About 70 residents gathered at the Enoch Davis Center in St. Petersburg on Monday evening for a town hall meeting that was hosted by City Council member Karl Nurse and featured Mayor-elect Bill Foster.
The informal meeting allowed residents to ask the incoming mayor questions about his new administration as well as voice concerns about key issues in the 16 neighborhoods that encompass Midtown.
Topics ranged from street lighting to training for a green economy to slumlords.
But public safety and jobs were key issues for the diverse crowd that included community leaders and residents from Bartlett Park, Central Oak Park, Childs Park, Wildwood and the Old Southeast neighborhoods.
On the employment front, some residents expressed frustration with the city in what they called a lack of communication about filling jobs at the soon-to-open Pinellas County Job Corps Center at 22nd Street and Fifth Avenue S.
The 16-acre facility is expected to create more than 120 jobs and provide vocational training for more than 300 students annually.
But residents at Monday's meeting said they felt like they were being shut out of the good jobs in their own neighborhood.
Gregory Johnson, the CEO of Pinellas County Urban League, voiced concern about jobs and the disproportionate high unemployment in the black community.
He said he's wary of the excuses city leaders give because the jobless rate in the area is about 28 percent. The November unemployment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows black joblessness nationwide at 15.6 percent.
For the most part, Nurse and Foster offered few solutions. This was a "listening session." Nurse, however, announced that the city has received $300,000 for summer youth jobs next year.
But Foster did offer a few hints about possible changes once he takes office.
He might reinstitute community policing as well as implement a police chase policy, but he said a final decision will be made during a retreat where residents would have input.
In addition, Foster said he'll schedule a Mayor's Night Out eight times a year.
The "bringing City Hall out in the community" event will focus on addressing matters such as codes, police, building permits as well as allowing residents to have face time with the mayor, he said.
While residents at the town hall meeting praised Foster's interest in the community, crime proved to be the most frustrating topic.
"It used to be nice, but it's hell now," said Betty Kennedy of Bartlett Park, where she has lived since December 1971.
"Today, the police make it seem like it's our fault that the neighborhood has gone down. It seems that the police are taking the kids' side."
Some residents expressed frustration that the police department appears to be limited in providing any real help.
"Police tell me it's (crime) so crazy, all they can do is put a Band-Aid on it," said Scott Swift, another Bartlett Park resident.
According to Swift, there was a shoot-out in Bartlett Park 10 days ago and, since then, there have been five shooting instances in six days.
"Gangs and teenagers are ruling our streets," he said.
Youth program takes on violence and delinquency
Help just might be on the way.
This week, Teen Tyme Productions will kick off a new program, "Seminar of Hope," that targets youth violence and juvenile delinquency.
The first session begins at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Wildwood Recreation Center at 1000 28th St. S.
Organizers expect more than 500 youths, parents and law enforcement officials from the city's Recreation Department, St. Petersburg Police Department and Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
The keynote speaker will be Victor M. Woods, a former drug lord and current bestselling author of A Breed Apart: A Journey to Redemption.
The program is funded by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and is a collaborative effort with local agencies.
"Florida ranks in the top five nationally for juvenile delinquency," said Stacey Spencer, director of Teen Tyme Productions and developer of the five-part series that targets youth.
Spencer said she spent a lot of time at the Pinellas County Jail. With the help of officials there, she was able to develop the program.
Woods and Spencer met two years ago at the National Conference on Preventing Crime in the African American Community.
"The project actually started 10 years ago under former Secretary of State Colin Powell's America's Promise program," she said.
What should participants expect Tuesday?
The program will start with a "Pump it Up Drill," which is a music-focused session that gets youth prepared to receive the speaker, said Spencer.
Each seminar introduces a new phase that targets the development of a skill set that aims to keep kids healthy, alive and out of prison, said Spencer.
Spencer said the next session is scheduled for Feb. 15.
Sandra J. Gadsden is editor of Neighborhood Times. She can be reached at (727) 893-8874 or [email protected]