04/26/06 — Neighbors ask for help getting 'drugs, thugs' out

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Neighbors ask for help getting 'drugs, thugs' out

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 26, 2006 1:51 PM

Diane Weeks choked up as she urged her friends and family to take back their neighborhood -- from the drug dealers, gang culture and "thugs" constantly lurking on the block.

"My concern is all the crime and the gangs," she said. "If we help one another, we can heal this place. It's a dangerous game being played out there."

Mrs. Weeks and other concerned residents gathered Tuesday evening at the first of a series of city-sponsored neighborhood meetings for the year.

Neighborhood Meeting

News-Argus/Mitch Loeber

Goldsboro Mayor Al King talks with residents of the Franklin Bakery neighborhood Tuesday evening during a meeting hosted by the city. The neighborhood meetings are designed to allow council members and city personnel to learn about residents' needs and concerns of their community.

The group assembled in front of Franklin Bakery's dock. A few rows of fold-out chairs, a podium with a microphone and a half a dozen tables set the stage. City officials and more than 30 concerned neighbors filled the space and shared a discussion aimed at exposing and attempting to resolve pressing problems in the area.

Mayor Al King thanked the assembled crowd for coming out and said a few words before a pizza dinner was served and the comment period began.

"You're here, and you're important, and we are here to listen to what you have to say," King said.

Estella Johnson was one of the first to speak. As she addressed the City Council members, department heads and staff, many in the audience applauded. Her comments regarded the drug presence on her block, and later she shared her worries for the neighborhood children.

"My main concern is about the drugs that are up and down North Virginia Street," Mrs. Johnson said. "And what about our children? I want a place where the neighborhood children will be safe. And drugs running up and down the street is not good for these children."

She added that with no playground in the area, front yards and street sides are the only places for them to play -- and drivers speed through the neighborhood, she added.

Tasha Holloway agreed. She said the lack of sidewalks on the block creates heavy foot traffic on the roads.

Other neighbors had their own concerns. Some spoke about drainage problems, dilapidated and vacant houses, a lack of job security and mosquitoes. But for Mrs. Johnson, broader issues were more important.

"The kids fall through the cracks because they have been convicted of crimes at a young age," she said. "They can't get jobs and they don't have no education. How are we going to help these kids?"

City Manager Joe Huffman responded, assuring the neighbors that with teamwork and effective communication, solutions to these large, complex issues would come.

"As we look for a solution, the city doesn't have a magic answer," he said. "But if we work together as a team, we can try to find a solution together."

Council member Bob Waller said he was happy with the meeting and turnout. He said that while he agreed that some of the more complex social problems would take time and commitment to resolve, he believes there is still hope for a better life in neighborhoods like the one behind Franklin Bakery.

"If (the neighbors) can influence their neighbors to be as enthusiastic about changing things as they are, I think there is hope here," Waller said.

By the end of the event, close to 10 people had spoken and the some of the neighborhood children were sporting plastic fire helmets provided by the Goldsboro Fire Department, while others visited the Police Department-sponsored D.A.R.E. table.

Council member Jimmy Bryan, who represents the voting district the neighbors call home, thanked his constituency for being a part of the solution and offered his help whenever needed.

"We wish we had more people here, but this is a good representation," he said. "I'm your representative, and if you would like to talk one-on-one, I'm here to listen."

Neighborhood meetings have been scheduled to run through October and should cover all six of Goldsboro's voting districts, officials said. The second meeting of the year will be May 23 at the intersection of Harris Street and Bunche Drive.