07/01/12 — Residents' cime worries have potential budget effects

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Residents' cime worries have potential budget effects

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on July 1, 2012 1:50 AM

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Richard Taylor, standing, addresses the crowd of supporters gathered at City Hall Friday for a meeting between himself and city officials to discuss violent crime.

What started out as a small meeting with Mayor Al King ballooned into a small demonstration Friday at City Hall when more than 25 supporters turned out for the meeting with city officials on the violent crime issues facing the city.

Richard Taylor, 34, requested the meeting with King following the June 18 Goldsboro City Council meeting where dozens turned out to address their public officials about the upswing in violent crime this upcoming year. There have been half a dozen homicides in the first six months of the year and dozens of other shooting incidents.

The crime rate, combined with the announcement that another privately run community center would shutter at the end of the month, led to the meeting where city officials were surprised that the conversation included questions about budgetary measures, including allocation of the Community Development Block Grant funds.

"We thought we were just going to talk about violence," Kim Best, the city's spokesperson, said following the meeting, which is why Police Chief Jeff Stewart was included in the meeting.

Besides Mrs. Best, Taylor, King and Stewart, others at the meeting included City Manager Scott Stevens, Assistant City Manager Tasha Logan, Community Affairs Director LaTerrie Ward and four other concerned members of the community who Taylor asked to be present.

Reporters were not permitted to attend the meeting, which was held in the Mayor's Conference Room, and were instead asked to wait in the large conference room with the supporters, many of whom had received flyers asking them to attend the meeting. A few held signs on Center Street protesting the city's use of funds.

Taylor said his intention and hope was that the meeting would be held in the large conference room where members of the public could hear the discussions. When the meeting was winding to a close, he emerged to tell the supporters what had happened in the smaller, closed meeting.

Both Mrs. Best and Taylor said those in the meeting were unable to initially answer many of the questions posed about finances and other programs, including plans for the W.A. Foster Recreation Center and the city's decision back in 2010 to not build a new recreation center downtown despite spending $1.2 million for consultant fees for the building.

There are preliminary plans to rebuild the W.A. Foster Recreation Center due to its age and size, and Taylor said he was told in the meeting that the city cannot share the block grant appropriations to help keep fund organizations, such as the TRANZ Center, which recently announced it will be closing its doors until it can afford to reopen somewhere else.

"A lot of the issues are a deeper-rooted problem," Taylor said, adding that he felt the city's interests were becoming more commercial. "The powers that be would rather invest in commercial development instead of putting the money were it needs to go."

He cited the lack of a recreation center and the city's failure to keep community organizations funded as a sign of a disconnect between the city officials and the public's needs.

"If that was their goal, they would find a way to keep them alive," he said.

Mrs. Best said that many ideas were born out of the discussions, especially concerning possible Parks and Recreation programs that could be implemented in the future. The community leaders requested that Scott Barnard, the parks and recreation director, be included at a subsequent meeting, which Mrs. Best said was not yet scheduled.

King said later that there appeared to be a lot of misinformed individuals in the city who confused the use of funds earmarked for specific projects, such as the street bond money paying for a portion of the Center Street Streetscape project, with general funds available to be allocated anywhere.

"We're going to get back to them," King said, referring to the unscheduled follow-up meeting. "They don't understand how the budget works, a lot of them. There are pockets of money and you can't take it out of that pocket and put it into another pocket."

King also said he was following through on his vow at the last Council meeting to schedule a meeting with all nine of those who spoke on violent crime during the public comment period. Those who spoke had been contacted and they were meeting on their own to focus their concerns in advance of that meeting.