Letter to Kinston: see you later, but not goodbye

Kinston: See you later, but not goodbye

Eight years ago, the citizens of Kinston took a chance on me. For a young man wanting to make an impact on his hometown and willing to give up 16 years of his life, I am forever grateful for the eight you allowed me to serve.

In fourth grade at Bynum Elementary, I told my art teacher I would live in Kinston when I got older. While watching a laser disc – which cast the vision for the Global TransPark – in the seventh grade at Rochelle Middle School, it solidified that promise in my heart and mind.

During my lifetime, my family has experienced great trials, including the tragic loss of my mother and my sister’s courageous battle with cancer, which sparked a community rally for prayer. Through prayer, family and our community, we have persevered. So too has our beloved Kinston.

We once were the epicenter of Eastern North Carolina where the Magic Mile reigned. However, the loss of tobacco and textiles sent shockwaves throughout our economy. After years of hard work but about the time we started figuring things out, Hurricane Floyd left us with the so-called “Flood of the Century,” which changed the landscape of neighborhoods throughout our community.

Even still, in 2002 upon graduating from ECU, I came home. I enjoyed running the Broken Eagle Eatery, engaging in historic preservation and leading downtown revitalization efforts through Pride of Kinston. These experiences encouraged my love for my hometown and created personal and professional relationships that continue even today.

Over these past eight years, I have enjoyed advocating for our staff, our businesses and our people. Whether it was a crime, a business expansion, Eagle Scout Court of Honor or a flood, you have been worth fighting for.

From the onset, I challenged the status quo and made many mistakes. The incredible team of city leaders, civic organizers, teenagers and religious leaders – mixed with an environment for business success – has led to a new identity for Kinston with incredible hopes of prosperity on the horizon.

I have had the privilege of serving you during a time when our reputation has changed across the state. In the past we were greeted with “You’re from Kinston?” and now it’s “You’re from Kinston!”

Our collective success has been no accident. The City of Kinston has developed a culture of finding ways to say “yes” as a means to create an environment for entrepreneurs to thrive. Our local government has been most effective because of our willingness to be engaged, yet standing out of the way. 

Through the collective of our team and community, we have been able to see some accomplishments. Here are but a few:

  • All major indicators of violent crimes are down 11.7 percent since 2009; that number includes murder, rape, robbery, motor vehicle theft and simple assault
  • The No. 1 issue facing our town for more than two decades had been our electric rates. Electric rates are down 10 percent since 2009 and are projected to be stable for the next several years
  • Street resurfacing has gone from a budget of zero tax dollars allocated in 2009 to $500,000, which will be spent in the coming months. We’re still shy of the $600,000 needed annually to sustain a 25-year life cycle, but we accomplished this without any increase in our total property tax revenue
  • Our fund balances, which are our savings accounts for emergency use like hurricane expenses and one-time expenditures like the Queen Street rehab, across all our accounts have gone from a disturbing $13,059,467 to a healthy $35,275,632
  • In 2009, Kinston’s unemployment rate was 13.9 percent; today, we’re at 5.3 percent
  • We found the right opportunity to split up the Department of Public Safety, so the two disciplines of Police and Fire could better focus on their core functions
  • We have more Community Watch programs than in 2009
  • We instituted prayer vigils as an immediate action following horrific events
  • We are hiring a community development planner to continue to find ways to work with neighborhoods in developing safe and productive communities
  • We have tripled the amount we’re spending in 2018 versus 2009 on demolishing blighted homes
  • We opened the Lions Water Adventure Park, which attracts thousands to our community each summer
  • We have installed thousands of LED street lights that save taxpayers’ money; in the process, increasing brightness and reducing maintenance costs
  • We have worked with the Pride of Kinston board to bring their staff members inside our organization. The new director will now be responsible for not only downtown, but also supporting the efforts of small business recruitment, retention, and expansion throughout our city limits
  • We saw the Kinston Indians leave us with a five-year drought in baseball only to successfully recruit the Texas Rangers. On Monday night, we will pass an agreement that solidifies the presence of the Down East Wood Ducks in Kinston through 2033
  • We overhauled our Comprehensive Unified Development Ordinance to streamline policies affecting our business community and to better position ourselves for growth
  • We took our 40-year dormant power plant and found a way to allow outside investors to launch a new business. Unlike Vernon Park Mall, the City of Kinston now owns (via a gift) the Glen Raven Mills property, which allows the City of Kinston to control its impact on development along the Neuse River and Riverwalk
  • We are investing in the infrastructure and aesthetics of Queen Street to give our downtown a shot in the arm for development; otherwise, Queen Street will remain 50 percent vacant. Although the project has been frustrating to many, this is an investment like never in our history and will give us a fighting chance at recreating the Magic of the Mile
  • We successfully motivated and transferred ownership of the flood prevention issue to the State of North Carolina, who is now studying mitigation efforts for the Neuse River Basin

