Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Happenings Along The River

Riverfront Park's new paint job as seen from the trail.
Just a quick update today on the activity on the Norristown part of the Schuylkill River Trail and Riverfront Park before I run off to get my flu shot.

In the last few weeks, as most of you know, we had Riverfest, and as some of you don't know, there was an Audubon Center program at Riverfront and a meeting of the Norristown River Action Team.

As I've explained before here on the Diary, 3 towns beside Norristown along the Schuylkill have similar teams--Manayunk, Conshohocken and Phoenixville. If you go to the Schuylkill Rivertowns Facebook page, you can read up on what the other towns are doing. The purposes of the teams is to inform the users of the trail of what each community has to offer, so as to help revitalize the towns. Also they want to let residents of each town know about the trail and to create other recreational/educational opportunities along the river.

Our team includes me, Tom McGlynn (landscaper extraordinaire), Rich Rogers (representing our Arts community), Bill Caldwell, and members of the Dragon Boat Club from Norristown, plus users of the trail who work in N-town, and representatives from the PA Environmental Council (who sponsors the Rivertowns program). Other interested N-towners would be welcomed. We meet the 4th Wednesday of each month at 3 pm at Barton Partners on East Main.

So, what's in the works this month? We found that there's only one bench along the entire 2-mile Norristown stretch of the trail, so the plan is to build some new ones using warehouse palettes. This has already been done on other sections of the trail. The finished benches are brightly painted and become part of the Art Along The Trail initiative.

The Philadelphia Mural Arts people have been surveying walls along the trail in Norristown and Conshohocken for a suitable place to put a mural. We're hoping, of course, that they choose N-town. Keep your fingers crossed.

I learned that the Audubon Center at Mill Grove has been in our elementary schools, not only doing programs about birds, but also teaching kids about native plants and how they attract wildlife. One of the Audubon reps took a look at Riverfront Park last Saturday and thought they might be able to create a native plant reserve there as a tie-in to their school program. I love this idea, because Riverfront could become an environmental classroom, which would bring families down to the river.

Mallard ducks at Riverfront Park 
I was at Riverfront last Saturday morning and I have to say, it's an incredibly beautiful spot, especially on a nice sunny day. A few people around town, when I mention Riverfront, shudder and say they'd never go there because of all the drug and prostitution activity. The times I've been there in the last year, I've never seen any illegal activity. Now that members of the Dragon Boat Club are present most days, there's always people around, so the criminals have gone off to find a more deserted spot. You'll see fishermen. You might see people sitting on the benches, or playing checkers or cards (the regulars keep an eye on the park and report any suspicious activity back to the DBC).

I'd also heard that bicyclists on the trail pedal through the Norristown stretch as fast as they can, and never come into town. Last Saturday, I followed a group of 7 cyclists down Haws Avenue. They got on the trail right before Riverfront. So users of the trail ARE coming through town, and this is great news for our community. Businesses--restaurants, theaters--within a few blocks of the trail ought to consider making their places more bike-rider-friendly. Signs for amenities will eventually go up on the trail. We need to be ready and welcome these new visitors into town.

So that's the news for now. I feel like things are really starting to happen along the river. I wish it were more visible to the rest of town, but I'll keep reporting it as I hear it.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Time For Another Attitude Adjustment

I was out in East Norriton last week, on Township Line Road between Swede Road and Dekalb Pike. While I waited for the light to change, I took a good look at the building between CVS and the gas station. It's some kind of old machine shop--I don't know if anyone uses it anymore. The loading dock door and crane are rusty. The side wall facing the road is missing quite a bit of stucco. The only thing that doesn't look dingy about the building is its baby blue doors.

I thought, if that were in Norristown, everyone would point to it and scream "urban blight," and say "Only in Norristown." But out in East Norriton, no one thinks anything of it.

Drive up Ridge Pike through West Norriton, Trooper and Eagleville. All the vacant lots up there are paved over, so I guess people don't notice them as much, just figuring they're an extention of the next parking lot. Maybe if we pave over our vacant lots in Norristown, no one will notice them (and hey, we'd get more parking downtown and on East Main). As it is, people from the surroundings 'burbs are quick to point out our vacant lots as evidence of how depressed and awful our town is.

Empty stores in King of Prussia
That stretch of Ridge Pike also has its share of empty buildings, as does King of Prussia and Plymouth Meeting. Last spring as I drove down Montgomery Avenue, I saw a whole row of empty stores at Suburban Square in Ardmore. Yet no one says the Main Line is depressed. It would be sacrilege to do so.

What's the difference be us and them?  Our speed limit, for one thing, plus our buildings are closer together and closer to the road. Unless you're stopped at a light in the surrounding 'burbs, you might drive right past vacant buildings and not notice them.

We have a higher population. A vacant house on a block full of row homes seems to be more noticeable than a vacant farmhouse that's falling apart up in Worcester. A dilapidated old house there has an aura of romance about it. Still, a house like that, off by itself, doesn't pose a health hazard to its neighbors. But if that's a concern, why is Norristown approving every high-density development to come along? And why aren't the neighbors effected banding together to protest those developments?

Crime? Norristown has an annual crime rate of about 38 crimes per 1000 residents. Ardmore's rate is 30. King of Prussia's is . . . 53!

The most obvious difference, I think, is income. Rich suburbanites versus low-income townies. Lots of people in the suburbs think they're somehow better than us, even if their roots are here in Norristown. They've got it in their heads that they or their parents before them struggled up out of their immigrant or whatever statuses and managed to escape Norristown, therefore whoever is left here are the losers. They can't fathom someone like me who stays in town by choice.

When I hear an out-of-towner dissing us, I stop them--I tell them Norristown is turning around. I tell them about our festivals, our arts scene, our restaurants, our architecture, our gardens, etc. I tell them crime is down. I point out to them that I don't say bad things about where they live and I'd appreciate it if they'd show the same regard. (Actually, they usually change their minds after hearing about the restaurants and festivals).

The sad thing is, too many N-towners--maybe the majority--also buy into the whole myth about the suburbs being superior. Our population has a horrible self-image. None of my friends from the surrounding 'burbs regularly talk about how bad their communities are on Facebook, but I read comments like that from N-town residents every day. Imagine you were going into a job interview and had to take 34,000 people in with you, all of whom would rather talk about your failings rather than your strong points. That's us. No matter how much I try to talk about the good going on in town, my work and the work of dozens of other N-towners who are giving their all to move this community forward is being sabotaged by the rest of you.

I'm not saying we don't have work to do in this town, but it's hard enough without pushing back against the bad attitudes all around us. We don't need to make it worse from within.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Owls, Flu Shots, a Big Sale, and Other Events

After last week's really full schedule, this coming week in Norristown seems very laid back, but there's still a lot going on, especially tomorrow. And this weeks' events are definitely NOT run-of-the-mill.

