At the , resident Mary Ellen DiGregorio presented council with a list of questions about a number of contentious topics DiGregorio says are plaguing the municipality. Council President Gary Simpson accepted the list and promised answers would be forthcoming.
In a letter addressed to DiGregorio and dated July 16, Norristown Municipal Manager Dave Forrest provided answers to DiGregorio's questions and Simpson has requested that local media publish both DiGregorio's questions and the municipality's answers.
Printed below are the questions and answers as they appeared in the correspondence.
Mary Ellen DiGregorio: What process is the council and Planning Department using to determine what new uses of the vacant buildings in Norristown? I noticed the Savior Hall will be a facility for seniors, is being considered for senior living, and the old Bishop Kenrick School is also being considered to low-income senior living.
After reading the recent census data, talking with parents of the [Norristown Area School District] and reading the community census survey it would seem that Norristown has a large population of children between the ages of 4-8. Overcrowded schools can't be good for learning. Please describe the process the Planning Department is using to determine the needs for the residents of the Norristown community.
Dave Forrest: I will provide here a quick, thumbnail sketch of the process. If you would like a more thorough explanation, I invite you to contact the planning department.
Norristown's zoning ordinance regulates what uses can be placed in different locations throughout the municipality. Many times owners of properties in Norristown propose uses that are consistent with the zoning ordinance. In other situations, the owner may want to put in a use which differs from what is called for in the ordinance. In these cases, the owner may elect to seek relief from the zoning ordinance by going before the zoning hearing board to seek a "variance" to the ordinance. No use can legally be introduced into the community unless it is either consistent with the zoning ordinance or a variance for the use is granted.
You also asked what process the planning department uses to determine the needs of the residents of Norristown. Norristown routinely engages in planning processes of on kind or another, and not all of them involve direct public participation, but many do. For example, as you may know Norristown receives each year from the federal government "community development block grant" funds which are used by the municipality to improve the quality of life in the community. There is an extensive public outreach and planning effort that informs decisions about how best to spend these funds.
I invite you to review the 2010-2014 consolidated action plan on our website, under the planning department tab. Each year the municipality also prepares an annual action plan, based on the consolidated plan, which also addresses specific activities the planning department will take over the next 12-month period to implement the consolidated plan. Public hearings are a requirement of this process.
Mary Ellen DiGregorio: On Saturday, June 23, 2012, I read the comments made by Council President Gary Simpson related to the 770 Sandy Street Condominium debacle. Please provide a written explanation of why a council president who has taken an oath to protect the residents of Norristown and uphold its laws would say to the Municipal Administrator that "We should also prepare a good spin on this and defer all that we can onto the contractor before it is placed on us."
Who is this "US?" I thought the people of Norristown elected Gary Simpson and he was a resident of Norristown and a member of the community?
Dave Forrest: It is council's opinion that the ultimate responsibility for the condition of the Rittenhouse Club Condominiums lies with the owner, Bruce Fazio. When he recorded the land development plans with the Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds, having first received all the necessary approvals from the Municipality, Mr. Fazio pledged to build the development according to the approved plans and state-mandated building standards.
Mary Ellen DiGregorio: How much money has the Municipality of Norristown spent on Community Police Relations from 2000 to present, including training, forums, community meetings, overtime, etc.?
Dave Forrest: This is a very broad question. For the purposes of my response I will narrow this to what we have spent on our community relations officer and the Norristown Community and Cops Coalition Building Team (NC3BT) during this period.
- Community Relations Officer: Between 2000 and 2012 Norristown devoted over $1 million in salaries for this position.
- NC3BT: Norristown budgeted approximately $10,000 in 2011 and 2012.
Mary Ellen DiGregorio: Last week a double murder occurred on Arch Street. THe newspaper indicated that the murder may have had a correlation to some kind of Blood and Crip Gangs. Can you please provide me with the details of Norristown's gang prevention program and what the police are doing to address gangs in the municipality of Norristown?
Dave Forrest: The police have been active in anti-gang efforts since at least 2000, beginning with a cooperative effort with the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office known as CLEAN, or Combined Law Enforcement Agencies Networking squad. Norristown continues to work closely with the DA's office on anti-gang violence activities.
In addition, between 2000 and 2005, approximately 12 Norristown officers became certified gang investigators. In 2006, Norristown renewed its partnership with the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, working together to address gang activity among the Latino community. To date, enhanced anti-gang operations conducted by the Norristown Police, begun in 2011, have resulted in over 100 arrests and charges of gang members.
Every Norristown Police Department platoon has a gang intelligence officer whose job is to gather intelligence. This work has yielded a detailed list of gang members and activities which is used to guide law enforcement efforts.
Finally, prevention of gang activity is critical. The Norristown Police Department has worked closely with the Morristown Area Communities the Care initiative since 2001. The CTC is a nationally recognized, performance-based model to help communities effectively address anti-social behavior among our youth. Since 2001 the CTC Youth Board has evolved and now includes participation from a wide distribution of the community, including social service agencies, schools and the clergy, all working collaboratively to identify and address the problems of at-risk youth.
Risk and Resource Assessments have been completed in two-year cycles since 2001. These comprehensive assessments have informed the CTC board and serve as the basis of the NTC's priority risk factors and related prevention strategies. Building on these relationships, the Norristown Police Department is working with members of the CTC to apply for federal funding which will be used to implement the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Comprehensive Gang Model.
This summary has served as a brief overview of the police department activities. I urge you to contact Chief Bono if you would like additional information.