And here are just a few things to happen in the next few years:

  • The completion of Harvey Parkway Part C, which will connect Hwy 58 at the Global TransPark to Hwy 11 south of Dupont
  • The completion of the Carey Road Extension (which has been three decades in the making) from Rouse Road to Daly Waldrop and Hwy 258
  • The extension of Doctors Drive so citizens and emergency services personnel can travel from Herritage Street to Airport Road via Doctors Drive
  • The construction of a second point of distribution for our electric grid to reduce the likelihood of emergencies like the Outer Banks experienced this past summer
  • The implementation of Smart Grid systems to give you better control of your energy consumption and bill

Come Monday, December 4 at 5:30 p.m., I will freely step aside for our new Mayor. Our country is the greatest on earth because of moments like this. Granted, I’d rather stay, but Don Hardy is now my mayor and yours. I encourage you to join me as I pray for his success. Pray for the team of leaders that surround him that they may be able to carry this momentum to a new level.

Kinston deserves prosperity and I believe she is in the best position to capitalize on it. For now, I will do more listening on city affairs than talking. I will turn my attention to my social media marketing firm and incredible family. I encourage all of you to look for opportunities to become more involved in our community. Our kids, our neighbors and this beloved community deserve your best. I’d #ExpectNothingLess because #IHeartKinston.

Less talk. More rolled-up sleeves. Less condemnation. More prayer and encouragement.

May you and our city’s future be blessed with much success and happiness!

Forever in love,
Mayor BJ Murphy

WNCT: Kinston Teens hold town hall with local leaders Friday

By WNCT STAFF
Greenville, NC | News | Weather | Sports – WNCT.com
KINSTON, N.C. – A group of teenagers in Kinston hope to improve community dialogue and the city’s image.

They hosted their first “Teen Town Hall” at the Woodmen Community Center.

9 On Your Side has covered the youth advocacy group “Kinston Teens” since October.

Founder Chris Suggs created the group as a way to keep teens off the streets and invested in their community.

Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy, Kinston Public Safety Director Bill Johnson, Lenoir County Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Mazingo and other school and county officials participated; it is the first time youth have had the chance to hold their leaders accountable.
“What you’re seeing right now are the future leaders of our community.” Mayor BJ Murphy said.

“I mean these kids really care about their community; they want to hold government accountable but at the same time they’re getting into the trenches and they’re rolling up their sleeves too.”

The group’s concerns were heard loud and clear. This town hall meeting will be followed up with sit downs with not only the Director of Public Safety, but lawmakers in Raleigh to address their concerns.

“I’m truly pleased about how this event turned out.” Kinston Teens President Chris Suggs said. “I think there’s nowhere else we can go but up.”

Follow the “Kinston Teens” on Twitter @KinstonTeens

“Catch A Criminal” Press Conference via TACC-9

Special thanks to Clark Tutt and Martha Bishop at TACC-9 for recording the press conference held on Monday, October 13th. We announced several items:
1 – Day of Mourning & Prayer on Tuesday, 10/21
2 – Teenagers Social Media Campaign – #IHeartKinston
3 – To Catch A Criminal $500 reward featured in the Kinston Free Press
4 – Choice Neighborhoods Grant Application
5 – Revised Crime Stoppers to sustain the To Catch A Criminal program and more

 

 

KFP Our Opinion: This is our city — let’s take it back

A group of people met Monday morning in an attempt to take back our city from the bad guys. Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy led an impassioned press conference at City Hall so well-attended that chairs needed to be brought into council chambers to seat residents, citizens and a good-looking group of high school students. Those folks were on hand to hear the young mayor, the city’s veteran director of public safety and a well-seasoned city councilman discuss plans to curb crime in Kinston.

