Those attending the Lawrenceville Neighborhood Alliance (LNA) meeting Sunday afternoon at the Police Department Headquarters got a preview of items on the City Council regular meeting March 7 agenda.
They heard a councilman’s city financial transparency briefing and an economic development presentation. And they got an update from the Police Department Quality of Life Unit.
After a welcome from LNA Director Beverly Dryden, to an estimated crowd of 50, Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson gave an overview of the city’s recreation projects. Luckie Street Park is the current focus of the Heritage Trail renovations. The Heritage Trail project has been going on for three years. Development to improve Paper Mill Road, which includes Neighborhood Stabilization Program efforts, is in conjunction with Heritage Trail plans. Streets affected in Phase I of project will be Chestnut Street, Luckie Street and Constitution Boulevard. Paper Mill Road is the only area in Phase II.
Mayor Johnson showed maps of future development for . The mayor gave an update of the Park-It-Midtown Project. Two design firms are vying for the project. The City Council will make its decision at Monday, March 7 Regular Meeting.
When asked if there was a timeline for Rhodes Jordan Park project Mayor Johnson said, “We are looking at construction beginning either at the end of this year or early next year.”
The mayor was asked when the new signs for downtown are expected, Mayor Johnson said, “In the next couple of weeks, we should see mock ups.”
After reviewing mock ups, new signs will take 120 days to produce and they should all be in place by May of this year.
Councilman Tony Powell in his address to the audience gave the city’s efforts to provide transparency into financial transactions and accounting.
“If they (residents of the city) won’t know (how city funds are expended), they (City Council) won’t spend it,” said Councilman Tony Powell. He said the “they” in that statement is you and me as utility customers and taxpayers.
Councilman Powell urged everyone to keep their eyes on the money. He said, “Transparency is an ongoing process. We all need to know where and how money is being spent.” Citizens, he said, should make sure money is spent where they directed it to be spent. He asked residents to hold the mayor and council accountable for watching, generating and expending all of the money in the city’s coiffeurs.
He then asked the audience if they knew how much was spent on the new Police Department building. When he told them the city spent $7.5 million the crowd showed surprise. As another example as to why they should keep an eye on expenditures, he told of the city, a few years ago, spending $10 million on a proposed nuclear power plant. Then after it was determined that the cost of building power plant would cost the city more, the city is now seeking to retrieve those funds.
“The city has a $90 million budget spread through 14 different funds (accounts). It has revenue amounts of $26 million from Electric Department and $42 million in Gas Department revenue. The city has $8 million held in reserve. The next area the council will look at is the $9 million awarded to the same contractors,” Councilman Powell said.
Powell also let it be known that he is in support of the city hiring a City Manager. This person will oversee the day-to-day operations, revenues and expenditures, to include procurement processes, for the city.
“This person will not replace the mayor and the person’s hiring is in no way a reflection of the job our mayor is doing. The mayor is doing a great job and so is City Clerk Bob Baroni, in safeguarding your pocketbook. But this person will free the mayor up to perform the executive duties she was elected to do. The City Manager will be held accountable for every aspect of the city’s business. Every department will report to the City Manager,” said Powell.
Jan Overton asked if every city department has a department manager, after Powell said “yes”, Overton said, “What a waste.”
As for the hiring of a City Manager, Powell said the process will include State Representative Valerie Clark proposing legislation to change the city’s charter. Rep. Clark was in attendance at LNA meeting.
An audience member asked, in light of the gas pipeline explosions in other cities in the country, how safe are the city’s pipelines.
Councilman Peter Martin said, “The city is replacing steel pipes with new plastic piping citywide.” He also said the city is right on schedule with paying .
Powell said that the city’s Gas Department has a new department head which will keep the council better informed of problems and fines.
Another attendee asked if city funds earn interest, to which Powell said, “All city revenue is invested and does earn interest. That is all funds, except drug forfeiture money. It is not around long enough to earn interest. The city uses these funds to purchase off budget items---police cars, and equipment.” Powell said that due to the stigma attached to these drug produced funds, that he was not in favor of the city continuing to receive them.
Captain Jeff Smith of the city’s Police Department said there are safeguard measures in place when accounting for drug forfeiture funds. He said, “This money is subject to state audit. Quarterly we must report to the federal government how these funds were spent and although he does not have to, the chief before spending this money will go before City Council for their approval of expenditures.”
Mike Sabine of Analytica, the company hired to perform Economic Development for the city, gave a presentation. During his presentation Sabine said city’s primary drivers of economic development are , and Historic Downtown with an event center, commercial center and arts center—.
Sabine said the areas that need development investment and that are under performing, economically, are West Pike and Hurricane Shoals. He said that in 3 to 5 years this area should be redeveloped.
In the city’s hiring of Analytica in 2010, Councilwoman Katie Hart Smith said, “It was important that the city have an individual dedicated to economic development. To work in concert with the community as a whole, to partner with the Chamber of Commerce and with other cities that have economic development plans and desire to work together on those plans.”
Rounding out presentations, Police Department Lieutenant Tim Wallis introduced officers and civilian in the , QOL, Unit and explained what the QOL Unit does. With assistance from Sergeant Ryan Morgan, Wallis using a flow chart walked the crowd through all contingencies of processing a Quality of Life complaint. From civil, criminal to compliant dismissal, the audience was apprised of every aspect of the processes.
The QOL Unit is responsible for the enforcement of the city’s ordinances and state laws. This unit operates under the Special Operations Division of the Police Department. Using a star as a symbol to represent the five entities involved with citing, regulating and processing QOL issues. By working together the City Council, Planning and Zoning Department, the Community, the Courts and Police Department, all actively participate in bringing about a better quality of life for those living, working and playing in the city.
Under the city’s Property Maintenance Ordinance, the unit enforces violations of property exterior maintenance, fences and walls, grass and weeds and open or outdoor storage. In cooperation with Planning and Zoning Department, the unit expedites complaints involving decks, porches and balconies, windows, exterior doors and frames, roofs and swimming pools. The QOL Unit is also responsible for processing complaints regarding tree regulations, junk cars, parked vehicles and RVs, boats and commercial vehicles.
QOL officers spend 92% of their time on enforcement cases and issues. Initially, Sgt. Morgan said that they tried using inmates to perform QOL clean ups and graffiti removals, but now that city has purchase $6,000 pressure washer it is easier for officers to do these tasks. “Besides, it turned out that inmate labor really isn’t that good,” said Morgan.
Lt. Wallis said QOL unit is working closely with LNA, the courts and the city’s Planning and Zoning Department. In working closer with the courts processes have been streamlined. Wallis said it now takes three weeks from time violation is cited to arraignment.
After filling a vacancy on QOL Unit, Lt. Wallis predicted an even higher volume of cases will be processed.