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Great gatherings for all
District 5 empowers citizens through education
Interested in being the change you wish to see in your community?
Inspirational learning opportunities are abound with the Payne-Phalen Planning Council.
A series of Great Neighborhood Gatherings aim to engage citizens on topics relevant to the well being of District 5.
The informal seminars began on Feb. 21 and will be held on the first and third Thursdays in March.
“A strong Payne-Phalen community is dependent upon educated residents empowered to make a difference,” said lead organizer Leslie McMurray. “It is the synergy of our neighbors that will make us successful.”
Hosted at the Arlington Hills Lutheran Church, the March 7 discussion will focus upon improving the appearance of the Payne-Phalen neighborhood with landscaping and flowers. Block clubs are the slated theme of the March 21 event.
Problem properties and nuisance behavior
Plenty of informational papers greeted attendees at the initial Great Neighborhood Gathering.
The casual question-and-answer discussion was led by city fire inspection supervisor Leanna Shaff of the Department of Safety and Inspections and John Stechmann, community prosecutor with the City Attorney’s Office.
Whereas the population of District 5 totals over 30,000 according to the 2010 census, only 15 residents attended the educational session.
“Think about it. Everyone plays a part in the neighborhood,” said longtime Payne-Phalen resident Larry Simpson. “And how many people showed up tonight? It’s pretty sad.”
McMurray was also disappointed with the low turnout and hopes participation will increase at the two upcoming March gatherings.
A theme continually arising throughout the Feb. 21 event was the necessity of the community to work together.
Whether addressing issues of vulgar behavior, unkempt property, or, as was discussed, an insufficient supply of garbage cans per residents living in a building, change occurs through the unification of multiple voices.
“I truly believe it takes a neighborhood to band together. What are the issues? How does it impact our neighborhood? Sit down and think about it. Phone calls even work,” Shaff said. “A block shines a light on negative behavior and no one likes it. Things change.”
While cooperation is ideal, Simpson commented upon the difficulty he faces uniting citizens as a Neighborhood Watch leader.
“Hardly anyone wants to devote time. The difficult part is getting citizens to devote themselves. I put in over 300 hours a year. The citizens have withdrawn so much. They have retreated,” Simpson said.
Positively speaking, Simpson did mention that this year is the first in the past six where neighbors in his area have been calling each other about different issues.
Effectively handling problem properties and nuisance behavior can be quite difficult, acknowledged both Shaff and Stechman.
Speaking about rental properties, the two St. Paul officials highly encourage all landlords to include a crime free addendum in their lease agreement.
“The document states that no one on the property should engage in criminal behavior,” said Stechman. “It is designed to keep drugs and illegal activity out of rental property, and a copy of the addendum is available on our city website.”
Problem properties are a frequent encounter for Shaff conducting fire certificate of occupancy inspections.
A fire certificate of occupancy indicates that the existing structure complies with all state and local safety codes.
The city Department of Safety and Inspections annually responds to 6,000 complaints about problem properties and conducts investigations for code violations.
“If violations are found in an inspection, they’ll be asked to fix the problems. The certificate of occupancy will be taken away if they don’t fix the problem. No one can live on the property if there is no certificate of occupancy,” said Shaff.
Residents are encouraged to report possible violations by calling 651-266-8989.
“Call, call, call,” said Shaff. “We don’t always know if you don’t call.”
Example code violations include inoperable doors, deteriorated windows, broken glass, excess waste and water damage.
Possible violations may also be reported online at: http://stpaul.gov/forms.aspx?FID=65.
A district effort
The Great Neighborhood Gatherings emanated from a wish amongst residents and the planning council to share information about the great assets that exist in the Payne-Phalen community.
“We wanted to create an opportunity for the community to be visible to itself,” said McMurray. “Our goal is to raise awareness of the resources available through the city, organizations and neighbors themselves.”
“The first line of defense is the neighborhood, and we want people to know clear paths that are available to solve problems,” McMurray continued.
