Town leaders meet with the citizens of District No. 1

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The city held its first district meeting Monday night, giving citizens of city District No. 1 a chance to make their opinions known, allowing them to meet the newest members of the city’s management.

Mayor Robert Haberle led the meeting at Sweet Union Baptist Church, and he answered most of the audience’s questions. City Manager Mo Raissi, Police Chief Reece Daniel and Transportation and Solid Waste Director Billy Redd, were also on-hand for questions.

“This has been a long time coming. It’s a wonderful idea to talk to the people where they all feel comfortable,” Haberle said. “Give us your ideas, your concerns and your criticisms — we want to know where we are doing well and where we need to improve.”

Several questions centered around minor code violations and small individual situations, but many in the audience spoke of much more far-reaching problems.

“I don’t understand how the police can drive down Main Street and not see the crackheads or the prostitutes,” said District No. 1 resident Ronnie McGown. “The rest of us see it, it’s right out there in the open, they are standing on the corner. I’m not the only one seeing this going on.”

According to McGown, and several other of the night’s speakers, Main and Cherry Streets have serious problems with drug dealers and prostitution. McGown even said that so many illegal immigrants line up on Main Street for work that it is sometimes impossible to drive around them.

New Police Chief Reece Daniel explained the difficulty in combating the town’s negative influences.

“If we crack down on one area and have a strong police presence there, the drug dealers and the gangs just move somewhere else, and when you crack down on Site B, they move off again,” he said. “We’re not going to clean up all the crackheads in one week. It will be a process, but I promise you that these are things that we will be looking into.”

A few audience speakers expressed the view that the north side is underrepresented and ignored compared to other areas of town.

One issue brought up by former State Representative Paul Ragsdale was the lack of blacks in the Jacksonville Police Department and in other positions of power in the city.

“There are currently no black officers in the department, although there is one in dispatch. I certainly welcome the African American community in anything they can do to help us recruit from within their ranks,” Daniel said. “Competition is the biggest problem in attracting black police officers — Dallas and the big cities can afford to pay them twice what we can.”

According to Daniel, black police officers are a very hot commodity due to affirmative action requirements.

The next district meeting will be in September in District No. 2. Each of the four city districts will take turns in numerical order, with Lake Jacksonville also hosting a separate gathering.

“This type of meeting will continue in each district in the city, which there are four. Each month we will visit another district, so we will be back in about five months,” Haberle said. “You bring us your ideas tonight, and give us those five months to work on it and try to make things better.”

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