City Council candidates share public safety ideas

With the primary election just over a week away, candidates for three City Council seats that are open this year were asked about their positions on public safety.

With three nominations at stake, there are four Republicans on the ballot and three Democrats.

Seeking the Republican nominations are incumbents Randall J. Allison of 1308 Elmira St. and N. Clifford “Skip” Smith Jr. of 835 First Ave., plus challengers Scott Miller of 822 Tucker St. and Joel E. Henderson of 1010 Elmira St.

On the Democratic ballot are incumbent Liz Miele of 525 W. Fourth St., Kelly Anderson of 533 Seventh Ave. and Alison D. Hirsch of 423 Rural Ave.

Each candidate was asked the following questions: “What is your perspective on public safety and what direction would you take as a member of City Council toward securing safe streets and improving the peace in neighborhoods from Newberry to the East End? What else makes you the best able to serve city residents?”

The Republicans

Allison: “The city has reached a point where the cost … is becoming problematic. In 2003, the combined cost of the fire and police was about $8.5 million and a decade later, it nears $14 million.

“Historically, those departments drive about 60 to 65 percent of the general fund budget …

“A bright note happened with a collective bargaining agreement with the police union, that begins to address some cost factors, but health care unknowns and pension obligations loom …

“We will be implementing some things in the next months that promise to increase the effectiveness and ability of our public safety sector to deal with criminal activity, including installation of a long-talked-about surveillance camera system, and a records management computer …

“I believe my greatest strength is collaborating and working with others to formulate ideas, concepts and solutions to advance and improve the city and address issues that confront us. I bring the perspective of a lifelong city resident who is old enough to remember the great days of Williamsport past, but able to see the potential of a growing, thriving 21st century city.”

Smith: “Surveillance cameras can provide a tool during times of natural disasters and be a tool to fight crime. The records management computer will provide data when burglaries and break-ins are happening.

“The proposed landlord/tenant registration added to the nuisance ordinance is under development … I will seek additional grants to pay for upgrading the police radio communications system.

“Statistics show the city fire and codes departments are reducing fires with inspections resulting in violations discovered and corrections ordered. I want to see all fire vehicles equipped with laptop computers linking them to data for commercial properties to show floor plans and locations of hazardous materials.

“As a professional engineer, graduate of the Pennsylvania State Police Citizens Police Academy and holder of several federal incident management certificates, I believe I hold the credentials and ability to continue to provide valuable insight to council. As a businessman, I bring valuable years of management experience.”

Miller: “I am happy with the technological advances that the city has in the works. I wish the East End was getting surveillance cameras, but understand the cost restrictions. I think the crime-tracking database will make it easier to predict crime trends and facilitate officers’ prevention efforts. I have said before that I think we could benefit from augmenting our fire department with volunteers, but would not want an all-volunteer force.

“I would like to see legislative changes to allow the city to have fundraisers for fire and public safety departments. I would have liked to see us maintain a 52-officer police force so that we could have accepted the grant for an additional three officers. With a few extra officers we could do creative things like safety check points.

“In terms of the codes department, with the growth going on in the city there seems to be too few codes officials …

“I bring my construction experience, life experience, people skills, frugality, and common sense and I will make the time to go out to see and listen to citizen’s concerns.”

Henderson: “We need to do all we can to make sure that our city ordinances reward good citizens and punish those in the wrong. This seems basic, but often we end up doing the opposite. Empowering police and codes through clearly defined city ordinances will help to ensure the safety of law-abiding citizens.

“Neighborhood Watch Groups are a key element in the city. As citizens take ownership of their neighborhoods, those who wish to commit crimes will have a harder time doing so. These groups should have easy access to the police, fire, and codes officials and should be given as many tools as possible to be effective in reporting crime …

“As a pastor and a father of five young children, I offer a perspective that is especially sensitive to ethics, morality and family values. If we desire stable families to come to the city and remain here, those family concerns should be well-represented.”

The Democrats

Miele: “About 66 percent of the budget goes toward public safety, primarily toward personnel costs in the police, fire and codes departments …

“We need to be constantly making sure, as a city government, that we are making the most of our public safety resources. Preventive public safety can be a very cost-effective strategy. Our codes department is the first line of defense in maintaining and bettering our buildings and our neighborhoods. We need to provide the resources to our codes department to make certain they can effectively enforce our city codes …

“We need to get as many police officers as possible out walking and biking the beat, interacting with communities from Newberry to East End, and getting involved in these communities, not just as enforcement but as neighborhood members …

“Public safety is also about keeping up our city properties and setting an example for other property owners …

“I think I’ve shown over the past four years that, even though I’m council’s lone Democrat right now, I’m very capable of working both with other council members and with members of the administration to build better projects and to resolve city issues.”

Anderson: “We need to provide opportunities and guidance for high-risk adolescents that are likely to get involved in undesirable behavior. This means to help those individuals gain employment and create positive activities of interest. I want to see a more visible police department and informal neighborhood activities that will increase the presence of adults.

“If we want the city to move forward, we have to put aside any personal differences and focus on getting things done. I want the dialogue to be civil and respectful, even if we don’t agree on issues. I also want to make sure the residents have the opportunity to participate … in a meaningful way.

“To truly have government by the people, Williamsport citizens must equip themselves with the power and knowledge that come only from communication. An important step toward achieving that goal can be made by modernizing City Council to include diverse representation.”

“As assistant treasurer of South Williamsport, I bring a financial sense to the city. I would be a listener and doer to represent the city as a whole.”

Hirsch: “I would resist any effort to cut our police or firefighters or to reduce their benefits …

“Following big-city tactics like surveillance cameras doesn’t hold much promise … We would get more bang for our buck if we spent money on prevention and community outreach efforts.

“The city could be doing more to prevent criminal activity by improving the environment for young people, by providing safe venues for activities that send a message to our youth that they are valued members of the community.

“As a member of council, I would search for ways to foster … community efforts and encourage city officials to ease the way for projects rather than throwing up roadblocks. We don’t need another pretty, underused green space in the center of town. We do need clean, well-kept neighborhood parks …

“The city needs to work closely with community organizations that assist ex-offenders and people recovering from alcohol and drug addiction to re-enter the workforce …

“As a member of council, I will use my experience as a community organizer to foster efforts to make Williamsport a place where all residents … feel that their voice is heard and that their contributions are valued.”