May 23, 2012 Walt Shepperd Uncategorized
Fourth District Common Councilor Khalid Bey opened his 15th Ward Community Forum by noting for the two dozen attendees, including representatives from the city’s Department of Public Works, Water Department, Department of Parks, Recreation and Youth Programs, Code Enforcement, Police Department and the City School District, that sometimes elected officials don’t have a clue. That’s why he was convening the fourth in a series a meetings to air constituent concerns throughout his district, which includes Downtown, Westcott, the near Southside, the University and Outer Comstock. “I’m not a politician,” he added. “I’m a constituent first.” He also alerted the constituents sitting in the community room at McCarthy Manor that he had told the department representatives that they would not find themselves in front of a firing squad.
While there were occasional admonitions, mainly bemoaning the state of public education, Bey kept the 80 minute session moving, generally on a positive note. Elements of Syracuse uniqueness worked their way into the question-answer period, with the Parks Commissioner citing 176 parks within city limits. “My job is to try to make people smile,” he said, adding that he has been encouraging other neighborhoods to emulate the Thornden Park Neighborhood Association’s advocacy and participation in park activity. And Syracuse, the group was told, is one of only four school districts in the country in which every child gets breakfast in their home room, helping to achieve better attendance and grades.
Can’t shop around tax money for public services
“We’ve got to be blunt about the balance between what we can do,” Bey maintained, “and what’s required to get things done.” Observing the paucity of tax revenue in the city, the high unemployment rate and the depleted tax base, with 56 percent of property off the tax rolls, he added, “We can’t take our money elsewhere for government services.” To a question of whether there was discussion on the Council about taxing Syracuse University, he replied, “There’s lots of discussion, but there’s a need for people to listen. There’s research being done on models of universities around the country paying significant taxes.”
The perennial problem of potholes got some attention, with a question about the city’s liability for repair costs resulting from unattended potholes. Explaining that potholes received little attention in winter because paving didn’t take under 50 degrees, a DPW policy statement held that if the existence of a pothole had been called in to 448-CITY and not been repaired, the city could be liable for repair costs. Drivers suffering damage from unreported potholes, however, are just plain out of luck.
Taking government to the constituents
After the meeting, Bey reflected that the turnout was about average for the staged encounters with representatives of the city departments who could supply the answers to the concerns of constituents who often didn’t know the appropriate place to call with a question or complaint. “It’s my attempt,” Democrat Bey, who narrowly defeated the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins, with no Republican candidate, last year, said, “to kick government in the butt.”