After a three-year interlude in which crime actually abated a bit in Kinston, our city has been swamped lately with a variety of crimes that has sullied her name throughout Eastern North Carolina.

The message from the city officials was simple, but powerful: We’re not taking this any longer.

Murphy asked those assembled to begin the daily battle against crime with prayer before presenting his five-point plan to fight crime to the crowd. Kinston Department of Public Safety Director Bill Johnson asked the public — which has been very hesitant to help our city’s police, for one reason or another — to come forward to help slow crime. And city councilman Joe Tyson didn’t mince words in his presentation. “I am begging for your help,” Tyson said, making eye contact with as many people as he could while drawing out the sentence. “This has to be a community effort.” Tyson summed up what was the beauty and simplicity of Monday’s press conference: government is not being increased to make our city safer; frankly, we’ve all been taxed to death and it’s time for those agencies to step up and do their jobs more effectively.

Tyson’s (and Murphy’s, before him) appeal to the public is for us, the public, to step up and take responsibility for our city, not to depend on municipal government to do the job.

That’s why it’s important that if you know who shot someone, or broke into a home or assaulted a victim, speak up! Our police department works very hard but even the best police department in the world can’t be successful if those who can help, won’t.

Murphy is to be commended for his actions and attempted solutions; this isn’t some election year stumping where he’s trying to win your vote. Murphy hasn’t even finished the first year of his second term — he is trying to clean up the streets of his hometown. The same can be said for Johnson, who is in the final months of his career before he retires and for Tyson, who so passionately loves Kinston he nearly broke into tears Monday begging for the public’s help.

There were many positives from Monday’s presser, including a large group of Kinston High School students on hand to support the mayor’s initiatives and a packed chambers full of people ready to help.

But let’s not let this eagerness to take our city back end with hashtags and good intentions. We the people of Kinston can stop the criminals in our city.

Now, let’s get out there and do it.

KFP: City takes on crime and violence with a vengence

Mayor BJ Murphy, City of Kinston

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mayor B.J. Murphy talks with KDPS Director Bill Johnson and Mayor Pro Tem Joe Tyson as they hold a press conference with an update on crime Monday at City Hall.
Janet S. Carter / The Free Press
 
By Junious Smith III / Staff Writer
 
Published: Monday, October 13, 2014 at 10:17 PM.
 
E pluribus unum — out of many, one.The Latin phrase adorned on the Seal of the United States could have been used to describe the initiative of three city leaders in Monday’s press conference at City Hall.

Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy, Kinston Department of Public Safety Director Bill Johnson and Mayor Pro Tem Joe Tyson discussed short- and long-term plans to prevent crime in the city, but also sought the assistance of the residents.

“When you look at the community, the only way to solve a problem of this magnitude is to engage them,” Murphy said. “The government and department of public safety has their roles, but through alignment with the community, we would be much better suited to solve the issue.”

A five-part initiative was discussed in the conference with a focus based towards religious groups, youth, businesses, other government agencies and public and private partnerships through Crime Stoppers.

Murphy proclaimed Tuesday, Oct. 21, as a Day of Mourning and Prayer in Kinston, and a candlelight vigil will be hosted at 7:30 p.m. at Kinston High School.

“Although the City of Kinston isn’t organizing this event, feel free to call my office at 252-939-3115 if you’d like to help,” he said, “and we’ll put you in touch with the event’s organizers.”

A group of students from Kinston High School also launched its #IHeartKinston campaign, where they will look to use the “hashtag” on social media networks — such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — to share their love for the city and spread the word.

Melissa Glen, a senior at Kinston High School, said she hopes to see her peers and others carry on with the hashtag.

“We have several tweets going now,” Glen said. “The goal is to get a lot of students involved to change Kinston and keep the trend moving.”

Today, the “To Catch A Criminal” campaign, which was discussed Monday, was launched. With the little bank and The Free Press helping to restore the operation, each Tuesday there will be known criminals  KDPS is looking to take off the streets featured in the paper.

