WILKES-BARRE – Mayor Tony George was accompanied by more than a dozen members of all major city departments at the East End Crime Watch meeting, held at the East End Primitive Methodist Church on Monday.
He and members from the city’s police, fire, health, zoning and other departments listened to concerns from a room full of residents that ranged from high grass to drug houses for more than an hour.
City resident Joan Danifhanko was one of the first to speak, citing concerns over absentee landlords while questioning the length of work permits for properties. A few speakers later, issues over swimming pool ordinances were also addressed as city Administrator Ted Wampole made notes about the concerns.
“This is what we need,” Wampole said to residents. “It’s the citizen involvement. You’re holding us accountable. You’re telling us where these things are.”
Danifhanko believes that having city officials attend the crime watch meetings helps connect the two groups while allowing citizens to feel heard.
“It’s very very important,” she said after the meeting. “You feel like you’re not the forgotten people anymore.”
After having a back-and-forth about overgrown brush on city-owned properties, Teresa Jemio had a different question for officials.
“What can we, as citizens, do to help you?” she asked.
“Hold me accountable,” Wampole replied, adding to keep in contact about outstanding issues in the neighborhood until a resolution is reached.
The overly rainy summer season set the city back for cutting grass, Wampole added, but assured residents he would get a crew together to come clear the area as soon as possible.
Complaints about debris, vehicles, homes and more in the area of Kidder Street and the surrounding area sparked conversation for the Neighborhood Impact Team to make a visit to the East End.
NIT Coordinator Joe Rodano said that while the team has yet to walk through that part of the city, information is being gathered and a date is being planned for the near future.
A common theme of the evening was the repeated request from officials for residents to call 911 to report incidents. The city can’t respond to a problem if they don’t know it’s happening, multiple officials announced.
“Anytime you see something that doesn’t seem right, call 911,” Wampole urged residents.
Responding to questions over the city’s Act 47 petition, George told residents he felt that the status could be used as a tool to help turn the city around. Both he and Wampole stressed that although there may be some short-term hardships, the outlook in the long run would be well worth it.
“I made a pledge when I got elected that I wasn’t going to kick the can down to the next generation, and this is the first step in picking up that can,” George told the crowd. “If we wait any longer, it will be difficult. I think that we will be able to accomplish that before the five years is up.”
At the end of the meeting, Wilkes-Barre City police officer Kirk Merhcel announced one positive thing he noticed throughout the discussion.
“I see all the complaints are basically quality-of-life complaints,” he said. “Aside from the two minor complaints about drug houses, nobody complained about any major crimes up here. I look at that as a good thing.”
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