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Norristown Resident Asks Tough Questions, Municipality Answers

Norristown resident Mary Ellen DiGregorio presented Norristown Municipal Council with a list of tough questions about gangs, 770 Sandy St. and vacant properties and the municipality has responded.

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.

  1. Community Relations Officer: Between 2000 and 2012 Norristown devoted over $1 million in salaries for this position.
  2. 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.

Mary Ellen Digregorio July 28, 2012 at 02:03 AM
Mr. Weber, do you mean Martin Luther King III, I don't remember Jessie Jackson comming, however, I did hear that 10,000 was paid for MLK comming but I am not sure if it came from the Tax payer, The BiCentennial Committee or the NAACP since Mr. Robert Wright was running the Event that was very Nice and I attended it.....
Mary Ellen Digregorio July 28, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Dear Mr. David Forrest: Can you please tell me how the responses to my questions were sent to the online news outlet before they were sent to me. I am a tax paying citizen and it seems that the people that hired you want to play games…Let me spin this for you. I made a request at a council meeting to get responses to a few questions and you respond to me on an online website with out telling me.. Well I have more questions so I hope PATCH Norristown has agreed to allow you to post all my responses going forward. I finally received my paper copy today and no where in the paper copy was it even stated (cc to Patch), am I missing something? As a reply to your responses. I think it’s absolutely rediculus that the municipality wants this community to believe that the municipality of Norristown was not responsible in any way for the 770 street mess. We must be responsible in some way since you raised our (who on council owns a home?) Bill , Dr. Mimi and Linda. The rest are renters or out purchasing rental properties. You are all cowards and refuse to hold someone accountable. No better than Ted Leblanc and Anthony Biondi. We are back to the same old way of governing. Govern by who your friends are…This time you have no opposition and the people who live here are so pre occupied with living..they won’t say a word. Glad you feel so good about yourselves. See you at the next meeting. I have more questions. Sincerely, Mary Ellen DiGregorio cc: posted on patch
Mary Ellen Digregorio August 01, 2012 at 01:05 AM
http://www.timesherald.com/article/20120729/OPINION03/120729495#.UBh3z9EpxTo.facebook
WILLIAM WEBER August 09, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Thank you for the correction, it was MLKIII. I will try to explaign to you how this works. MLKIII comes to Norristown dedicates the park receives $10,000. dollars and expense monies(travel,hotels,food, etc.). Where does this money come from? The monies come from a black church in Norristown. Where did they get the money? The money is a loan from the Norristown town council (this is illegal) to be paid back from the church. At some time in the future the Norristown Town Council will forgive the church the loan debt and no one will be the wiser. Again the Norristown Tax payer gets it in the pocket book. I'm so glad you had such a great time at this function!
Francine Graglia August 11, 2012 at 12:46 PM
RZRO, Yes, you do need to start attending the meetings, but before you do get your information straight. First of all, as INVESTORS, we pay for the trees, the sidewalks, and all the other stuff we are REQUIRED to do by code out of our pockets. And on top of that we also pay the same ridiculous taxes you do. So perhaps you need to ask the council members whom you get to have a vote on...we do not get to vote as investors...just what they are planning to do to keep Norristown from becoming a ghost town.

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