letting people know of the 311 service and encouraging citizens to report crime and suspicious activity they see through the service.
“We need to know this information,” Hayward said. We have to come together as neighborhoods. The drug deals, the sex, we need to know about all of it.”
Member of the Eastside Neighborhood Improvement Association Jeannie Rhoden asked Police Chief Simmons the statistics for break-ins and shootings in Eastside.
“We have a three-minute response rate,” Simmons said. “We are in the top 20 in the state for response times. We’ve isolated 2 groups that continue to fight over issues and we’ve combined forces with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. We want to put them in jail and keep them in jail.”
Lax code enforcement and maintenance were also concerns of residents at the meeting.
“We need something in our code enforcement that says we will slam the hammer down on repeat offenses for owners who are not maintaining their property,” North Hill resident Joe Taylor said.
Hayward agreed with the idea of stricter code enforcement. “We need to make our codes stronger,” he said. “It’s about making the homeowner accountable.”
Pensacola Code Enforcement Administrator Steve Wineki reiterated that the city has established the toughest ordinances but also reminded the residents that the city needs their feedback to do better.
“Pick up the phone and call us,” Wineki said. “We’re in the right direction but we need your input.”
District 6 resident Joe Davis then inquired about the Chappie James Center and the operating hours of the library. “The Chappie James Center was never completed, and now it is falling into disrepair,” Davis said. Hayward suggested that a fundraiser be held to raise money for the repairs.
City Administrator Bill Reynolds then addressed Davis’s concerns with the library operating hours. “The library board is taking a closer look at the operating hours,” he said. “Some changes may need to be made regarding how late the library will stay open.”
District 6 resident Valerie Jones had similar concerns with maintenance of rights-of-way as District 1 residents had at last month’s town hall meeting.
“It’s not right for downtown, East Hill and North Hill to look great but the area in between not,” Jones said. “Surely we can become more residential in nature.”
Towards the end of the one-hour meeting, Chief of Neighborhoods Helen Gibson discussed plans for a new greenway after a resident voiced her concerns about the lack of space for children to play in the area.
“We have a definite grand plan for an urban lineal greenway,” she said. “It does have a big price tag. We are always looking for grants to implement this plan.”
Hayward concluded the meeting by urging residents to voice their concerns about any other problems.
“These meetings are incredibly important,” Hayward said. “We are on our way to better things in Pensacola. I’m committed to make our city better. I can’t be better unless I fail or I get feedback from you. The backbone of every great city is the neighborhoods. We can’t have a great city if one part of the city is not being fed, so to speak.”