If a resident has information which could lead to an arrest, the resident will not be named, but will receive $500. Also, local station TACC-9 will be coordinating a series of in-depth conversations with Johnson while seeking assistance from the community in providing information.

“We’ve had cases where witnesses or victims didn’t want to speak, or gave us false names,” Johnson said. “We can only do so much without the cooperation of the community.”

Long-term, Murphy said the city is looking to receive a Choice Neighborhood Grant for a two-year community planning process to create a detailed transformational plan.

“Essentially, it would create a road map for future redevelopment,” Murphy said. “The grant’s focus is on housing people and neighborhoods. More specifically, it could replace some public housing with high-quality, low-density (and) mixed-income housing; focus on workforce training; and increase the potential for economic opportunities.”

Tyson said the city is also working on reviving its Crime Stoppers program. Shortly after the end of the meeting, nine people approached Tyson asking to volunteer.

“The people have looked at this as a good idea and want to contribute,” Tyson said. “I’m pleased with the way the community wants to step up and see what they can do to combat crime.”

Alexa Chapman, a freshman at Kinston High School, said she learned a lot from the press conference.

“There were new plans made to help the community and bring Kinston back, and we have to have youth cooperation,” she said.

Kinston City Manager Tony Sears said the conference will open up further discussions in the future with the city leaders and residents.

“Obviously, we can’t begin and end just like this,” Sears said. “There has to be concrete actions and steps to follow.”

Maya Swinson, principal of Rochelle Middle School, said the discussion was a step in the right direction and hopes to see more progress.

“A lot of the criminal activities happen in the neighborhoods of the children around this area,” Swinson said. “I would like to know what considerations are being made to support the neighborhoods. It’s great they’re doing the candlelight vigil at Kinston High, but there are parents who have trouble making it to the parent-teacher conferences here, much less take a trip there. I would like to see more vigils where the actions occurred and the city leaders meeting the community where they are for support.”

Kinston resident Carlos Parker, who coaches and mentors in the community, said he believes the leaders are taking the wrong approach.

“They’re approaching this problem from the outside in,” Parker said. “What they need to do is come and see people in the trenches and work with those already trying to help the community. The leaders need to come to the heart of Kinston. I see they’re putting in an effort with this conference, but how can you work on the problem and don’t really know what’s going on? They’re going on second- and third-party information and that’s usually watered down.

“The gang unit they have aren’t really experts on the gangs. The real experts are the kids. Until the leaders get together and get into the trenches to solve the problem, it’ll just be a repetitive cycle.”

Another Kinston resident, Edna Dixon-Lawson, said she was wondering what the city was trying to do in regard to preventive methods to stop crime before it could start.

“Where are the guns coming from and what is being done there,” Dixon-Lawson asked. “What activities are being put in place to make some of the citizens feel human, when there’s no jobs or apparent job training? We shouldn’t just be talking about jails — what is being done to prevent them from going there in the first place?”

Murphy said if the residents are willing to work with the officials, significant progress will be made in Kinston.

“If the community embraces the challenges, you will absolutely see a better Kinston,” Murphy said. “I can’t speak on crime being completely deterred, but with everyone working together and getting involved, there will be a major impact.”

 

Junious Smith III can be reached at 252-559-1077 andJunious.Smith@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JuniousSmithIII.

 

 

WCTI 12: Kinston leaders present plan to reduce violent crime

KINSTON –

Kinston leaders presented a plan to reduce gang violence and shootings in the city council hall on Monday.

Mayor B.J. Murphy introduced a plan he worked on with Kinston Police Chief Bill Johnson and Mayor Pro Tem, Joseph Tyson. The plans contains five parts, including hiring more officers to the gang unit, and a crime prevention hotline.

According to the mayor, prayer, as well as a social media campaign called “#IHeartKinston” are some strategies the city is taking to reduce gang violence.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been 29 shooting cases in the city. There were 33 victims in those cases, three of the victims died. Of those 33 victims, 28 were affiliated with gangs in the city, according to Chief Johnson. This means the shootings were almost entirely gang related.

The leaders hope a crime prevention hotline will provide the police the tips they need to crack down on criminals. There will be a $500 reward for information leading to arrests.

