Curtailing Crime Tops List Of Priorities In Barnstable

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By: James Kinsella and Laura M. Reckford
Published: 07/20/12

Crime dominated the discussion yesterday evening as Barnstable Town Councilors held a two-and-a-half-hour informal session to determine what their priorities should be for the next year.

Nine of Barnstable’s 13 town councilors participated in the “strategic thinking” session at the Hyannis Golf Course clubhouse.

Afterward, Barnstable Town Council President Frederick Chirigotis of Centerville said he hoped the council would hold a similar session in six months to look at the goals again.

For his part, he said he was not sure crime should be at the top of the list of the council’s priorities.

“I don’t think crime is the biggest issue in town,” he said.

In respect to his fellow councilors and the process they had just undergone, Mr. Chirigotis declined to say what he thought the biggest issues are in town, but he said the council should revisit its goals regularly.

But as far as Town Councilor Jennifer L. Cullum of Hyannis was concerned, the town’s crime and drug problems should be the number one focus of every council and a community-wide effort is the only solution.

“I’m so passionate about it. I’m so sick of it,” she said.

She recalled how when she first opened her store, Sea Street Market, seven years ago, she found hypodermic needles out front.

But after years of effort, including spearheading a Neighborhood Watch, Ms. Cullum said the situation has improved.

Ms. Cullum and Town Councilor Michael P. Hersey of Hyannis had just spent several hours before the strategy session discussing the crime issue with Barnstable Police Chief Paul B. MacDonald, Mr. Chirigotis pointed out, so it was no surprise the issue was at the forefront of their minds.

For Ms. Cullum, the fact that a murder took place last Wednesday just a quarter-mile from where her child attends school was a major concern.

Town officials and the residents of the town need to spread the message that the town will not tolerate crime, violence and the drug trafficking, she said.

Ms. Cullum said other councilors, whether there is crime in their neighborhoods or not, should be concerned about the issue because of the large amount of the town’s budget that is used for funding the police department.

The police department in the Town of Barnstable is double that of the next largest town, with about 100 uniformed officers.

Since the murder and also a stabbing two weeks earlier, Ms. Cullum has become energized on the crime issue and has been meeting with town officials, including Town Manager Thomas K. Lynch and Schools Superintendent Mary A. Czajkowski, to try to find solutions.

One new initiative is to have the staff of the Hyannis Youth & Community Center do more outreach into the neighborhood where it is located, which has been the scene of many violent and drug-related crimes over the past several years.

Ms. Cullum also wants to offer students at Hyannis West Elementary School expanded tutoring and mentoring programs.

Last night, Ms. Cullum said that outreach should also include the area clergy, in addition to school leaders, police and town leaders.

Town Council Vice President Janice L. Barton of Marstons Mills said Ms. Cullum brought fresh energy to the issue, which town leaders had been working on for many years.

She suggested Ms. Cullum’s efforts dovetail with the Barnstable Smart, Safe and Sober program that has already been initiated.

Ms. Barton said she was leading the effort to get a $125,000 grant for the program but has so far been unsuccessful.

In addition to discussing goals to focus on over the next 12 months, councilors identified what they saw as strengths and weaknesses in the town.

In a brainstorming session, the councilors came up with a long list of strengths and weaknesses.

Key strengths included the town’s AAA bond rating and strong upper management.

The councilors identified key weaknesses as the exodus of young people from the town, the lack of professional jobs in the town, and the large number of private roads that are in disrepair.

Nicole Rivers, associate director of the Moakley Center for Public Management at Suffolk University in Boston, facilitated the session.

After the session, Ms. Rivers, who has moderated similar sessions with town leaders in many communities, including Boston and Plymouth, said the main purpose of the session is to bring the councilors together in order to achieve their goals.

She said she was impressed with how positive the session with the Barnstable town councilors was and how well they work together.

“There was a lot of consensus,” she said.

During the session, Ms. Rivers prodded the councilors in certain areas and questioned them in others.

For example, she noted that the councilors did not list tourism as a strength or a weakness in the town.

Ms. Cullum said that the town could at least count on tourism to bring in some income for part of the year.

Councilor James Cote of Osterville cited the lack of available professional jobs in the community.

If he did not own his own business, he said, he would not remain in the community.

When discussing weaknesses, Ms. Cullum focused on crime.

She identified the Fresh Holes Road neighborhood in Hyannis, the continuing scene of violence and illegal narcotics activity, as an “open sore.”

She called for the establishment of a satellite police station in the neighborhood.

Councilors Jessica Rapp Grassetti of Cotuit and June Daley of Marstons Mills, who represents West Barnstable, said the preponderance of crime in Hyannis draws police coverage away from those western villages, where break-ins have been occurring.

Strengths listed by councilors included strong citizen involvement, great schools, dedicated employees, a good location, a lot of open space, a good working relationship with town unions, and a low tax rate.

More listed strengths included resiliency, a constant effort to improve, a good working relationship between different departments, the presence of the Barnstable Municipal Airport and the Cape Cod Mall in the town, the accessibility of staff to address citizen concerns, good relationships with state and federal legislators, two municipal golf courses, a business incentive district, a diverse population, the Hyannis Youth & Community Center, the Barnstable Senior Center, the YMCA, the two teams that participate in the summer Cape Cod Baseball League, and the rapid response provided by the town’s five fire districts.

Councilors also saw the five fire districts as a weakness, citing duplication of effort and the different tax rates imposed by the various districts.

They also said the districts are not constrained by Proposition 2 1/2, a state law that limits tax increases.

Besides crime and drug abuse, other weaknesses listed by the councilors included the lack of sewer and water service in certain areas of the town, lack of maintenance of town assets, lower employee health insurance coverage than a number of other public employers, degradation of fresh and salt water, a lack of streamlined permitting, an aging town population and town work force, the number of senior managers close to retirement age, limited town financial resources, problems caused by the combination of high property values and low household income, and the lack of a four-year college.

Councilors also listed traffic congestion, the town-run Hyannis water operation, state roads in key town areas over which the town has no control, voter apathy, the lack of rentals and of affordable housing, the periodic lapse of communication and coordination in town initiatives, and too many town enterprise accounts.

Councilors Ann B. Canedy of Barnstable Village, Debra Dagwan and James M. Tinsley, both of Hyannis, and John Norman of Marstons Mills did not attend yesterday’s session. They represent Precincts 1, 8, 9, and 12.

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