East End residents levy complaints about trash, services during community meeting.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — Are events at the Alston-Massenburg Center too unruly?
That question arose during a meeting between town and East End residents Oct. 23 at the center as part of a Human Relations Council (HRC) advisory board meet-and-greet.
“I find condoms, I find trash, whatever,” said resident Larry Richardson, referring to people hanging out on the streets late at night after the center has been used as a rental.
Wake Forest Police Lt. Trent Coleman suggested all people holding late-night gatherings hire an off-duty officer to help break things up after it’s over and keep others from crashing the party.
“We’ve had a stabbing, we had a shooting here,” Coleman noted.
But Parks and Recreation Director Ruben Wall said he believes those to be largely a thing of the past, at a time when center rentals went unsupervised.
“We have staff here now. We don’t (just) give out a key anymore,” he said.
That question and others were presented to Mayor Vivian Jones, Town Manager Mark Williams, Public Works Director Mike Barton, Wall, Coleman and several other police department representatives during the HRC outreach meeting at the Taylor Street center Oct. 23.
The forum was attended by about 25 residents of the East End, Wake Forest’s traditionally African-American community.
Town commissioner Anne Hines, the HRC board’s liaison, was also present, as was Margaret Stinnett, who is running for re-election Nov. 5. Also attending was Shinica Thomas, another candidate for town board.
Jones began the forum by ticking off the town’s promises — and accomplishments — in the community since the Northeast Neighborhood Plan was enacted six years ago. The neighborhood is now known as its traditional name, the East End. Mark Williams and the other officials talked about their duties.
Residents in attendance waited patiently for the speakers to finish before expressing their community concerns.
“There are a lot of dilapidated properties here … it’s a hazard. It breeds rodents,” Theresa Watkins said, pointing to abandoned houses and unkempt properties on Juniper and Taylor streets. “Where does the town step in and say ‘You need to clean up?’”
The mayor told residents to contact the town’s code enforcement officer, Jonathan Cooper. If a property or building is in serious violation of health codes, he can begin the process that mandates the owner fix or clean it up. That process may also lead to condemnation.
Glendine King took public works to task for failing to pick up items too large to go into the trash. In a protracted back-and-forth with Barton, she criticized what she felt were arbitrary rules about what can and cannot go into the garbage bin.
Barton said the limit was set at 75 pounds or greater because something that heavy won’t likely fit in a garbage can. Lighter objects that weigh less but are too big to fit in the container should also be put out separately.
He added that garbage contractor Republic Services only picks up extra items once a week, and residents are supposed to call to let the town know they’ve put something out. That stems from an occasion when a man took a break from mowing his lawn one summer and his old mower was picked up by workers believing it was trash.
King was skeptical that the town has followed its own rules, saying sometimes extra items are taken, sometimes not.
“I am going to call every week. I don’t care if it’s a shoe out there, I’m going to call,” she said.
JoAnn Smith was upset about the cost of the town’s electric service.
“Our light bills are extremely high,” she said, pointing to monthly bills at her mother’s small house costing upwards of $400.
“There’s no way we can be using that kind of energy here,” she said. “I’ve lived in a lot of places. It’s never been that high.”
Mark Williams rejected the implication that the town intentionally overcharges residents.
“The meter is going to read what’s used. The question is how it’s used,” he countered. “There’s not anything going on.”
He added that in his own home outside town limits, which is on co-op Wake Electric power, he once got an electric bill of $350. There was a short causing an energy drain.
“I found out my water heater had a bad element,” he said.
The town performs free energy audits for residents looking for ways to save on heating and cooling costs, Jones added.
Left unexplained was the fact that, as a public power town that is part of the ElectriCities compact, Wake Forest customers pay more on average for power than the average Duke Energy customer.
William Gill was concerned with the noise from people on 4-wheelers. Police officers pursue them when seen, but catching them can be difficult, because they often flee, cutting through yards to escape, he was told.
Officers patrol the neighborhoods regularly, Lt. Trent Coleman said, adding, “There’s a lot of times we’re out there you don’t see us.”
Not all came armed with complaints. Ronald Williams, a neighborhood resident and professional musician, told town officials he’d like to see area children taught music, and agreed to volunteer if such a program is created.
“Something like a school of music,” he said. “We’ve got enough basketball goals.”