From South Side Residents: A Resounding Question
By: Melinda B
Residents of the Southern Gateway Neighborhood Association shared concerns with Springfield City representatives during a program held June 15, 2023, on the Gammon House lawn in association with Juneteenth.
Association President Brian Keith moderated as 40 or so people – retirees, current work force members, and students including teenagers and youths no more than 8 –raised questions with City Manager Bryan Heck, Director of Community Initiatives Ron Gordon, and Assistant Mayor Rob Rue over issues ranging from abandoned property and urban blight, to crime and violence, the appropriate use of American Rescue Plan (ARPA) dollars, and lack of resources and opportunities.
City Manager Heck detailed efforts the city continues to make in a number of these areas: with residential and commercial property owners to ensure they maintain their properties, and with road improvements, investment in the city’s legacy neighborhoods, and working to remove barriers to allow minority businesses to thrive. Addressing urban blight, Assistant Mayor Rob Rue pointed to a registry that has been created to hold property owners accountable. Director of Community Initiatives Gordon talked about the Springfield City School District’s efforts to provide after-school and summer activities and resources for children and youth. In answer to a question about use of millions of the ARPA dollars to build a fire station, Heck responded that “People don’t think about fire stations until we don’t have them,” clarifying that not one but four fire stations had been built, to replace stations so inadequate that the city had not been able to hire sufficient staff. Ultimately, he said, use of the ARPA funds saved the tax payers money, since the fire stations would have needed to be built anyway.
Residents nonetheless pressed further, with questions about the overwhelming work yet to be done, including:
About the Mini Mart and Lo-Cos, Springfield Police Chief Allison Elliot, who attended, said that the Springfield police and the Clark County Sheriff’s office are working on liquor license enforcement and other investigations, while mindful of the perception of targeted enforcement or saturation of an area.
Ultimately, the discussion led to a provocative remark. When the Haitians came to town, every organization in the city responded in a task force. Why, the question arose, has there never been a task force that represents the needs and interests of the South Side?
Clearly, a task force that represents the needs and interests of the Haitians is a good thing. But one that addresses the needs and concerns of this legacy community – particularly, those raised regarding violence and quality of education – is also needed. Assistant Mayor Rob Rue said that if there were such a group, the city would send a representative to learn if they could help. The Women’s Issues Network would strongly support the creation of such a group. Where there are federal funds spent It would seem especially important for local leaders to have a seat at the table. It is perhaps unthinkable that such a task force does not (yet) exist.