CUMBERLAND — Mayor Brian Grim, former city councilwoman Mary Beth Pirolozzi and other city officials met Tuesday at City Hall to rally support for a reorganization of the Neighborhood Advisory Commission in an effort to support and reinvigorate the various watch groups.
The restructuring is a proposal to expand the commission and to hold meetings every other month in the chambers of City Hall with representatives of city council, police and fire departments, community development, housing, watch group members and the general public to facilitate quick solutions to issues.
“We want the NAC to be an umbrella group. Before, it has been some of the representatives from the groups getting together to regurgitate what they had at their (neighborhood) meetings,” said Pirolozzi.
Pirolozzi said the issues typically confronted by neighborhood groups are safety, traffic, zoning, blight and community development.
The city has traditionally had five neighborhood watch groups: West Side, North End, Decatur Heights, Rolling Mill (Park Street to Maryland Avenue) and Chapel Hill.
A sixth seat at the NAC was supported by the South Cumberland Business Association.
The reorganization, which will be validated through passing of an ordinance, will expand the NAC panel to three staff members, four citizens-at-large and two city council members represented by Nicole Wagoner and David Kauffman.
“It’s about adding more substance to the body so people will have staff available to get answers,” said Pirolozzi.
“We have been seeing diminished participation. We hope this will increase results. Our goal is to have a successful outlet for the members of our community to strengthen their neighborhoods,” said Kauffman.
“Truly, you are the eyes and ears not for just the police, but the roads and more,” said Wagoner.
Many of the officials at the meeting spoke words of encouragement to the watch group members present, who shared some success stories in return.
“We had a trash pickup day. We saw people pitch in and help remove trash from streets, porches and sidewalks. I want to thank everyone involved,” said Kathleen Britner of the Rolling Mill watch group.
Pirolozzi said the new version of the NAC will have an agenda for their meetings with a line item for each group so they can have time to share their issues.
“It’s about engagement. There is a public interest in having the NAC be more open throughout the city,” said Grim.
It was noted at the meeting that public interest in neighborhood watch groups has waned in recent years.
Chapel Hill group member Allen Hedrick asked the panel, “How can we get people to get interested?”
“If the group is just going to be a monthly complaining session, no one wants to go to it. But if you increase the mechanisms to get answers like we are trying to do, it can help,” said Kauffman.
“Years ago, people in neighborhoods all worked at the same place, maybe were the same ethnic background, went to the same social clubs and churches. That structure went away as business left town,” said David Umling, city planner.
“We need to restore that structure: Go out and meet new people in your neighborhood and introduce yourself, put out information of the heritage of your neighborhood, share the services and connection you know of, have block parties and community gardens,” said Umling.
“It takes time but we need to rebuild the connections,” added Umling.
Pirolozzi said that the four citizen-at-large positions on the commission may be held by watch groups members or not. She said they plan to advertise the positions in the media so people can apply.
“We’d like to see new groups. Nicole and I live out on Frederick Street. We want a neighborhood association in that Frederick and Bedford Street area,” said Pirolozzi.
For more information on helping a neighborhood group or forming a new one, visit the city website at www.ci.cumberland.md.us or call Community Development at 301-759-6433.
Greg Larry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.