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Panel recommends youth coordinator

The city could go a long way toward solving its youth violence problem if it hired someone to coordinate positive activities for young people.

That's what the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Committee told City Council this week. Council members attending the special workshop late Monday seemed to agree with the idea and began discussing tasks that the new events coordinator could handle. They also discussed the job qualifications and possible salary range, between $15,000 and $35,000.

Although council members didn't formally approve the new position, they agreed throughout the two-hour meeting that many of the committee's other recommendations could be met by this new city employee.

In the last few months, representatives of the council, police department, area schools, churches and the community had prepared a detailed report identifying youth problems in the city and suggesting solutions.

Monday, they reviewed those suggestions with the council.

In addition to the suggestion to hire a community services coordinator, the committee recommended increasing programs to provide job skills and motivation to young people, building community pride, encouraging more activities for young people, continuing to battle the drug and crime problems and expanding the community's neighborhood watch program.

The committee members explained why each recommendation was made.

After examining what programs and activities the community offered youths, "it became very apparent that, if this sort of thing was going to work, that there would have to be someone in charge of it," said committee member Craig Marlett, principal of Crystal River High School.

"It doesn't work unless you have good coordination," said Marlett, referring to Club 90's troubled efforts to run the teen center.

Mayor Curtis Rich strongly endorsed finding the money in next year's budget to hire such a coordinator. Even if efforts to start a Boys and Girls Club at the teen center are successful, he said, the city still might need to hire someone.

"If the Boys and Girls Club materializes, that full-time coordinator will have his or her hands full just coordinating activities at that center," Rich said.

Council members also voiced support for encouraging development of more mentor, apprenticeship and other training programs so that young people can learn skills and be motivated to complete school.

Mayor Rich asked the council to support efforts to lower the impact fees that would have to be paid by movie theaters to open in the area. And he voiced support for the city helping to finance a tree-growing program at the Crystal River High School. Those trees could be used to beautify the city and build pride, Rich said.

In the law enforcement area, council member Sid Kennedy complained that the city is getting a bad reputation because of the drug problem.

"I just hate the bad name we're getting. I hate the name that Copeland Park is getting. It's terrible to have anything in our city with a bad name," he said.

"Our problem in Crystal River is no greater than in any other city," responded Police Chief Roger Krieger. He said the difference is that Crystal River has chosen to admit it has a problem rather than "sweep it under the rug."

"I think that's the first step to solving a problem, admitting you have one," Krieger said.

Krieger also told the council that the committee suggested studying the feasibility of a countywide police force to use resources more wisely. Council member Levi Phillips said he didn't think the city was ready for a "metro" police force.

The chief also said he is working on agreements with Dunnellon and Brooksville to share resources. The agreements would be similar to ones the city already has with Inverness and the Citrus County Sheriff's Office.

Several council members voiced continuing support for the city police efforts, and Krieger explained that he couldn't handle the problem alone, without the acceptance of other committee recommendations.

"We in law enforcement are not the solution to drugs. We'll never be able to arrest the problem away," he said. "The way to stop drugs is drying up the market. . . . The only way that's going to come is through education."