Friday, September 26, 2008

Town Hall Meeting--A Resounding Success!

Last night's Town Hall Meeting was a tremendous success! Thanks to all residents who attended. 112 residents were present to participate. The meeting lasted for two hours and nearly everyone stayed until the end.

Special thanks to all city officials who came to respond to issues and questions posed by residents of our ward. In addition to myself and Tom Callahan (Council At-Large), the organizers of this event, other city officials in attendance for the panel discussion were Mayor Grace, Gary Dickerson (Street Department), John Schneider (Engineering), Ted Pileski (Auditor), Captain Whitely (EPD), Dean Marks (EFD), Kevin Brubaker and Vic Stewart (Council At-Large). Also present in the audience were Kevin Krischer (5th Ward), Larry Tanner (1st Ward) and Forrest Bullocks (2nd Ward).

A summary of questions and answers from the meeting are posted here in the comments section. The audio from the meeting is available on the right side of the web page.


Mark F. Craig said...

Town Hall Meeting Wrap Up

By all accounts, last night’s 4th Ward Town Hall meeting was a success. With well over 100 residents in attendance along with more than 10 Government and City employees, the conversation was lively, diverse and sometimes heated, but always civil. The topics discussed ranged from grass clippings to inconsiderate neighbors to street paving and snow removal. The following is a synopsis of the questions and answers that were presented last night.

The evening began with a question about a dedicated senior center in Elyria. Mayor Grace indicated that the four neighborhood recreation centers receive money for senior programming, and that there is not enough money to build and support a dedicated senior center.

A number of residents had questions/comments/complaints about West River Road, from the crumbling asphalt north of Griswold Road to the drainage ditches which are caving in along the sides of the road to the condition of the boarded up school building which is owned by Wal Mart. Mayor Grace and Gary Dickerson of the Street Department indicated that help is coming to West River Road, however, it may not be for several years. The rationale for that is two-fold. First, they did not want to spend a lot of money to repair the road prior to Wal Mart building a new Super Center at the corner of West River and Griswold because the construction vehicles would tear up the new pavement. Secondly, the City is now becoming more proactive at requesting funds from NOACA for road work, but those requests are for a year or two down the road. A side note was made about why 49th Street is getting paved – that is being paid for by the businesses and the single homeowner on that street through an assessment. Wal Mart has been notified several times over the summer about the high grass at the former school property, but they have never been fined as the grass has always been cut prior to the City having to mow it.

West River Road was not the only street on the list of complaints. While Mr. Dickerson explained how streets are ranked and monies allocated each year, and number of residents felt that answer was not satisfactory as they have been told year after year that their road is “on the list.” No recommendation, other than being patient, was made. A resident also made the observation that the weight limit signs for traffic coming onto Gulf Road from SR 57 are either missing or in locations that are ineffective because by the time the sign is visible, a heavy vehicle would have to already be on the road. The Engineer’s office is going to look into better signage. Additionally, the police department has officers who are trained to deal with heavy trucks and all officers can and should pull over trucks that are clearly over the limit for the road they are on. The assumption is that an officer who is following a truck but not pulling it over must be on an emergency call.

There were several comments about the general deterioration of the City as a whole. Examples included the boarded up buildings in the downtown area with mold growing between the windows and the boards, the half-painted guard rails along Gulf Road, people parking vehicles on their lawns, and generally run-down properties around the City. Mayor Grace stated that no businesses or business owners get preferential treatment in terms of building code enforcement, and said that so long as the boarded up buildings are closed according to code, there isn’t much that can be done. Several residents shared stories of friends and relatives being, in their opinion, unfairly targeted by housing inspectors and being given short timelines for repairs while businesses seem to languish for years. There was also a question about the lack of sidewalks around the Chronicle Telegram building which was not fully addressed. The answer to the guard rails was not clear. Apparently the painting was stopped due to complaints from residents and then not resumed either due to a problem with Sherwin Williams or because guard rails shouldn’t be painted in the first place. The City will probably complete the painting of the guard rails on Gulf Road. The City is going to look at putting building codes and/or ordinances on their website so that people can see whether or not it is ok to park a car, truck or even RV in a yard. Finally, there was a brief discussion of some type of use permit or inspection requirement (Point of Sale Inspection) to transfer property in the City to ensure that houses are up to code and not being allowed to run down. Mayor Grace acknowledged that is something City Council could look into, but cautioned that an ordinance like that can be difficult to implement.

