June 30, 2009
City appearance, crime and talk of the area''s upcoming sportsplex project dominated discussions Monday night during Ward 5 Columbus City Councilman-elect Kabir Karriem''s first community meeting.
During the nearly hour-and-a-half meeting, which drew about 20 Ward 5 residents to the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library, several area citizens shared their concerns on many issues they believe are plaguing the central-city ward.
"We see so many things where the city is just shooting from the hip," said Columbus resident and developer Charles Miller. "The city needs to have a plan on where it''s going. We need to have a long-range plan for the new council to follow."
"Main Street Mississippi is bringing a bunch of top-notch consultants to Columbus in October," Karriem responded. "They will help get the ball rolling on several things, including a comprehensive plan for the city."
Because city officials in October will be meeting with the group of Main Street Mississippi consultants, Karriem cautioned against "putting the cart before the horse" when planning for the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority''s upcoming sportsplex project.
Although the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors and the City Council in early June voted to examine the feasibility of constructing the sportsplex in a nearly 71-acre plot of land in the Burns Bottom area behind the Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market, CLRA officials at the meeting said the facility''s location was not yet determined.
"The sportsplex is part of the CLRA''s long-term plan," said CLRA Director of Programs Greg Lewis. "Phase 1 is putting soccer and football at the sportsplex. Phase 2 is renovating neighborhood parks and Phase 3 is renovating Propst Park.
"We want the public to play a role in that plan. The CLRA is not concerned with where the sportsplex goes. We just know it needs to be built," Lewis added. "We want to do what the public wants to do."
Also during the meeting, Columbus Police Chief Joseph St. John shared his feelings about a recent rash of burglaries in Ward 5 and throughout the city, and encouraged those at the meeting to remain watchful in their neighborhoods.
"Columbus is somewhere between Mayberry and Jackson. It''s definitely safe enough to walk around the town, but we are big enough to have our own set of problems," St. John told the crowd. "We''ve been having a lot of burglary reports, but we''ve also been able to put several people in jail lately for burglaries.
"In fact, Austin Shepherd at our crime lab was able to lift fingerprints from a recent burglary scene, and we were able to make two arrests from that," St. John added. "You''ll start to see us more and more in traditional police roles. We are working on ways to get more officers out there in the community."
Although St. John said he planned to begin many officer foot patrols across the city, he encouraged meeting attendees to become active in community policing.
"Know who belongs in your neighborhood, and call us if something suspicious is happening," St. John said. "Some police work will always be reactive. Community policing helps us out because it helps us know where we need to be.
"When people start deciding that some crime is OK, and when the media stops reporting it, it will get bad," St. John added. "It''s an extremely slippery slope, and everyone needs to make sure they have concern for their neighborhoods."
A few meeting attendees also shared concerns over the city''s appearance, and encouraged Karriem to seek improvements across the ward.
"One of the concerns I have are the structures that remain empty. A good example would be the brick building in front of Military Hardware that is a gathering spot for drugs and prostitution," said Columbus resident Anne Freeze. "I feel there are too many properties in our ward that should be looked at."
However, City Attorney Jeff Turnage explained the city''s dilapidated properties ordinance, and cautioned against any law requiring vacant properties to be demolished.
According to the city ordinance, if a resident files a complaint against a dilapidated property, city officials determine who owns the property and sends the owner a notice to repair or clean their residence or lot.
If the property owner does not comply, the city orders the owner to an administrative hearing, where the property owner is given a deadline to correct the problem. If the property owner still does not repair or clean the property, the city then completes the work and charges the property owner.
The city then has the option to sell the property at a tax sale, Turnage explained.
"It takes about three months for that process to play out from the time the complaint is made," Turnage said. "I would be concerned if the city had an ordinance that said if it''s empty, tear it down."
Apart from dilapidated properties, meeting attendees also encouraged Karriem to better clean trash from Ward 5 residences and vacant lots.
"One concern on my list is the way trash is picked up. Anything from limbs to everything else," said Columbus resident Glenda Brooks. "And I get nowhere when I call Golden Triangle Waste Management. They say it''s the responsibility of the property owner."
Because Columbus is in a contract with the waste management company until 2011, Columbus Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong said the city is attempting to improve the company''s services throughout the city.
"Honestly, we''ve had issues with that contract in the past. Sometimes they miss stuff while they''re collecting," Armstrong said. "Some of it does fall on the responsibility of the owner, but there has been some stuff they clearly should have picked up that they didn''t.
"Don''t put your trash in a vacant lot, because they won''t pick it up. We''re trying to work with them, but it''s an ongoing situation," Armstrong added. "I try to ride the town as much as I can and call our guys to pick up things they (Golden Triangle Waste Management) missed."
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