Saturday at 9:30 am, come to "WHOOO Are You Looking At?"--a FREE program about owls for kids and adults alike, presented by the John James Audubon Center at Riverfront Park (1 Haws Avenue). Learn about amazing adaptations that allow these creatures to soar the skies! Mounts, artifacts and even a LIVE BIRD will make this an event to remember. The show will last about an hour and be held outdoors, near the boathouse at the far end of the parking lot. Bring something to sit on. (Also, if you haven't see it yet, come check out the new paint job and other improvements in the park.)

Today and tomorrow are the last days for the Habitat for Humanity ReStore Sticker Sale. They sell new and used building materials to the public at discounted prices. At the sale you'll find up to 50% off items. Appliances, furniture, lighting, flooring, cabinets, tile, carpet, lumber, doors, you name it. All proceeds go towards Habitat work in the county. They're located at 533 Foundry Road, West Norriton. Call 610-631-3149 for hours and info. For info about the store or how to be a donor, go to http://www.habitatmontco.org/ReStore

Also Saturday and also at Riverfront, from 10 am to 2 pm, join students from Villanova University and the Schuylkill River Town Program for a trail and park cleanup at Riverfront Park. Lunch will be provided! If you are interested in volunteering, meet at the park at 10 am for instruction. Bring work gloves if you have them.

Also Saturday, but this time at Elmwood Park Zoo, from 11 am to 2 pm,  the Norristown Area School District Board of Directors, staff, our families, business, non-profit, and religious leaders, NASD alumni and other Norristown residents, will share "A Celebration of Education"--a fun-filled day and reflect on the importance of coming together as a community to support education in Norristown. Includes free food, games and activities, live musical performances and camaraderie. The event will be held rain or shine.

Tuesday from 10 am to 1 pm, the Montgomery County Health Department will be giving FREE flu shots to County residents ages 6 months and older at the Montgomery County Norristown Public Library. If you're on Medicare or have health insurance, please bring your card (you absolutely will not be charged--I've done this the past 8 years. It's easy). If you can't make the session on Tuesday, you can go to any of the other scheduled clinics throughout the county. For the 2014 schedule and more information, go to http://www.montcopa.org/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/1998 .

A heads-up for next weekend, on Oct 4 from 9 am to noon, The Norristown Project and Chosen Ones Youth Group has scheduled a cleanup of Rapp Alley, Blackberry Alley, and Hurst Alley (between Stanbridge and Buttonwood, W Marshall and Oak). More info next week.

Another heads-up, so you can get your tickets NOW -- next Saturday, Oct 4, from 4:30 to 7:30 pm, come to "A Taste of Theatre: Centre Theater Fundraiser" at the theater on 208 DeKalb St. The Centre Theater will host an afternoon beer tasting. Food, fun and camaraderie while you support the Centre. Gretzky Brewery and Poor Yorick's Brewing will share some of their finest brews. Food from Zone Catering and Capone's in East Norriton. Hors d'oeuvres butler service provided by members of the students' musical theater at The Centre Theater. Tickets are $30 per person or $50 per couple and can be reserved at this link . Call 610-279-1013 for info.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

On Comments and Crime

Today I want to talk about a comment I received on yesterday's entry--3 Simple Ways To Reduce Crime

All blog comments are set to review so I can eliminate spam and, as I say right at the top of the blog page, mean-spirited comments. I actually get more of them than I do spam. My thought is, if you have something you want published in that vein, start your own blog. Of course, then the commenter would have to put it under his/her own name. Since the mean-spirited comments are always under an alias, I'm guessing that won't happen. I did get a 2nd comment yesterday that was truly mean-spirited. If you can't converse without sounding like a preteen, don't bother commenting. I won't lower the tone of the conversation here.

Yet, as I also say at the top of my page, I love reasonable, constructive comments. They can be as critical as can be as long as they're constructive criticism. Even so, sign your name to ANY comment, and I'm much more likely to publish it.

Anyway, here's yesterday comment. I'm addressing it because I think it points out what might be a common problem--neighbors we don't like.

"Getting to know the people living next to you won't work if they are the same ones trashing the neighborhood and encouraging their kids to do the same. " Signed by "corruption in the norristown."

Not sure what the comment has to do with corruption in THE norristown. But let's look at the words themselves.

A lot of us probably have, or have had, neighbors we don't like. In the house connected to mine, I've seen 3 families come and go in my lifetime. One the other side, 7 families/individuals have lived in that house. I've had some horrendous neighbors. One guy always yelled at me if some of the snow I was cleaning off my car strayed into his uncleaned parking spot, despite the fact that our family shoveled off our shared front steps. That was only one example of his obnoxiousness. It came back to bite him--he was a government worker and when he was up for promotion and a raise in security level, the FBI showed up at our door doing a background check. My mom was only too happy to say what she thought of him.

Still, even with the lousy neighbors, we always learned their names and got their phone numbers. Because if something happened--if, say, I saw part of their roof loosen in a wind storm, or a branch of their tree crack, calling them to tell them about it helped to protect MY property. If the tree or roof was taken care of immediately, there was less possibility of damage to my house or car.

Not sure what the commenter means by "trashing the neighborhood." Are we talking real trash? That can be reported to code enforcement. But since yesterday's blog was about crime, I have to think that's what the commenter means. What kind of crime? Vandalism? Other types? (Even so, I can't imagine an entire neighborhood--several blocks--being "trashed" and the police not hearing about it.)

Still, sometimes you KNOW something illegal's going on, but you can't prove it. A couple across the alley from me a while back bred dogs for dog fighting. The surrounding neighbors all suspected that the female dog was abused but we couldn't prove it. The neighbors on either side of the couple (whose names I knew) called the police out several times. Eventually the cops figured out what was going on and even broke up the dog fighting ring (unfortunately too late to save one of the dogs). But the arrest happened because we were all friendly enough on the block to compare notes. I should mention that none of the neighbors knew the couples' names because they were careful to avoid contact. Another red flag.

I was told by a cop a few years ago that the more the police are called out to house for anything--domestic arguments, etc.--the more they're likely to check that house for drug activity, because drug activity is likely to lead to assaults and other incidents. If you suspect your next door neighbors of being the instigators of crime, talk to your other neighbors about what they've seen or heard, and call the police if there are fights or frequent shouting (we do have a noise ordinance) or other incidents.

So, if you want to keep to yourself, with the excuse that you don't like your neighbors, fine. Raise the drawbridge, shut yourself up in your castle, don't talk to anyone. But if crime does come to your neighborhood, don't complain if you become a victim. Your good neighbors will be watching out for the neighbors they know and not you.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

3 Simple Ways to Reduce Crime in Norristown

I sat down with Chief Talbot yesterday. My questions to him were, what should residents do to keep safe from crime, and what can we do to help reduce the amount of crime in town.

