Sharon Ward, president of the 30th Ward Knoxville Block Watch, was ecstatic, that every invited guest speaker showed up to the organization's first official meeting of the year on April 28 at the Trinity Lutheran Church, at the corner of Brownsville Road and Margaret Street.
"I am shocked by the [huge] turnout [of more than 40 residents] and I am also pleased that [all the public officials] we invited turned out as well," said Ms. Ward, running only her second meeting since taking over as block watch president last fall.
"I'm so pleased with everything," said Ms. Ward, noting the large turnout is a sign that apathy among residents and city officials is not as rampant as many believe.
She believes that a change of venue for the meetings may have prompted a higher turn-out by the residents.
For many years the 30th Ward meetings were held at the St. Sava Church on nearby Knox Ave., but that church was recently closed as a worship site.
"I told Pastor Chuck [of Trinity Lutheran] that the [bigger turnout] may have something to do with having the meetings here," Ms. Ward said.
The guest speakers included District 3 Councilman Bruce A. Kraus, District Judges Richard King and Gene Ricciardi, Zone 3 Police Commander Larry Ross and State Rep. Harry Readshaw. Also in attendance were Public Safety Director Michael Huss and Assistant Police Chief William Bochter.
The most prominent guest speaker was Mayor Luke Ravensthal who attended the early part of the 7 p.m. meeting before he had to leave for other community meetings that night in the city.
The mayor outlined the city's plan to demolish unrepairable abandoned houses throughout the city, including the south hilltop area where almost 100 hazardous structures in the local area are expected to be razed starting in the latter part of the summer.
Councilman Kraus, with assistance from his chief of staff Ken Wolfe, are gathering a list of addresses where houses are to be demolished.
A citizen in the audience said she was recently contacted by someone who claimed to be a member of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which is the nation's largest community organization of low and moderate-income families, working together for social justice and stronger communities.
ACORN is seeking names on a petition to save many abandoned homes in the city from being demolished, according to the woman who said she was contacted by the organization.
She said it is ACORN's intention to restore many of these abandoned houses for those in need of financial assistance and counseling. The public officials said this is a totally different issue than what they are doing in regards to the city's effort to tear down hundreds of sub-standard and decaying houses.
Mr. Kraus said that the city is only seeking to tear down structures that are beyond the point of restoration.
Other topics for discussion at the meeting included crime in the neighborhood and reasons for calling 311 instead of 911 to solve a neighborhood problem.
A group of residents addressed the police officials, particularly Commander Ross, to complain about what they believe to be a lack of concern over problems in their neighborhood. They said many of the children in Knoxville are afraid to go out and play because a group of bullies are terrorizing them.
Some of the residents said they have to supervise their children when they are playing outside to make sure trouble is not started by gangs of children who do not even live in their neighborhood. They said when they have contacted the police when one of their children is assaulted, the police respond in a very unsatisfactory manner and do not even take a report on the incident.
One of them said the police insinuated that they should just move if they don't like the way the neighborhood is going. "I lived here for 50 years so why should I have to move?" said one frustrated female resident. "The [trouble-makers who are not home-owners] should be the ones who have to move."
The frustrated residents said the police often tell them that these problems are a civil matter and must be brought to a district magistrate. Judge King said the police are mistaken in telling the residents to take the matter directly to their district magistrate.
Judge King said that in recent years, if anyone wants to file a criminal complaint against somebody, they have to go downtown (on Fridays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. only) to file it with the district attorney's office where it will be determined whether charges are warranted. If they are warranted, the matter will then be brought to a hearing where the complaining party must appear in court.
One of the good news items that came out of the meeting was the announcement that the city plans to install a camera system in many neighborhoods to help reduce crime. Mayor Ravenstahl said he visited Chicago last year to learn about their camera system in the neighborhoods where crime has been reduced by 30 percent in many areas.
"This is a tribute to the men and women in uniform and the hard work that they do as well as a tribute to organizations like yours which care so much about the quality-of-life issues," he said to the large audience.
Rep. Readshaw, on a short break from his duties in Harrisburg, spoke briefly to the group.
"My concerns are your concerns," said the long-time Carrick resident. "The good guys, [that being] us, have to stick together instead of accepting all the negative things that happen…Please don't get so frustrated to the point of being discouraged. You are an important part of returning the city to where it should be. Keep trying. Keep plugging away."