By Erick Johnson, Gary Crusader
Dozens of city leaders heard concerns from Gary residents who attended a community forum at Indiana University Northwest (IUN) on August 15, hoping to address long-standing problems in their neighborhoods.
Held in the school’s Bergland Auditorium, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and Police Chief Larry McKinley were among a panel of over 10 city department heads. Organized by Gary Councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade, the meeting is one of several monthly meetings that are held to give residents an opportunity to communicate their concerns directly to elected officials.
Some of the issues discussed included overgrown trees, bad sidewalks and pothole-battered streets.
Overgrown trees that cover streetlights seem to be the biggest concern and some residents said their neighborhoods and alleys remain dark and unsafe due to the trees.
Freeman-Wilson said the city is discovering that the street lights are brightening up large areas once the tree branches are clear from the fixtures. She went on to say that the demands have overwhelmed the city, and Gary has only one bucket truck to use during tree-trimming tasks. She called on residents to help take care of their neighborhoods, saying the city’s 23 workers have to maintain the city’s 52 square miles of landscape under a tight budget.
“There are fewer people taking care of their property, so we really do appreciate citizens like you. It really helps a lot.”
Freeman-Wilson did most of the talking during the meeting and encouraged residents to call 3-1-1, but some complained of never receiving a call back after they’ve reported a problem to the hotline. After expressing their frustrations, the mayor had their names put on a follow-up list so that their needs would be addressed.
Residents also spoke about deteriorating roads that have not be repaired in years, including 41st Avenue, Mississippi St., Louisiana St. and Martin Luther King Drive. One man said these streets have many potholes and repairs are long overdue. Residents say Georgia and Kentucky Streets near 43rd Avenue are also in bad shape.
Freeman-Wilson said the city has many roads to repair and that the city conducted an extensive assessment of the city’s streets. For the ones in the worst condition, they are coded red in the city’s database. The good streets with few problems are coded in blue.
“All over the city, we have assessed the streets and they are re-paved in the order of their condition,” Freeman-Wilson said. She added that 35th and 39th Avenues have been repaved and Harrison Street has also been given a new pavement.
Gary resident, Enda Laurant, said she and several other senior citizens are struggling to keep their neighborhood clean and clear of overgrown weeds and debris.
“We are out there all the time,” she said. “If we don’t do it, no one will.”
McKinley, the city’s police chief, said his department is aiming to create safer neighborhoods by beefing up police visibility. He said officers are patrolling some streets on bicycles and becoming more approachable to residents.