If you look on the Crime Map for Norristown in the past week, you'll see we had 69 crimes, including our first homicide of the year. A lot of you will take those stats and run with them, spreading the word about how horribly unsafe Norristown is, not even bother to read the rest of this article. But you have to know more about the crimes themselves. Eliminate the most non-violent, non-property-damaging crimes like disturbing the peace, DUI, and drug and alcohol violations, and you cut the number down to 45 crimes. Eliminate vandalism, which usually means graffiti, and you're down to 36. There were 3 motor vehicle thefts, 2 "theft from vehicle," and 4 other thefts that didn't involve breaking in.

Yeah, but what about that homicide? It was a domestic dispute--a stabbing. Most of our assaults (14 last week) were also domestic disputes--basically, something like spousal abuse, or 2 people who know each other coming to blows over something stupid. Both are usually helped along by drugs or alcohol. Most were simple assaults--meaning there was no intention to do physical harm, only to frighten or intimidate.

Black icon=Burglaries, Blue=Robberies
In all there were only 12 crimes of the type that people walking the street or in their homes would have cause to worry about--6 burglaries (2 of which had no forced entry--a door or window was left unlocked) and 6 robberies/muggings.

But even those statistics can be reduced if we come together as a community. Here are the 3 main ways Chief Talbot suggests to protect yourself, your family, your property and help your neighborhood, in reverse order of importance.

3 - Here's the one suggestion you'd expect: Make your house/car safer. Here are some tips.
    Lock your car doors, house doors and windows. (You'd be surprised how many people don't.)
    Don't leave your house dark when you're not home.
    Screw your air conditioners into their window frames.
    Houses with dogs don't get burglarized. (Doesn't have to be a big dog--just one that barks. Burglars aren't afraid of getting bitten--they're afraid of noise.)
    Outside sensor lights can help.

2- Pay attention. The one thing burglars hate are blocks where neighbors are obviously paying attention. If you hear unusual noises outside at night (or even during the day), you can do a few things. First, simply turn on your outside lights. It lets the bad guys know someone heard them. I do this even if I see headlights on in the alley for longer than a minute or 2. If it's only a neighbor unloading groceries, no harm done. If it's a drug deal, maybe it'll annoy them enough that they'll get off my block.

If you're a bit braver, turn on your light, then take something out to toss in your trash can, or get something out of your car. Or let your dog out in the yard. Do the same if you see strangers hanging around your block during the day. Take that moment to sweep off your porch. The more activity on a block, the better. With the colder months coming on, more people will be off the street and burglars/car thieves/muggers know that.

Paying attention means making an effort to get your head up out of your phone or computer or television or other electronic device, but it's important that you do. When you're walking the street, be alert to your surroundings and you won't get mugged.

The NUMBER ONE way to reduce crime in Norristown?

1 - Learn the first names of the neighbors on either side of you. When Chief Talbot said that, I admit, I did a mental check to make sure I did know their names, then thought about which other neighbors I know by name and which I don't. We're fairly friendly on our block in that many neighbors wave or say hi, but I don't think most of us know each others' names. What's the difference? According to Chief Talbot, if you know a person's name, you connect with that person more. Loose connections on a neighborhood block and crime is likely to go up. If you know your neighbors' names, you're likely to be more aware of their houses and cars, and you're more likely to speak up if you see someone breaking into their properties. I have to admit, of the houses across the alley from me, I do tend to think of them in terms of names--Jane's house, John's house--the rest are kind of lumped under "other" in my mind.

If everyone in town got to know the neighbors on either side by name, we'd create a whole web of residents across town keeping an eye on just 2 more houses besides their own. That's a powerful crime deterrent.

I'd love to say that it goes without saying that you need to speak up if you see a crime in progress, or if you realize the day after a crime that you saw something important. Unfortunately, people seem to need to be told this...and they STILL don't speak up. If you don't speak up--and if you don't do a few simple things to make yourself and your block safer, you have absolutely no right to get on your high horse and complain about crime in Norristown.

I'm going to end with a quote from Chief Talbot: "'Community' is more than just shared geography."  We need to start acting like a community instead of just a town.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Riverfest, Egyptian Fest, and Scads of Other Events

Photo of Riverfest, 2013
Sorry I've been away from the Diary most of the week. Been fighting germs, and I'm determined to be over it by tomorrow so I can go to Riverfest and other events in N-Town (the Egyptian Festival looks awesome).

I'm not going say my usual spiel about checking the TNP and Municipal Calendars, because it's becoming obvious to me that our community groups aren't using them much anymore. Then you all complain if several events are scheduled at the same time. Lately I've had to rely on just happening to see Facebook posts about events or receiving emails from other people who track Norristown's events. If I miss reporting your event, it's because I knew nothing about it and that's not my fault. USE THE COMMUNITY CALENDARS, both for posting your event and for checking to see what's already scheduled BEFORE you schedule yours. If no one comes to your events, it's no one's fault but your own..

Today has been designated as Montgomery County Pledge Day as part of AT&T’s It Can Wait Distracted Driving Campaign. Community members, workplace staff, school faculties and students are encouraged to “Paint Montgomery County Blue” by wearing blue on September 19th to show support for safe driving. Take a picture dressed in blue and email the photo to publichealth@montcopa.org to be shared on MCHD’s website and social media pages.  The Montgomery County Commissioners and the Montgomery County Health Department urge all residents to take the pledge to NOT TO TEXT AND DRIVE.

Saturday, 9 to 11 am, Norristown Hospitality Center will host Lift a Life 5K and 1 mile walk at Norristown Farm Park. Fee $20-$30. Family friendly event for runners and walkers alike. The notice says to register at www.hospitalitycenter.com/lift-a-life-5k but that link doesn't seem to work, so call Denise Hall, 610-275-4585.
Also on Saturday, Delta Academy school for girls will do a presentation at Montco OIC (1101 Arch) from 10 am to noon. They serve middle school females grades 6-8 or ages 11-14. Parents/Guardians please plan to attend with your daughter.

Saturday, from 11 am to at least 4 pm, come to the 2nd annual RIVERFEST at Riverfront Park (where Haws Avenue ends at the river), presented by the Dragon Boat Club. Admission FREE. Music, food vendors, Kids' activities. Try a canoe, outrigger, paddle boat or dragon boat.

After Riverfest, head over to the 41st Annual Egyptian Festival, noon to 8 pm, or go Sunday from noon to 6 pm. St. George Coptic Orthodox Church (411 DeKalb St).  FREE admission. Music, food, culture and artwork. For more info, call 610-272-7615.

After a full day at other activities, you can kick back Saturday night at A Founder's Day Celebration, presented by Norristown NAACP at the Carver Center (249 E. Jacoby St.) from 8:30 pm to 12:30 a.m. Bring your own food and beverage and be prepared for an evening of history, mixing, mingling, dancing, shopping, raffles, and auction. Donation of $25.00. For more info, call Pat Augustus Gilbert, 610-476-1198.

