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Bullying and Aggressive Panhandling Raise their Ugly Heads at Town Council Meeting

By Charlie McKee

During the Public Input portion of the Tuesday evening, July 9, 2013, Town Council meeting, concerned citizen Allen Mong informed the Council of events that took place during the Town's Fourth of July Parade which he found disturbing, disruptive and extremely contrary to the spirit of the parade.  According to Mong, a group of individuals snuck into the parade behind a group representing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transvestites (LGBT) and the United Church of Christ and began harassing the group via loudspeakers with bullying, derogatory and hateful language.  Mong noted that this was ironic, given that Mayor James Marshall had proclaimed the Town of Silver City as being "Bullying and Harassment Free Zone" as recently as April 2013.  He stated that the Grant County Chamber of Commerce, who organizes the annual Fourth of July Parade, should have parade monitors to ensure the safety and compliance of groups participating in the parade and should disallow any groups with loudspeakers.  These actions would ensure that such extremely inappropriate incidents would not take place again in future parades.

Marshall responded to Mong's public input by saying that everyone "must go out into society and respect each other," and he thought it "disgusting that July Fourth was used to express hate."

On another difficult topic, during the Council Comments portion of the meeting, Councilor Mike Morones discussed growing public concern over "aggressive panhandling" in Silver City's historic downtown area.  He stated that downtown merchants view this as a deterrent to conducting their business and are requesting more police presence on downtown streets.  Morones noted that "a complex solution is needed to solve a complex problem," giving three examples of positive factors for the community that conversely serve as an attraction to the negative factor of aggressive panhandling: Gospel Mission's food service to the indigent; Hidalgo Medical Service's providing health care to the indigent; and the Big Ditch Park being a perfect camping place for the homeless.  As a result of proactive meetings with the business community and the Silver City Police Department (SCPD), he recommends instituting a reporting spot for SCPD in Town Hall to get police personnel out of their patrol cars and onto the streets downtown.  He also recommends putting officers on foot and bicycle patrol in the downtown area.

During the Reports portion of the meeting, Silver City Chief of Police Ed Reynolds addressed Morones's concerns, stating that the Department is developing a plan to address the aggressive panhandling issue.  SCPD is in the process of hiring two additional personnel who will be dedicated to patrolling the downtown area.  In addition, they are implementing the proposed police reporting station in Town Hall to bring more frequent police presence downtown.  Lastly, they are conducting educational training sessions for downtown merchants on how to handle difficult and potentially criminal situations posed by the indigent homeless population.  The first of these will be held on July 18 at the Silco Theater.

On a more positive note, Councilors Cook and Morones thanked the firefighters who have been fighting the recent Silver Fire for their brave service.  Councilor Cook also expressed extreme sadness over the tragic loss of the Granite Mountain Hotshots team, who had served the Grant County area numerous times fighting past fires.

After the Reports portion of the meeting, the Council approved the following items:
•    Ordinance No. 1222 – Amendment to the Town's Municipal Code (Appendix C, Article 5, Secs. 6.1.1 A) and A)1)) to change the Planning and Zoning Commission's membership to five members from seven members.
•    Public Celebration Permit for the Silver City Clay Festival's Clay Gala Fundraiser on August 1, 2013 at the Carter House, 101 N. Cooper Street, Silver City, NM.
•    Agreement between the Town of Silver City and Local 2430 of the International Association of Firefighters, AFL-CIO, through June 30, 2014.  The agreement updates language in the contract and changes insurance benefits.
•    Bid #12/13-11, which awards the Water Conservation Project to Water Management of Alexandria, VA, to upgrade the sprinkler system at Ben Altamirano Fields.  The $50,000 price tag will be funded by the Interstate Stream Commission, as a result of the Arizona Water Settlements Act.  This project will conserve an approximate 24 acre-feet of water per year and will determine whether Silver City will qualify for future funding from the Water Settlements Act.  Ben Altamirano Fields are the Town's biggest water consumer, and the water is paid for by the Town.
•    Resolution No. 2013-26, allowing participation in NMDOT's Local Government Road Fund Program.  The Town will use the funds to chip seal local roadways on a rotating basis (northwest to northeast, southeast to southwest, etc.), as funds permit annually.
•    Notice of Intent Ordinance No. 1223 – Amendment to the Town's Municipal Code (Chapter 2, Article II, Sections 2-53 and 2-29) to allow one voting place in elections where the election is uncontested and there are no questions on the ballot.  This reconciles the Town's election policies with those of the State.
•    Rescheduling the next Regular Town Council Meeting to July 25, 2013 instead of July 23, 2013.

The meeting was then adjourned.

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