A question was raised about the investigation into the General Industries fire and cleanup. The Mayor stated that because of the potential for litigation, the investigation is proceeding slowly. He did state that the building inspector who allowed occupancy in a portion of that building despite the Fire Marshall’s recommendation was probably within his scope of authority, but that nothing had been decided yet. Residents indicated that they were not happy “footing the bill” for the cleanup when the owner was so irresponsible as to not carry insurance.

There were several different comments about general lack of civility and courtesy between neighbors and/or people in general, including an ongoing situation on Harrison Street where youths are regularly walking, standing or even lying in the road and refuse to move for automobile traffic. There were complaints about too many deer and people feeding the deer and packs of feral cats. There were complaints about parking violations, including city vehicles parked in front of fire hydrants. For the roads and parking issues, residents were advised to call the police department. Any residents who feel they are not being greeted or addressed in a courteous fashion by any department should call the Mayor at City Hall with the date, time and department that they called and the situation will be addressed. This type of treatment is unacceptable. The City is a service provider and needs to treat the residents accordingly. The City is also trying a pilot program to trap, spay/neuter and release 100 feral cats, but there are no plans for dealing with the deer.

Several residents spoke up in opposition to the planned development of Spring Valley Country Club. Reasons cited included the increase in traffic on Gulf Road and the already bad flooding in that area. That issue is currently pending before City Council and will come up for the 3rd public reading and vote on October 6, 2008 at 7:00 p.m.

4th Ward residents did agree that they want a collection area for grass clippings somewhere on the north side. A resident observed that while she didn’t mind taking her clippings somewhere, she was not willing to drive the 10 miles to drop them off at Garden Street. Mr. Dickerson explained why clippings cannot be picked up along with the rest of the garbage at the curb, and agreed to look into a more convenient location. The residents couldn’t agree, however, on changing trash pickup to a private company with a single container per household. Kevin Krischer, 5th Ward City Council, did provide some insight into how the program works in other cities, but there were a lot of questions and concerns about how it works for older or handicapped citizens. At this point there isn’t a plan to privatize sanitation in the City, but Mayor Grace did indicate that most cities and communities around us have gone to that kind of system and that Elyria may be looking to do so in the near future.

A number of residents had issues with sewer mains, especially storm sewers, and drainage issues in general. According to Mayor Grace, because these problems tend to only affect a few houses on any given street and would have to be paid through an assessment to everyone on the street, it would be unpopular to require people to pay for redoing the storm sewers to alleviate these problems. There is also an ongoing issue with the pressure in the water mains due to the aging City infrastructure, which contains lines that are six, four or even two feet in diameter and are narrowing due to corrosion. The mains are being replaced or repaired over time as the funds are available.

Finally, Mayor Grace addressed attracting new businesses to Elyria, the income tax renewal and the state of Midway Mall. The Mayor said that the best opportunity for new jobs comes through expansion of current employers such as EMH. Because of that, he feels it is crucial to widen Broad Street because it doesn’t look good to people who are coming to EMH and if the street was wider and in better shape, EMH might be more likely to expand. The Mayor stressed that this is a renewal tax, not a new tax, and it is only on earned income, so people who are collecting retirement and so on are not affected. He explained that the money from that tax goes into the general fund which pays for police and fire, parks, administration and several other areas. The largest expense is salaries. There were some comments from residents about lowering or eliminating longevity pay, reducing the size of government and eliminating the four At Large council positions as potential cost saving measures. And finally, while the consultants hired by Midway Mall all agree that it has a good location and surrounding population, it is unclear whether the owners are in a financial position to actively update the property. They are doing routine maintenance, such as paving the parking lots, but that’s all that is going on for now.

Mark F. Craig said...

A resident contacted me with the following comments:

"Forty percent of your lawns nutritional needs can be met by lawn clippings alone. An educational movement towards mulching and even composting will be an attractive alternative to bagging clippings and other yard scraps. People would be shocked at how much they could save in fertilizer, mulch and soil additives when utilizing a compost bin.
AntlerMax, a brand of Purina deer "chow", can be an effective method of controlling the deer populations eating habits. Feeding zones at sparse safe areas of town can limit the grazing habits we've seen in ornamental landscaping. They won't have an appetite for your flowers and you can keep them attracted to certain areas of town less populated. You can try it in your own back yard but it would be more effective if others in the neighborhood agreed to do the same, thus dividing the population. Otherwise, I think limiting the feeding zones out of residential areas of town would ultimately prove safer results."

Mark F. Craig said...

Another resident offered the following:

"Some feedback.
1. Good idea but its clear you need more meetings, on a regular basis to address complaints.

2. Mayor needs to listen more and talk less. It doesn't always matter who's right but people like to believe they are being heard.