Sunday, 10 am to 2 pm, the Historical Society of Montgomery County (Dekalb and Roberts) presents "Death & Dying In Victorian Times." Learn about the elaborate funeral customs of the late 1800's. Exhibits and presentations include Coffin Making, Stone Cutting, Mourning Clothing, Embalming and more! Admission: $8.00 per person, ages 13 and up includes all exhibits and presentations. Questions: Karen Wolfe, 610-272-0297.

Monday from 5:30-7:30 pm is the CTC National Family Day Celebration Dinner at Gotwals Elementary School, 1 East Oak St. A FREE dinner will be served along with family-focused games and activities. All families are welcome.

Tuesday night at 7 pm, Zoning Board Hearings at Municipal Hall. The agenda can be read at http://norristown.org/userfiles/file/events/1127.pdf

Tuesday morning from 8:30-9:30, Norristown Business Association invites you and a friend to the Association’s breakfast meeting at the Stony Creek Office Center 151 West Marshall Street, Building #2. Please RSVP at: info@norristownba.org

Tuesday night from 6:30-7:30 pm, Montgomery County-Norristown Public Library presents Garden Tips & Tricks. Master Gardener Kathy Klein will give tips for recycling in your garden.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Riverfront Park's Facelift

Confession: You all probably know by now that I'm a native Norristowner, born and raised here, yet a year ago at Riverfest was the first time I'd ever visited Riverfront Park. Driving down Haws Avenue, I was thinking, "Where IS this place?" especially after I saw the depressing-looking underpass, graffiti on the bridge above, surrounded by equally depressing Industrial Age stone buildings.

But once past those hurdles, I pulled into the park and was amazed by how beautiful the Schuylkill is at that spot and how exciting it was to see dragon boats filled with kids out on the water. Riverfront has a large parking lot, charcoal grills, benches to sit and look at the view, a cement dock, a spot to put small boats into the water, and a stairway that leads you up onto the Schuylkill River Trail. The Dragon Boat Club had also added a large storage container to use as their boathouse, and the students from ACPPA had painted a mural of a dragon on the container's side. At 2013 Riverfest, the boathouse was dedicated and the dragon named "Puff."

One of the problems with Riverfront Park's location is that the building of the railroad back in the 19th century essentially created a wall between the park and the town. Many natives don't even know there's a park there. Even if you did know, the look of the entrance discouraged a lot of people from using the place. The Dragon Boat Club has been changing that. First, they put up a new sign at the entrance and planted flowers around it.

During the last year, you probably heard that a spring flood picked up the boathouse and floated it down the Schuylkill to the Dekalb Street bridge. It was recovered and brought back. Soon after, the kids from ACPPA showed up to retouch the paint and add new flowers on the side of the container.
An electrical box was installed so the park could have lights and sound for evening events.
That awful rusting railing alongside the entrance was repainted fire engine red.
And best of all, the graffiti-cover bridge has been turned into a big, bright park sign.

We still have to contend with the "wall" between the park and town. It might help if Council would consider putting Riverfront Park directional signs out on Main Street, and maybe line the last block of Haws with some new trees (the way Fornance was lined with Sycamores, to lead people to Elmwood Park when it first opened in 1900). Make Haws Avenue an inviting entryway.

Stop by Saturday and see Riverfront Park's facelift for yourself. RIVERFEST starts at 11 am and will go to at least 4 pm. Music all day. Food vendors. At 1 pm, they'll have a Breast Cancer Survivor Flower Ceremony. If you want, you can try a kayak, outrigger canoe, canoe or paddle board, or ride in a dragon boat. Or just enjoy the view and celebrate the revitalization of the park. The weather's supposed to be sunny and beautiful. See you there.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What Is Norristown's Identity?

I was sitting in my car the other day at Markley and Johnson Hwy, waiting for the traffic light and PennDOT crews to let me by, when I found myself playing a mind game. Gazing at the blank wall on Logan Square closest to Johnson Hwy, I thought, if I were in charge of putting a mural there, what would it look like?

For one thing, since it's on the border with East Norriton, it would have a big "Welcome to Norristown" message, but what else?

I thought of the mural on Lafayette--it's mostly a depiction of the buildings on Arts Hill, the most recognizable ones at the top: Courthouse, St. Johns, the Jail, and First Presbyterian. At the bottom of the mural is a music staff and all around these images are people playing instruments, dancing, etc. It says, in effect, "Norristown = The Arts."

A mural, then, ought to represent part of a town's identity. The problem with Norristown as I see it, is that we keep refusing to identify ourselves. Or at least, refuse to identify our town with positive things.

When the Times Herald printed a story this weekend about the Codes Manager being asked to resign for showing favoritism to a district judge, one comment I saw on Facebook was "This could only happen in Norristown." Really? You think we have a monopoly on political favoritism? You don't read the news much, do you? I see this comment way too much, for every little thing that goes wrong in town. Come on, people. We could have a mayor like Toronto's Rob Ford, who, when photos of himself smoking crack appeared on the Internet, said he wasn't at fault because he was too drunk to know what he was doing. Norristown's in way better shape than that.

But back to what our positive identity should be, because we need an identity to have the vision to change things. And it's clear talking to people around town that a real identity--at least something we could all agree on--is something we're lacking.

We have Arts Hill--yes, it's still struggling, but all those Barrymore nominations this year have to be worth something, not to mention our youth arts scene, exemplified by ACPPA in the West End and the 30 or so kids at Centre Theater who put on 3 productions a year.

Norristown represents an entire textbook of American architectural styles. We have Elmwood Park Zoo. We have an emerging identity as a River Town, which we ought to start really embracing now, instead of waiting for Lafayette Street, and subsequently the riverfront, to be developed. The Dragon Boat Club is almost single-handedly fixing up Riverfront Park, but so much more could be done on that front.

We have amazing public parks--everyone takes them for granted, but outside of Philly, many communities only have school playgrounds and ball fields. If they want a green, tree-shaded place to picnic, they have to go to Valley Forge or Green Lane. They don't have the option of hearing a public concert at the band shell or fishing one of our creeks or the Schuylkill.

We have beautiful gardens. 29 of our gardeners were brave enough to enter the Norristown Garden Club contest this year. Just driving around town in summer, you can see we have dozens, maybe hundreds more gardeners. We have community and school gardens, and there's talk of greening up some of our public spaces.

We have festivals from May through October. We celebrate everything--the arts, the river, our diverse cultures, our foods, our families. You're not going to find that in suburbia.

So, as far as Norristown's identity goes, my thought is, why should we have just one? We could present ourselves to the world as all these things--instead of letting the world tell us we're worthless, and worse yet, us believing it. If you aren't happy unless you're saying how awful this town is, do us all a favor and move to Toronto.

