by David Anderson
Again and again, Kinston officials exhorted residents of Mitchelltown — and other neighborhoods — to call the city if they see problems in their communities.
“The only thing that you can do wrong is not call us a second time, not call us a third time,” Public Safety Director Bill Johnson told the at least 25 residents who gathered in the fellowship hall of the Temple of Deliverance Worship Center on Wednesday.
The residents were there for the third Mitchelltown community meeting in the past six months — the first was held in late June 2011 after two homicides took place in the historic district within seven days of each other.
On Wednesday, Johnson, along with Community Development Planner Adam Short, City Manager Tony Sears, Mayor B.J. Murphy, Mitchelltown Preservation Society President Rose Clark and Temple of Deliverance Pastor Robert Brown spoke to residents about how they can work with city officials to fix neighborhood problems, and what ordinances and laws the city can use to tackle blight in Mitchelltown and other parts of Kinston.
“It’s not a Mitchelltown issue,” Sears said. “We have a city of Kinston issue.”
Sears, along with Short, told the audience the city needs stronger ordinances — and more money and people — to secure abandoned homes by boarding them up, to remove dilapidated houses, and lower the threshold of the value of repairs to a home, versus the home’s value, before demolition is required.
The current threshold requires the value of repairs to be 75 percent of a home’s value.
“The first step is, obviously, getting out of your own way,” said Sears, who told the audience there are more than 200 residential structures in Kinston which should be demolished.
The city manager added: “We have our own rules and regulations that we ourselves passed.”
He also noted the city has codes to secure abandoned commercial and industrial structures, but not residential.
Short talked about the state’s Urban Redevelopment Law, which gives cities the ability to set up redevelopment commissions to take care of blighted areas.
“This is a real document that can help our community,” Short said. “It gives our City Council (the authority) to take direct control of an area and make it what you, as citizens, want it to be.”
Sears said a timeline has not yet been set for implementing the Urban Redevelopment Law, because the members of the City Council must decide which policies they want to pursue, and how they want to dedicate funding and personnel.
“You won’t get a timetable until the council decides what policies they’ll put in place,” Sears said Thursday. “To be honest, it’ll take a couple months before we figure out what we want to do.”
Johnson, Sears and Short urged residents to call their offices — repeatedly if necessary — if they see a crime, a nuisance, a code violation on a property or other offense.
The Mitchelltown community has taken action to secure their neighborhood since the June homicides, such as designating block captains.
Judy Williams, who serves as block captain for Mitchell Street, said she was glad to see a greater police presence in the neighborhood, especially around the Tony’s Friendly Mart convenience store, which many residents point to as a source for trouble due to the large volume of alcohol sales.
“It seems like everybody is more comfortable sitting out on their front porches,” she said. “It’s working.”
Mitchelltown resident and City Councilman Sammy C. Aiken, who is also a block captain, gave a more sobering report on crimes that continue to plague the community’s residents.
Aiken said his home has been broken into three times in recent weeks, and noted one occasion the thieves took the flat-screen television from his mantle and put a certificate for his work as board chairman of Lenoir County Crimestoppers in its place.
“So they’ve got kind of a sense of humor about it,” he said.
Aiken also reported an individual attempting to open a halfway house in an area not zoned for it, an assault on a man who is a Vietnam veteran, a home invasion and the recent return of a man convicted of murdering a woman six years ago.
Johnson told residents to keep an eye on the former convict, but there was little police could do unless he broke the law again.
Residents also asked about greater street lighting for the neighborhood, whether the city’s youth curfew is still in effect — it is — and complained about some police officers who ride by incidents and do not bother to get out of their cars.
Johnson told residents to inform him if they see an officer not performing his or her duty, but the majority of Kinston officers are dedicated to their jobs.
“The bulk of the officers that serve you do not live in this community, but they come here every day,” he said.
Clark told audience members the Mitchelltown community needs to start meeting on its own, and allow city officials to work with other neighborhoods.
“Let’s see what we can do on our own, working with these officials,” she said.
David Anderson can be reached at 252-559-1077 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at DavidFreePress.
City of Kinston residents should call the following to report issues:
For an emergency, call 911
Department of Public Safety main line: 252-939-3220
Director: Bill Johnson
Report suspicious activity: call 252-939-4020 or email email@example.com
City Manager Tony Sears: 252-939-3110
Community Development Planner Adam Short: 252-939-3269