“We all know that crime has a price to pay,” Mayor Murphy said. “And now snitching is not only acceptable, it’s profitable in Kinston.”

Also, on Tuesdays, the local paper will air a wanted poster of one of Kinston’s most wanted known criminals.

It was a packed house, community members and students from Kinston High School filled the room.

However, there wasn’t all agreement with the way leaders were tackling the violence problem.

“They hired four more officers and five kids get shot the following week,” said Larry Wayne. “How are four more officers going to help the situation?”

Wayne suggested the problem was already out of the city’s control and that state or federal aid was needed to reduce violence.

“I would just like to see more done in the interest and well being of the public,” said Guy Basden,

Basden suggested the problem was economic, and that crime wouldn’t improve until more job opportunities came to the city.

By Kyle Horan

WNCT 9: Kinston leaders unveil new plan to tackle crime

 Greenville, NC | News | Weather | Sports – WNCT.com

 

 

KINSTON, N.C. -The City of Kinston unveils a new five-point plan to address crime in the community.

Department of Public Safety Director, Bill Johnson, says in 2014 his officers have responded to 29 shooting calls. Johnson says since expanding the gang unit, officers have made seven arrests and taken 6 guns off the street.

On Monday, Johnson joined other city leaders including Mayor B.J. Murphy to announce a multi-layered plan to reduce crime in Kinston.

Murphy says part one of the plan calls on religious leaders to not only pray over the city, but assist in creating a positive culture in the church and the community.

“Spreading this message of love and hope will create a culture of positive energy throughout our community,” said Murphy.

Other parts of the plan include applying for a federal “Choice Neighborhood” grant and calling on businesses to help with the city’s growth.

Councilman Joseph Tyson also asked for the public’s help in recreating the Crimestoppers program. Tyson says the city is looking for people to help on the program’s board.

Murphy says another key part of the crime reduction plan is the “Ask Me Why I Heart Kinston” campaign. Dozens of Kinston High School students will utilize social media to find, share, and encourage positive things they see in the community.

“I’m concerned that some of my peers are not focusing on what’s important.   All of us have times that we get off track and I think with the mayor working so hard, I think they are going to get back on track,” said KHS senior and #IHeartKinston participant, Emleigh Hughes.

KHS senior and #IHeartKinston participant, Kianna Sanders, says since her freshman year she has had to attend too many funerals. Sanders says it time for her peers to help each other stay out of trouble.

“I definitely think it’s important for the youth to take back their community and set an example for upcoming generations,” said Sanders.

The final part of the plan to reduce crime involves re-launch the city’s “To Catch a Criminal” program. Every week KDPS will release information on a criminal they are trying to get off the street. If a person provides police with information that leads to an arrest, they will receive $500 in cash. City leaders say tipsters can remain anonymous if they are afraid to come forward.

Posted: Oct 13, 2014 11:34 AM EDT
Updated: Oct 13, 2014 8:00 PM EDT

By WNCT STAFF

WITN 7: Kinston Mayor unveils five-part plan to fight crime

 

 

The City of Kinston unveiled their plans to fight crime in the city Monday morning.

Mayor BJ Murphy announced initiatives the city and community will be implementing in the coming days.

Murphy was joined at a press conference by Public Safety Director Bill Johnson.

Both men say gangs are a problem in Kinston. This year, 32 people have been wounded by gunfire in the city.

Murphy says on October 21st there will be a day a mourning and prayer, along with a candlelight vigil at Kinston High School. The mayor called on churches and religious leaders to help them take back the streets.

They are also working on a plan to get high school students more involved in helping to fight crime.

Police are also going to re-start Crimestoppers, an anonymous program for information that leads to arrests of suspects.

Johnson says most of the victims and suspects in the shootings this year were on probation, or pre-trial release for previous crimes. He says this “catch and release” with the court system just isn’t working.

The plan also includes the “to catch a criminal” program, which will feature wanted Kinston criminals in the paper.

Murphy says any information you have about them could reward you $500.00.

Kinston also recently added more officers to their gang unit.

City leaders hope to be awarded a choice neighborhoods grant which would help the city redevelop neighborhoods and replace some public housing with high quality, low density, mixed income housing.

Updated: Mon 6:57 PM, Oct 13, 2014