As for my imaginary mural at Logan Square, I think I'd have it represent the strengths of North End--the Zoo, Elmwood Park, the Bocce Club, Greater Norristown PAL.

Go play a mind game of your own. If you were given the money and wherewithal to put a mural anyplace in town, where would it be and what would be on it?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rock The Block and More Events

Okay, sure, summer's over. No more Sunday night concerts. But there's still lots of other things to do in Norristown this coming week, and festival season won't end for at least another month.

Saturday from 8 am to 3 pm, Habitat for Humanity Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative will host "Rock The Block" at Cherry St. Park (Cherry and Oak Sts). Fun, food, friends and improvements on Cherry Street. Dow Chemical will be there with demos on things like home weatherization. Contact Marianne Lynch at mlynch@habitatmontco.org or 610-278-7710, ext 112 for more info.

Also Saturday, from 11 am to 3 pm,  ACPPA will host an Open House. Enter behind Grace Lutheran Church on Haws Avenue, off the parking lot at Airy St. Class demonstrations. Meet the staff, make and take art, face painting and refreshments. Call 610-277-2270 or www.acppa.net for more information.

All second Saturday nights (and that means this week), Jazz and Word at August Moon (East Main and Arch) from 8 to 10:30 pm. This week the Harry "Butch" Reed Group is featured, along with Shyster aka Miss Betty's Son.

Sunday is Elmwood Park Zoo's annual Oktoberfest Beer Tasting Festival from noon to 3:30 pm (note--the Zoo will be closed to regular admission). 60 beers for unlimited sampling, food trucks, live entertainment. The truly adventurous can experience a once-in-a-lifetime thrill: a new opportunity for hand-feeding 1,200-pound bison. Tickets start at $40 and are available at http://elmwoodparkzoo.org/event/132. Designated driver tickets start at $15.

Monday from 4 to 5 pm at the Library (Powell and Swede) Sew Awesome workshop for grades 3-6. Learn basic hand and machine sewing techniques. Create great things to wear and decorate your space! Essential to attend all three classes, as we will build on skills learned the week before. Registration required. Signups begin September 2. Stop in the Children’s Department to sign up.

Tuesday from 6 to 7:30 pm at the Library, local artist Andrea O'Driscoll will demonstrate how to repurpose old book by turning them into art. Free workshop. Questions:Asha Verma, 610-278-5100.

Also Tuesday, the Municipal Council workshop at Municipal Hall at 6:30 pm. No agenda yet.

A third event on Tuesday, from 7 to 9 pm at Greater Norristown PAL (340 Harding Blvd) is the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" Town Hall Discussion on Crime, Community and Camaraderie, presented by Kappa Omega Zeta Chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, with a panel of experts moderated by Buck Jones. Light refreshments will be served.

Remember, next Saturday (the 20th) is Riverfest at Riverfront Park (1 Haws Avenue) starting at 11 am. Food vendors, music. Try a kayak, outrigger canoe, canoe or paddle board. Dragon boats through out the day. More info next week.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Case of Our Codes Director and Our District Justice

No screen or glass - being held shut with a rubber band.
By now a lot of you know that our municipal Codes Director, Joe Januzelli, was asked to resign this week after an investigation into a house rented without a license by Justice Lawrence. Some of you connected the dots and realized that this was the house I spoke of in a few Diary entries, most recently "Council Disrespects A Resident" from last week.

This is a hard blog entry to write because I can't step back and be an impartial journalist. The house is right next door to mine. I've been watching the tale unfold for over 30 years. I got involved personally this year. So here's what I know. Bear with me, it's a long story.

Thirty some years ago, Fran Lawrence and his family moved in next door to my parents and me. They turned out to be great neighbors. My mom babysat the kids after school until their mom got home. We went to their first communion and graduation parties. We shoveled each other's walks. The Lawrences, especially the kids, were always good to my parents. Fran and his wife came to both my parents' funerals. When they moved, Fran retained ownership of the house and his parents moved in (when I think "Judge Lawrence" I still think of Fran's father first). Fran's parents were two of the sweetest people I've ever met. I used to help Mrs. Lawrence with her garden. After the Judge died and Fran's mom left, his sister Cathy (the councilwoman) lived there. Another good neighbor.

But when Fran began renting the house, as far as I could tell, he stopped doing maintenance on it. And as anyone who owns a house knows, when you ignore little roof leaks or plumbing problems or whatever, they get bigger. Ten years ago, the current resident moved in, a woman in her 70s. She's been a good neighbor, too, though mainly we just stop and chat when we see each other outside. She's mentioned problems with the house over the years, and I could see the deterioration on the outside, but I never thought the problems were all that bad--I figured she would have moved if they were.

Fast forward to last January 6th. We had a terrific windstorm that night, but no rain or snow. My bedroom window faces the house next door. A piece of their aluminum trim was loose and banging around so it kept me up. At some point there was a loud banging and I could see a large heavy piece of their flat roof flapping up and down. I have to admit I didn't even think of the tenant--I was worried it would break off and hit my windows. The next day, thinking I was doing them a favor, I called the Lawrences and left a message about what I'd seen. I figured the next time it rained or snowed, they'd get water in. I'd want a neighbor to do the same for me.

People keep tripping on this and leaving notes on the door about it.
More than a month later, a man came with a latter and climbed up to look at the roof. We'd had a bad icestorm and this guy was walking around on 2 inches of solid ice, 2 stories up. I thought, why would anyone wait until conditions are at their worst to call in a roofer (though if you've dealt with roofers, you know they can put you off for a month before they come out).

But I found out that Fran Lawrence didn't send the guy with the ladder--our Codes Department did. During the icestorm, in the middle of the night, the ceiling in the middle bedroom next door fell in. Luckily, because the roof had been leaking (for years, I found out), the tenant had been sleeping downstairs in an armchair, so she wasn't hurt. She had called 911 when the roof fell in and they sent out the fire department (how I slept through this, I'll never know). The responders informed Codes, not only about the roof but about other violations they saw inside the house. I found out recently that a slew of violations had been cited in February-the only one I know for sure that was fixed right away was the broken furnace, because afterwards I saw smoke coming out of the chimney on cold mornings. But that was when I realized the tenant hadn't had heat in a while because I hadn't seen the smoke in years.

Fast forward again to June. No roofer had shown up. Joe Januzelli was guest speaker at a Norristown Business Association Meeting, so afterward I pulled him aside and told him about next door's roof. I knew code violations had been cited but nothing had been done. He said he'd look into it. The next day someone came out to look at the roof again and within a week or two, a roofer was at work on it. A cellar window that had been broken for years was also fixed. I thanked Joe for interceding when I saw him again.