Topics for the gatherings were determined by the numerous conversations between District 5 Planning Council representatives and residents each day. McMurray and her colleagues welcome suggestions for future event themes.
Absentee landlords, high-density urban neighborhoods, and a continual influx of new young residents are factors McMurray attributed to the need for continual problem property and nuisance behavior discussions.
As for the upcoming Thursday, March 7, Great Neighborhood Gathering, even neighbors without a “green thumb” are encouraged to attend.
“We’ll be discussing broadly how to beautify the Payne-Phalen area,” said McMurray. “There are lots of resources available for projects, such as working to make sure a vacant property does not become a nuisance lot.”
And at least one resident has not forgotten the power of a single person to create change within society.
“I’m committed to learning,” Simpson said. “As citizens, we have a lot of homework to do!”
Both the March 7 and March 21 Great Neighborhood Gatherings are scheduled from 6 p.m. until 7:45 p.m. Arlington Hills Lutheran Church is located at 1115 Greenbrier St.
Rebecca Rowe can be reached at email@example.com or at 651- 748-7816.
Meet John Stechmann:
Sadly missed out on the Feb. 21 District 5 Great Neighborhood Gathering?
Or maybe you’re a resident of a neighboring area interested in more in-depth information about the role of a community prosecutor? Well, here is the opportunity to meet John Stechmann, the city’s East Side community prosecutor. Continue reading to learn how Stechmann’s work impacts your well-being.
Q: What is your position with the city of St. Paul?
A: I am a senior prosecutor in the Criminal Division of the St. Paul City Attorney’s Office. I work as a community prosecutor for the East Side of St. Paul.
Q: How long have you served as a community prosecutor?
A: I have worked for the St. Paul City Attorney’s Office for over 13 years and have been a community prosecutor for about six months.
Q: Explain your roles and responsibilities:
A: My role is to improve the quality of life on the East Side of St. Paul by developing relationships with members of the community, prosecuting misdemeanor cases that result from incidents on the East Side, and training law enforcement officers in the law. I believe that a community prosecutor should work to create harmony in our neighborhoods and promote Mayor Chris Coleman’s vision of making St. Paul the most livable city in America.
Q: Are there any specific topics upon which you focus on the East Side?
A: I focus upon quality of life crimes, such as operating a disorderly house, criminal damage to property, engaging in prostitution, theft and drinking in public.
One effective tool to improve the quality of life is a “stay away” order, which is an order issued by a judge to an individual to stay away from a particular business or section of the East Side. A stay away order allows the police to remove a person from a location for violating a court order and provides relief for the people in the protected area from the offending party.
Q: What is the most interesting part of your job?
A: I find it rewarding to prosecute cases from the East Side, to lead the cases through the entire court process from arraignment through appeal, and ultimately to secure a just result, thereby holding the offenders accountable and bringing the affected parties a sense of justice. I enjoy giving police officers the legal training and tools necessary to help them achieve their goals of keeping the peace and obtaining admissible evidence for trial.
Q: How can East Side residents impact their communities?
A: I strongly encourage community members on the East Side to attend community meetings, get involved in District Council activities, participate in Neighborhood Watch groups, and befriend police officers. I also encourage residents to call the police for assistance, to elect leaders who represent their values, and to utilize the community resources that the St. Paul City Council has dedicated for their well-being.
Q: Any specific “draws” to the East Side community?
A: I enjoy eating at Yarussos and Magnolias restaurants on Payne Avenue, and I look forward to visiting Polly’s Coffee Cove in the near future.
Q: Personal interests?
A: I am married to Karla Bigham, and we live in her hometown of Cottage Grove where she has served as both a city council person (2004-06) and state representative for House District 54A (2006-10). We enjoy going to Wild, Vikings and Twins games any chance we get. Personally, I enjoy riding scooters, playing classic video games and reading.
Q: If residents are welcome to contact you, what is the best method of communication?
A: The best way to reach me is by e-mail, which is firstname.lastname@example.org.