Area groups identify issues

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Failing infrastructure, job development, personal safety, city code and zoning laws are issues of concern throughout Columbus communities.

These are issues that garnered the most support from some 30 representatives of area commissions and civic associations who gathered Jan. 31 at the J Ashburn Junior Youth Center on the Westside to share concerns.

This gathering grew out of meetings throughout much of 2007 of a group formed by Columbus City Council to review, and provide recommendations about, the role of and relationship with city council and the area commissions and civic associations. That work group presented 18 recommendations to city council for study and action.

“We can strengthen our resources and get to know who is working on the same or similar issues,” said Gary Gawroski of the Clintonville Area Commission who served as chairman for the meeting.

During the two-hour meeting, representatives not only expressed topics of interest, but also raised questions about the group’s structure and length of service.

“This group could meet into perpetuity,” said Gary Baker, II, of the Hilltop, who hosted the meeting. “It could outlive all of us.”

Christine Girves of the University Area Commission, a member of the original work group, summed up the gathering as “if you think you are alone, there are others who feel the same way.”

“This is not an organization, but a coming together of values,” stressed Gawroski. “I will get to know people from other parts of the city. Now I’ll know issues from other parts of the city. When I have concerns in my neighborhood, I’ll know someone who is also dealing with them and can ask them how they dealt with it.”

For D. Searcy of Clintonville, zoning codes are important. “They have been amended so much in bits and pieces.”

And Dru Bagley of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission said “Liquor laws need to be changed. They affect all of us.”

When Nathaniel Bastic of the Linden Area Commission said something should be done about vacant housing, there was scattered applause from around the table.

Realizing that some improvements would cost money, Tom Wildman cited the loss of jobs in Columbus.

“If you want money to pay for this, you’d have to raise taxes,” he said, indicating this was not a solution. “You’d have to create tens of thousands of jobs.”

As people offered suggestions, Girves listed them on large sheets of paper on the wall. As the discussions died down, she had five pages of suggestions. Everyone was given sheets of colored dots and asked to place them on the issues they felt were most important to them.

Issues concerning the infrastructure, whether it be the failing condition or the lack of, garnered the most support.

Topics dealing with social and community problems fell in behind the infrastructure. These included personal safety, graffiti, vacant houses, gang violence, slum lords, demolition prevention and social ills.

Changes in code enforcement and the zoning laws came in next, getting the same number of votes as development of jobs.

As the gathering drew to a close, several people offered to lead the effort to learn more about specific issues and concerns.

Those attending had provided their e-mail addresses when signing in. These were compiled along with the list of concerns and distributed a few days following the gathering.

After receiving the information, Baker, the former chair of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission, commented that he was thrilled by the turnout at the coalition meeting.

“Although there will obviously be growing pains, which are to be expected when birthing a new group, especially one of this import, I was excited about our discussion. I look forward to working with all of you to build the coalition into the type of organization that will serve all of our neighborhoods and residents well,” he said “Remembering that we are all neighbors that need one another to be successful, how can we fail?”

Area commissions are an extension of the Columbus City Council and work on issues of concern in their designated area and report back to council.

This gathering marked the first time that representatives of those commissions had met around the same table.

The coalition is an outgrowth of a work group that was formed in the spring of 2007 after council members Michael Mentel and Maryellen O’Shaughnessy questioned updating the area commissions and community partnership.

A work group of representatives of area commissions, a small civic association, a large civic association and a community council met twice a month, examining and evaluating the function and status of the bodies.

This group presented 18 recommendations to city council on ways to improve the effectiveness of the organizations.

Westside residents serving on that work group were Mike McKay of the Westland Area Commission and Carol Stewart from Franklinton.

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