Overgrown hedge and more broken pavement.
Some other code violations were cited, including a sewage backup in the cellar, but no other work was done on the house in July and early August. The tenant was by now fed up (I would have had much less patience than she had), so she kept bothering Codes and starting asking to see documents like Justice Lawrence's renter's license for the house and the report of the inspection that should have been done before she moved in. Halfway through the month, she got an eviction notice--and the judge who signed it was Lawrence himself. It gave her until August 31, and said she was being evicted because she didn't pay her rent, which wasn't true.

She called the Chief of Judges and asked for a change of venue and a different judge. She got the latter but not the former, so she had to put up with Judge Lawrence's staff being nasty to her (I did, too, because I went to the hearing). Fran wasn't there--he was represented by one of his property managers, Rick Gallo. The tenant said she was happy to leave but needed an extra month to find a new place. In front of the judge, Gallo said he'd give her more time. Outside, in front of no one but me, he said he'd give her until Sept 1, a whole extra day. We finally got him to agree to Sept 30th, but it was verbal and I was the only witness.

I should add that the sewage problem was fixed in a hurry, between the eviction notice and the hearing.

A week later, the tenant received another eviction notice that said Sept 2nd. Also signed by Justice Lawrence. This time the tenant went to that week's council meeting and told them everything. She said she hadn't received the documents she'd requested and that many of the codes violations still hadn't been addressed and many more violations had never been cited. She'd asked for a complete inspection before the hearing, but that Januzelli had refused. The Codes inspector who had been out after the roof collapse had taken lots of photos, but only a few of those photos showed up in the record of the violations.

The tenant called the constable to find out what the procedure for eviction was. He told her he'd gotten a stay on the eviction order. No one ever officially informed the tenant.

I found out later that Council started an investigation that first night. They found that Lawrence had no license for renting the house. They sent an "independent inspector" out to look at the house, but as I said in my blog last week, he did a lousy job. Our borough manager, Crandall Jones, came out to look at the property himself last week and took photos of everything (even a broken piece of my pavement, which I assured him was on our to-do list (in fact, my brother started working on it yesterday)).

That is essentially everything I know firsthand. Honestly, I'm not sure who are the good guys and the bad guys in this mess. Obviously the landlord has to be ultimately responsible for the condition of his property and for procuring the license. I known Judge Lawrence owns at least 4 other properties--I don't know if he has licenses to rent them or not. He also should NOT be signing legal documents in his capacity as judge that relate to his own property or business. That's unethical--might even be illegal. But Norristown Council can't take action against him as a judge. That's up to the Chief of Judges and possibly up to the voters (he's up for re-election in 4 years).

I can't let the property managers, the Gallo brothers, off completely--they knew the condition of the house inside and out (I don't remember seeing Fran go inside the house in ages.) There should be some law that says they can't be complicit in allowing dangerous living conditions in a rental property. Though I don't know if there IS such a law. I do know that the Gallo brothers own and/or manage a lot of properties in Norristown. I hope nothing like this is happening on their other properties.

As for Joe Januzelli, I don't know why he was asked to resign. I do know that the codes violations cited in February were never followed up on. Obvious code violations on the outside of the house, like dangerously uneven pavement and peeling paint and overgrown bushes, hadn't been cited in 10 years. Photos apparently went missing. The full inspection in August SHOULD have been done. Yet I don't believe he'd have been asked to resign merely for not staying on top of things, or even if this was the only case of him looking the other way because he knew the landlord or members of the landlord's family personally. But I don't know anything more and won't accuse him on speculation and hearsay.

Meanwhile, the tenant will be moving, but I still have to live next door to the house in question. I've talked to some of the other neighbors on the block. They all liked the Lawrences and don't understand why the house is being allowed to fall to pieces. They want to see it look presentable again. And for the sake of the next tenant, and close neighbors and their kids, I want to see the house made safe again.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

All We Need Is A Sign

(Make That SIGNS)

I went to a meeting of the Norristown Schuylkill River Action Team a couple weeks ago and this time we talked about signs.

To refresh your memories, the Schuylkill River Trail is 26.5 miles long and just about 1/10th--2.6 miles--runs through Norristown. It's estimated that 800,000 joggers, hikers and bicyclists use the trail every nice weekend in the spring, summer and fall, and frequently on summer evenings. Thousands continue to use the trail the rest of the year. If even 10% of the users travel the Norristown portion of the trail, we ought to be trying to let them know what our town has to offer. On the map you'll note that it doesn't add many tenths of a mile if a trail user takes a detour onto Main.

We could also be attracting potential new users to the Norristown section by having signs on our streets directing people towards the trail. If they park at the Dekalb train station trailhead, along Lafayette, or at Riverfront Park, well then, maybe when they're done an afternoon of exercise, on their drive back out of town, they'll stop for a drink or for supper at one of our restaurants. These signs would have to be put up by the borough, but I think they'd be worth it. Use the logo for the Montgomery County section of the trail (see the photo below), link our town to the trail--say we recognize that the river and the trail is part of our identity. It could only help to change attitudes toward us.

One of the team members rode her bike through the Norristown part of the trail and took photos of existing signs, of which there were very few. There's an information kiosk near the Transportation Center, but it's far enough off the trail that trail users probably don't think it pertains to them. Otherwise you don't see more than mile markers and the back of Industrial Age factories and warehouses, some of which is covered with graffiti.

On the positive side, the Mural Arts folks walked that part of the trail last week to evaluate some of these building walls to use for a mural. Other art is being planned for the Norristown section of the trail, too--sculptures and decorative signs.

Which brings us back to signs--we really need big artistic "Welcome to Norristown" signs at either end of our section of the trail. We need "off ramp" signs at Dekalb Street and maybe Markley, letting people know which way to go to find food, theater, and tourist attractions (like Five Saints Distillery and the Zoo).

We need a large sign on the trail at Riverfront Park, something that proudly proclaims "Home of the Norristown Dragon Boat Club." Right now brush has been cleared away and trail users can now see that we have a park next to the river, but no information signs to say that they can use it and even park there for trail access. This would also be the place to put off-ramp signs to get people to come up Haws Ave to West Main.

We're less than 2 weeks away from Riverfest on Sept 20th. I hope the Dragon Boat Club can at least put a temporary sign up on the trail by this weekend, letting trail users know about the festival. This was done for the Arts Fest and people did come up Dekalb on their bikes to check out the event.

Other communities along the trail--Manayunk, Conshohocken, Phoenixville--are all actively beginning to promote their town to trail users. We need to as well. Let's not be left behind.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Something Else to Brag About in N-Town

Most people have heard of the Tony Awards, given for great theater productions on Broadway in New York. Philadelphia has its own version, called the Barrymore Awards, given for excellence in professional theater in the Greater Philadelphia region. The competition was stiff this year--100 productions in 31 theaters--but the nominations have now been announced and...

THEATRE HORIZON got 10 of them.

We're not talking just for one play either. All 3 of their productions received nominations in 8 different categories.

Two plays--I Am My Own Wife and Circle Mirror Transformation were BOTH nominated for Outstanding Overall Production of a Play AND Outstanding Direction of a Play.

