Last Thursday was the Town Hall with the County Commissioners. As I said, the turnout was decent, and they said about another 50 people participated through Google Hangout. The 3 commissioners sat at the long table in Municipal Hall--the setup looked as if they were testifying before Congress, but we were assured that it was only so the camera could get them all in.
They began by introducing themselves and the area of concern for each. Josh Shapiro, the chairman, talked about the county's role in human services, particularly for seniors, business and economic development.
Leslie Richards, the vice chair, talked about transportation--the Lafayette Street corridor, the Markley Street project, and improvement to the Main Street parking garage. Also, she said that the courthouse would undergo renovations to save energy and water. She cited Arborheights on Dekalb as a tremendous success, probably not realizing that much of Norristown doesn't even know about that project, and that a lot of people who DO know think it's too dense and hope something like that never ever comes to their neighborhoods.
Bruce Castor is the expert on the county's public safety issues. I've toured the Chester County 911 facility (which is state-of-the-art and pretty impressive) and I assumed Montgomery County had a similar setup. From what Castor was saying, we apparently aren't quite there yet, but are making improvements. When you call the police, the call goes to 911 automatically, which is supposed to coordinate and track emergencies around the county in real time, in case extra resources need to be diverted to one spot in a hurry, or for fire and rescue efforts, or when police departments need to be coordinated for cases like child luring. Castor said our County Radio is being upgraded, and we're close to crime mapping in real time (Chester County has this already).
Then people started to ask questions and present concerns, and I learned a few things I didn't know. For instance, even if a student has lived in the county nearly all of his/her life, and gone through our schools--even if the student has gotten outstanding grades--if that child was brought here an as infant by undocumented parents, the student isn't treated by our community college as a resident of Montgomery County, or even as a resident of the Pennsylvania or the United States. The college treats that student as someone newly coming in from a foreign country. It's actually cheaper for that student to go to Philadelphia Community College than to Montco. Now, I know some of you are thinking that this is the way it should work, but you'd be wrong. Most of these kids don't find out they aren't citizens until they apply to college--and it's through no fault of their own. We should want to keep our best and brightest students in our county, to bring business here after they graduate. The commissioners seem to understand this and said they'd make sure the current policies change.
intrepid Shae Ashe of The Norristown Project, tuned in through Google,
and sent in a question asking how the county can help Norristown promote
business. Shapiro said 30-minute train service would be coming to our
Transportation Center, so hopefully the idea of being able to get a
train in and out every 30 minutes would help bring in offices.
said they also want to help Norristown promote home ownership, and that
she thought the town had "amazing buildings" that could be promoted,
though when I asked her specifics about historical preservation, I got
the idea that she liked the concept but didn't want to deal with the
reality. If a building's empty, no matter how amazing, she implied that it was okay to demolish it. Though all 3 commissioners said they were committed to keeping
the old Jail on Airy because it's a significant landmark building.
request was that the county support the development of Arts Hill and
address safety concerns in the area, in order to bring foot traffic back
to Main Street. Castor said the Sheriff's Department is expanding so
there will be visible uniforms on the streets around the courthouse,
leaving the police department freer to concentrate in other areas.
in all, it was a good Town Hall, though I thought they steered the
conversation away from specifics so much that I came away feeling that this was all for show. Still, I'm glad they took the time,
and I hope they took away a better understanding of residents'
concerns. I hope these Town Halls continue.