WILKES-BARRE — In big and small ways residents of the Iron Triangle neighborhood pleaded for help from the city officials to address problems many said have disrupted their daily lives.
Approximately 130 people packed the basement hall of St. Anthony’s Church on Park Avenue for a “Community Conversation” Thursday night. More than 30 of them spoke during the 2½ hour meeting covering topics ranging from drug dealing in driveways, abandoned buildings, unruly neighbors, uncaring landlords, noise, speeding and groundhogs traveling between backyards.
The conversation focused attention on long-simmering issues that the day before drew Mayor Tony George, police, fire, code enforcement and health department employees out for a surprise sweep by the Neighborhood Impact Team (NIT), which resulted in citations and parking tickets being issued.
Kevin Nichols, a resident of Hutson Street targeted in the “NIT Hit,” reminded the city officials seated at tables in front of the audience that the neighborhood has progressively gotten worse over several administrations.
The city conducted a “NIT Hit” last year after a woman was shot on the porch of her house on the corner of Hutson and Metcalf.
Nichols wondered if the city was committed to making things better by acting on the residents’ complaints.
“What happens in six months? We’ve been down this road before,” Nichols said.
“Please keep up the pressure. That’s all we ask. Please keep it up and don’t forget about us,” he urged.
Nichols voiced a common complaint that the city was going after the wrong people who play by the rules when major offenses like drugs and crime went unpunished. Residents have poured concrete pads in front of their houses to park their vehicles because there is limited space on the one-way street.
Twice this month Nichols was ticketed.
Mayor George responded that it was overzealous enforcement by the city employee who could have used his discretion.
“I’ll take care of those two tickets,” George told Nichols.
Pleased with the reprieve, Nichols asked for another favor.
“Is there any possible way we can get those sneakers removed from the power lines,” he asked, noting that wo sets of shoes dangle from the lines on Metcalf Street.
Christa Koter fired a warning shot to the city officials that they should pay attention to the residents.
“If someone is not on board then stop voting for that individual,” said Koter, who owns property on Hutson Street.
At times the crowd noise drowned out the speakers and the microphone squealed, keeping moderator Denise Thomas on her toes. But the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board member and neighborhood resident kept the program moving smoothly.
“This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time,” Thomas said.
It also attracted the attention of Deizarae Height. Even though she lived in the North End of the city, her neighborhood is dealing with the same problems as the Iron Triangle residents.
“Are we going to do this in other neighborhoods?” Height asked.
City Administrator Ted Wampole answered that the city will respond to wherever the complaints are coming from.
As bad as it may be, the city is making an effort through a variety of programs and steps to deal with the complaints,Wampole added. He stressed the need for residents to stay involved.
“The most important thing is you can’t give up. You can’t give up,” Wampole said.
It wasn’t the residents that Brian McCann worried about. It was the city, McCann said.
“You guys aren’t doing your job,” McCann said, adding that the city is losing out on revenue by not enforcing codes already on the books.
Less harsh in his criticism, Edward Ghee said community policing is needed.
“If you put boots on the ground in the problem areas, you eliminated the problems,” Ghee said.
Former city councilman Tony Thomas, the moderator’s brother, agreed. The officers who drive through the neighborhoods have to get to know the residents.
“They gotta talk to the people,” Thomas said.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.