I Am My Own Wife also was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play, and for the Virginia Brown Martin Philadelphia Award.

Circle Mirror Transformation received other nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play, and Outstanding Ensemble in a Play.

The 39 Steps got a nod for Outstanding Sound Design.

Competition is stiff, though. They're up against productions by established theaters such as The Wilma, The Arden, The Philadelphia Theatre Company, and Peoples' Light. There are 7 nominees in most of the categories listed above. You can read the complete list at http://www.theatrephiladelphia.org/barrymore-awards/2014.

The awards will be announced the evening of Monday, October 27, at the Merriam Theater on Broad Street in Philadelphia.

While we're all holding our breaths waiting for news of the winners, Theatre Horizon has posted their schedule for next season: The Syringa Tree (Oct. 16-Nov. 9), Into The Woods (one of my favorite musicals, Feb. 5-Mar. 1), and In The Blood (April 23-May 17). You can subscribe for the whole season at this link. I'm not sure if Theatre Horizon will continue their program next season where Norristown residents get in free to certain performances, but they also have cheaper preview and "pay what you can" nights. I'll pass along info as I get it.

In the meantime, join me in congratulating Erin Reilly and the staff of Theatre Horizon, and the casts and crews of last season's shows for their Barrymore nominations. Best of luck.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Music For Kids' Sake and Other Events This Week

Friday and Saturday nights, 8:30-11 pm, the Carver Center, 249 E. Jacoby St, will host a Youth Open Gym.  $5 admission.

Saturday from 9 to 1 pm, Car Wash at the Carver Community Center, 249 E. Jacoby St. Cost: $5.

Sunday, at 9 am, The Travis Manion Foundation will host a 9/11 Heroes Run 5K and 1 Mile Fun run/walk. Starts at Montgomery County Courthouse, 2 E. Airy St. Go to http://www.911HeroesRun.com for more information and to sign up.

Sunday from 1 to 6 pm in the parking lot and Parish Hall of St. Patrick's Church (Dekalb and Oak), Mexican Independence Day Festival. Mexican food, drink, music, dancing, vendors.  Everyone welcome.

Also Sunday, from 1-9 pm, Summer Concert Series presents "Music for Kids' Sake" at the Elmwood Park Bandshell. Festivities start with Radio Disney, who'll be there from 1 to 2:30 pm with music, dancing, games and prizes. The concerts will begin at 2 pm (according to the town website and not the poster) and feature 4 bands who'll perform until 9 pm. Food/drinks available at the snack stand. Any questions, concerns about the weather, etc., call 610-270-0467.

Sunday from 2  to 5 pm is FREE admission to Elmwood Zoo day. Residents of Norristown Borough that present valid photo ID will get in free. Radio Disney Philadelphia will be there from 3:30-5 pm with music, games and prizes. Stop by and get information from our friends at PEMA to learn how to be informed, be prepared and be involved. Radio Disney Philadelphia is proud to partner with PEMA, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

ALSO on Sunday at 4 pm, Riverfront Park (end of Haws Ave--at the river), the Dragon Boat Club challenges the entire Norristown Community to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Their goal is to raise $2000 for the ALS Foundation. Bring your own bucket. Water and ice will be provided.

Monday at 5:30 pm, there will be a public meeting by the Civil Service Commission of Norristown at Municipal Hall. The purpose of the meeting will be to appoint examiners for administration of a civil service examination for the position of Captain (of police, I assume), and to amend the Civil Service Rules & Regulations.

No Planning Commission Meeting this month.

Tuesday at 6 pm, Town Watch will meet at the Montgomery Hose Fire Co, West Freedley and Pine Streets. All residents are welcome to attend.

Wednesday from 9 to 11 am, the Montgomery County Suicide Prevention Taskforce will meet at the Montgomery County Human Services Center/Community Room, 1430 DeKalb St, Norristown. Open to the public. Please RSVP to marryellen.wunder@uhsinc.ocm or call 215-542-4817.

Thursday, from 9 to 10:30 am, the Interagency Council of Norristown (ICN) will hold its Welcome Back Membership Meeting at the Montgomery County Human Services Center, 1430 Dekalb St. Featured Speakers will be Norristown Police Chief Talbot, Shae Ashe from The Norristown Project, and Robin Parker from The Dragon Boat Club. Please arrive by 8:45 am.

Just a heads-up for next Saturday (the 13th) Habitat for Humanity Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative will host "Rock The Block" from 8 am to 3 pm at Cherry St. Park, for a day of friends, food, fun and improvements on Cherry Street.  And same day, ACPPA will host an Open House from 11 to 3. More detail on both next week.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Update on Montgomery Hospital Demolition/Development

This is my week for meetings. Last night's was for the zoning committee for the development that's to take place at the site of Montgomery Hospital.

I think I mentioned that the zoning codes have to be changed for that block. Right now it's zoned for a hospital and nothing else. The developer wanted to to write up his own zoning changes and just hand them in to be approved, but our Planning Department is doing the right thing and making it a public process, with input from neighbors-especially those right across Locust Street--and from County Planners and the developers.

I use the plural because representatives showed up from Einstein last night. Einstein said over and over in the meetings about the fate of the hospital that as soon as the hospital was demolished, they'd be done with the matter and the developer, Elon company, would take over. So I'm not sure why they should have a say in the wording of the zoning.

But it turned out to be a good thing they came because even before the final permit has been issued for demolition, there are already glitches in the process. The infamous 6 foot fence was constructed this week around the property (it is, essentially, there for insurance purposes. Not sure why it took so long to be approved). The bus stop shelter is now completely fenced in. Brilliant.

Notices about the demolition schedule had been placed on the building. With the fence up, the notices can't be read except with a good pair of binoculars. The residents asked that the schedules be laminated and attached to the fence.

This past week, a couple of thuggish gentlemen showed up at Locust Street neighbors' doors, saying the residents had to let them in so they could take photos inside the houses before demolition. There was no notice sent out beforehand. It sounded like a scam, so many of the residents said no. To that response, everyone said the men freaked out and demanded to be let in, making themselves even less welcome on the block. Supposedly, the demolition firm hired these fellows to take photos of existing cracks inside and outside the neighbors homes so that the homeowners can't later claim the cracks were caused by the vibrations of the demolition. Einstein knew nothing about it, so it still might be a scam. Even so, if you live within a block of the hospital, you'd do better to take your own photos or schedule an independent home inspection. You aren't obligated to let representatives of the demolition company in.

But back to the new zoning. The changes specify that the site be used for senior housing and a small adult day-care center, or single family housing, or professional/medical offices. If the developer chooses to do so, they can put small retail like restaurants, banks, or personal service shops (think barber) on the first floor of the buildings, but the buildings can't exceed 4 stories. There has to be a minimum 25% public open space, which must be landscaped for passive recreation and can include walking paths, benches, etc. Shade trees should line the streets (which would also help with stormwater runoff). There was more--parking requirements, etc.--but it sounds like a plan that could be a benefit to Norristown and the neighborhood.