3. There should be minutes taken so issues raised--could be followed up. (perhaps minutes were in fact being taken) if so forget about this feedback.

4. The venue is not a good one--crowded and noisy.

5. Perhaps future meetings could deal with certain types of problems.
IE--next meeting property maintenance issues.

6. The city could develop an ongoing means of dealing with complaints to fend off some of the evident frustration some residents have. IE e-mail for snail mail formats.

7. I also think that a city directory of services--that outlines who does what and how they can be reached. The Elyria phone book is not a way of advertising depts- and services.

8. Contact members of the community and seek their ideas and feedback on a regular basis. I bet there's lots of interesting ideas out there."

Mark F. Craig said...

In response to those comments:

1. I agree with you. There should be meetings. It is a real shame that this is the first one in this ward. I think if they occurred more regularly we would be able to focus better. This concept should be adopted by other wards and also city-wide meetings.

2. I agree, especially when you are limited on time. Several people said they felt like their question was not answered also.

3. We recorded the meeting and I am trying to get it loaded on the website. There were also minutes taken so that we can follow up on the issues. You will see the summary in the comments section on the web site. Let me know if you would like a copy emailed to you.

4. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who turned out. I would consider the Legion hall next time, based on the response.

5. I would prefer to keep it broader. With more meetings, the issues would narrow and we would have more in-depth discussions. If you narrow it, you might lose attendees who would othewise be able to present great feedback on an issue they had not even anticipated.

6. Communication is a big issue, but then again, so is listening when residents speak up loud and clear. For example, the 2015 telephone survey made it pretty clear where some priorities should be placed, such as street repairs, but we did not change to reflect the residents' concerns. That is a potentially fatal mistake for elected officials, in my opinion.

7. There was a card with phone numbers and departments that is published by city council and we had them at the meeting. Also, the block watch team puts together a FAQ sheet that includes "who do I call if..." and lists several scenarios. This is also on the web site under the documents section.

8. I seek out opportunities to meet with various groups and organizations around the community to hear their thoughts and ideas. My whole platform has always been about being in touch with the people and tapping into the human resource that we have in this City.

Thanks for your comments and suggestions!


Mark F. Craig said...

I was surprised that we didn't get more questions and comments about Spring Valley. The Conditional Use application to build the cluster homes is coming for its final reading at the next city council meeting. No residents have come to a city council meeting to speak out, although several residents came to the Planning Commission meetings. There are strict guidelines in place that will have to be satisfied before construction would begin, including approval from FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers since the developer's intent is to modify the existing flood plain and build in that area. I think there are sufficient protections built into the conditional use as written to protect the area. However, we will keep you informed as to this issue by continuing to post updates on the web site.

As for the feeding of wild animals, I don't understand why some people feed them but I can
appreciate the aggravation it causes to other neighbors if there is someone who is attracting the wildlife into their yards. In general, they should understand
that there will be wildlife based on the proximity to the woods, but the question of whether or not they should be feeding them is a challenging one. Maybe there will be more debate and discussion about this in the near future.

lifelong4thward said...

Why should there be more feedback concerning the development. Its gonna happen you cant stop it.
I am personally offended that you dont see why people feed the animals.
This was not a town hall meeting as you advertised. You said virtually nothing and this meeting only accomplished free advertising for your fund raiser which was in poor taste.

4thWardResident said...

I applaud Mr. Craig for NOT wasting our time with speeches and instead allowing those of us who understand what a Town Hall meeting is all about to utilize it to ask our questions. I further applaud him for being proactive for the people of this Ward by providing forums for dialogue and commentary such as e-mail and this website. This is far above and beyond anything any of our prior council people ever did. Some of them wouldn't even return phone calls, let alone maintain a web site or host meetings for residents.

Not everyone at the meeting was on the same side of every issue, but everyone maintained a level of decorum and listened to different points of view. That's what this was all about. Mr. Craig is entitled to his opinion, whether or not you agree with it. At least he's got an opinion and doesn't just bob along with whatever the prevailing party says.

It's truly a shame that some people have to come out and spew hurtful comments in an attempt to tarnish a great evening. Maybe they should skip the next one, or, better yet, come prepared with questions and be an active participant rather than a silent critic.

Mark F. Craig said...

As I mentioned at the meeting, one of my goals is to encourage two-way communications. Thank you, lifelong4thward, for helping me to further achieve that goal by taking the time to post your opinions on the web site I provided for that purpose. I respect your opinions. If you feel you did not get enough of an opportunity to hear me speak and have more on your mind, I would be happy to schedule a meeting with you. My contact information is over on the side of the page. I look forward to hearing from you.