Kent eyes liaisons to control partying

May 18, 2009
By Matt Fredmonsky, Record-Courier staff writer

Establishing neighborhood czars to proactively counter events like the riot on College Avenue late in April was one possible solution broached by Kent City Council members.

The discussion last week developed into the pre-existing debate about encouraging student renters to consider the quality of life permanent residents experience living near Kent State University.

Councilwoman Tracy Wallach, whose Ward 6 includes several streets near KSU crowded with student rentals, said she discussed the idea of a neighborhood liaison with at-large Councilman Rick Hawksley.

Wallach suggested hiring one or two part-time employees to act as overseers of problem neighborhoods near the university and buffers between police and residents.

“We found it very successful a couple of weekends ago when we walked around the neighborhoods and actually talked to the students,” she said. “If you look at the vast scheme of things, noise violations are pretty trivial to the police department, so this neighborhood liaison could deal with things like that.”

The neighborhood liaison idea is similar to the party patrol, which was a volunteer group comprised of undergraduate students and university and city officials who walked university neighborhoods as popular party weekends — like College Fest — approached. The group’s intent was to make students aware of the civil behavior expected of them.

The party patrol, which has included Kent Mayor John Fender and Kent City Manager Dave Ruller, was most active recently in 2007.

Ruller said city officials meet monthly with KSU administrators to discuss campus-area neighborhoods. The group encourages students to attend the meetings.

‚ÄúTwo years ago (students) came … it was great,‚Äù Ruller said. ‚ÄúThey were very engaged. They actually took it upon themselves to re-institute the party patrol. We had shirts made, and it was one of the best years in the spring that we‚Äôve had.‚Äù

Unfortunately, Ruller said, that group of students has since graduated and student involvement in the monthly meetings has dwindled.

But the idea of a neighborhood liaison continued to gain support from council members Wednesday.

Councilwoman Heidi Shaffer said keeping students, who are naturally transient, informed about city ordinances and the need to be good neighbors can be a difficult task.

“We can be motivated to do that, too, as council people, but it would be nice to have somebody whose interest it is to look out for those more transient neighborhoods,” she said.

Kent Safety Director William Lillich said a considerable amount of money in the police department’s budget has been dedicated to neighborhood policing in the next few years.

Lillich did not oppose the idea, but he cautioned council members about what role a neighborhood liaison should play.

“One of the primary functions of that person would be to assist in facilitating the contact between the police and the residents in the neighborhood,” he said. “It should not replace that.”

As the discussion waned, Fender said he did not want to belabor the point.

“There are those years, all of a sudden something pops up,” Fender said. “We have a crisis now, so now the talking points are coming back to us. We have been doing this for 15 to 20 years already.”

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