Next the developer (Elon, I assume, unless Einstein has a say for some reason) will look through the document and say what they can't live with. Then, I also assume, we'll have another meeting and I'll report back.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Council Disrespects A Resident

My Diary entry's a bit late this morning because I was busy writing an email to Council. I went to their meeting last night--I have to admit, I only showed up because they were honoring Garden Club Contest winners. There wasn't a whole lot on last night's agenda that I was interested in. It was all pretty much cut-and-dry motions. The only reason I stayed after the Garden Club Contest presentation was that I saw bright flashes of lightning outside and figured I'd wait out the storm a bit.

That's when, during the Public Comment part of the meeting, my next door neighbor got up to speak.  If you read my blog titled "Unlicensed Landlords," this was the neighbor mentioned in connection with the 2nd landlord--the one living in a house with an enormous number of code violations, that I only found out last month was owned by a landlord with no rental license.

The reason my neighbor had gotten up to speak was two-fold: one, she'd requested certain documents about her landlord from the Municipality under the right-to know act and hadn't yet received them. This led to the public revelation that her landlord had no license and therefore the property had never been inspected by the Codes Department. Mr Millner asked, rightly, if the property had since been inspected. Crandall Jones responded yes, but that the inspection had revealed no reason to condemn the property. Mr. Millner, bless his heart, asked if the inspection had revealed code violations at all. Mr. Jones never actually answered the question, but in his non-answer implied that no code violations had been found (which I knew was wrong).

Meantime, my neighbor had been trying to get a word in edgewise, but Mr. Caldwell kept telling her not to speak. After Mr. Jones non-answer, Mr. Caldwell said they had to move on to other business. My neighbor kept trying to say she had more information, but he kept cutting her off. He even said "If you have nothing new to add..." but before she could say that she did, he cut her off again and dismissed her.

Had I known she was going to be treated this deplorably, I'd have signed up for the public comment session and added what I knew of the matter. As it stands though, the system we have for citizens to speak before Council doesn't allow someone like me, seeing an injustice done at a meeting, to speak out right away. We don't really have a democracy in that sense in Norristown.

So here's what my neighbor would have said if she'd been allowed. Monday a week ago, an inspector showed up to look at the property. I know this because I was painting on my porch when he came. He wasn't from Norristown Codes Department, but was what Mr. Jones referred to last night as a "3rd party" inspector. I don't know why they didn't follow protocol and send someone from our department, unless they suspected our Codes people of letting this particular landlord off after prior incidents. The problem with this inspector was that he very obviously wasn't acquainted with Norristown's ordinances. I heard him tell the neighbor that certain things weren't code violations when she and I knew very well that they were.

Yet she wasn't allowed to say any of this in front of Council last night. She didn't have a fair inspection of the property. There are still loads of code violations, but Mr. Caldwell and Mr. Jones didn't want to hear it, and I assume from the silence of the rest of Council, no one else wanted to hear it either. At least, Linda Christian made a point to leave the meeting so she could speak with my neighbor before she left the building.

My neighbor is a resident of Norristown and therefore due some level of respect by her elected and appointed public servants. As I said in the blog mentioned above, she's in her 80s, and I was raised to give my elders an added level of respect. The only council persons who showed any respect for her last night was Mr. Millner and Ms. Christian. The rest, especially Mr. Caldwell, owe her an apology.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Crime is DOWN in Norristown !

(and what you can do to make it go down more.)
I attended the NPD Compstat meeting on Friday morning. Compstat is a policing method where leaders of the force look at crime stats over a certain period of time, then adjust their resources and strategies to target whatever patterns they see. In Norristown, every 2 weeks, all officers from corporal rank up through Chief sit down and do this. These meetings are long--I had to leave at the 2 hour mark and they were only half way through.

Still, the Compstat method is working for us. Compared to this time last year, crime is down 16% in Norristown. Major crimes like murder and rape were down more than 60%. Auto theft, down 47%. Burglary, down 22%.

But compared to July 2014, August saw a rise in 2 crimes: robberies and burglaries.

Just to clarify, burglary is when someone breaks into a home or business to steal. Robbery is when the criminal confronts the victim and demands cash and/or valuables. Muggings are robberies. Demanding cash from a bank teller is a robbery. Theft is when a criminal picks up something that doesn't belong to him and walks off with it. Shoplifting is theft. If you leave your car open and someone takes something out of it, that's theft. If you invite someone into your home and he walks off with your wallet, that's theft.

In the robberies in Norristown this past month, the victims were nearly all men walking home alone from bars late at night. A lot of the victims even took short cuts down alleys. That's not to say the victims got what they deserved--the criminals are still to blame--but Ntown police are talking to residents in the areas where these crimes are taking place, trying to get them to change the habits that make them more vulnerable. The reality is that robberies were up this month mainly because more robberies were reported, especially in the Hispanic community. And that's totally due to the police making an effort to get out of their cars and talk to residents. Besides that strategy, the police are more closely monitoring bars at closing time, to identify potential victims and see who might be hanging around to follow those victims as they leave.

Burglaries were up for 2 reasons--a lot of folks left town on vacations in August, leaving their homes and businesses vacant, and a lot of air conditioning units are easy to push in, which is how most burglars gained access to buildings this past month. The police are stepping up patrols in high burglary areas and checking businesses at night.

Residents and business owners can help bring this crime stat down--secure your A/C units. Screw it onto your window frame or find some other way to keep it from being pushed in. Maybe take it out of your window when you go on vacation. Lock your windows. Most newer windows even have a locking mechanism that will allow you to open the window about 2 inches, which I use on my downstairs windows while I'm upstairs working, and on my windows above my porch roof overnight. Make sure your house is as secure as possible when you go on vacation. Use timers on your lights. Put decent locks on your doors and use them.

Here's one thing that came up in the meeting. Some businesses and residences have surveillance cameras, but the majority of them are mounted too high. All they'll show is the top of the criminal's head. Mount them at eye-level and more criminals will be caught.

Sure, it would have been great to have this info at the beginning of the summer, but at least we can use it for the last warm weeks of the season. And come next May, let's all remind each other as we put A/C units in our windows and make vacation plans.

In the past month, except for one assault at around 10:30 am and one late afternoon burglary, all robberies, burglaries, assaults and other major crimes took place overnight, between 7 pm and 7 am. Especially now that the weather's getting colder, less people will be on the streets, and our Town Watch can only do so much. Keep an eye on your neighborhood. If you hear suspicious sounds overnight, look outside.

The NPD has a good system going. Crime is going down in Norristown. If you want to check where crimes are being committed each week, check out this link for a map. Click to remove the radius so you can see the whole town.