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May 1, 2013

Residents talk safety at roundtable

By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer

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Residents talk safety at roundtable
Southfield resident Roz Fagin and Southfield Christian leaders Dr. Abigail Slater and her husband, Pastor Bert Slater, review literature on Southfield’s public safety at the roundtable event.

SOUTHFIELD — At the mayor’s roundtable series, dating back to 2002, residents have the floor.

“I have many suggestions, in terms of police presence, to deter crime and police presence in schools. I think it would be a good idea to educate students about trespassing and jay walking in neighborhoods,” said Cranbrook Village resident Roz Fagin, who has lived in Southfield since 1978. “The children, they walk right in the middle of the street and you have to honk your horn for them to move.”

She recalls one occasion when she finally asked why the kids preferred the street — a more risky alternative to walking on the sidewalk on either side of the street.

“They said because they were walking in fours and didn’t want to take up all the sidewalk space,” Fagin said with a laugh. “They were just being considerate. They just need to be educated.”

For Fagin, police educating youth is a top priority, and she was able to share that at the most recent roundtable. She, along with nearly 30 others, attended the session at the library April 24 to have open dialogue with the city officials.

Mayor Brenda Lawrence said she began the series her first year as mayor and said each session reveals new residents concerned about rising issues.

“I feel strongly that, as an elected official and leader in this community, that we have to be committed to allowing our residents to speak and (committed) to listening to them,” Lawrence said. “We want to know what we are doing right and we need to know where we can improve. Residents have brought so many issues to our radar that have made our community better.”

Attendees and organizers agree that the roundtable atmosphere provides a unique dynamic, different than other city-led events.

“It’s formal because it has a topic, but it’s an informal setting. The mayor introduces the relevant department heads, gives a brief overview of the city and then opens it up to questions,” explained Executive Assistant Marty Williams, adding that there are typically four roundtables per year.

The one-hour sessions in the past have covered everything from taxes to building codes, Southfield’s Downtown Development Authority and some hot topics that Williams noted return yearly, like public safety and economic development. Next up is a particularly popular topic: code enforcement.  It’s set for May 22.

Lawrence said the discussion will be centered on what the codes are, what constitutes a violation and about being a clean, vibrant city.

Though it was Fagin’s first roundtable, she said she now plans to attend the next. As an engaged resident who attends regular Southfield City Council meetings, she said this is a chance to get more one-on-one time with leaders.

“This has a softer atmosphere, so to speak,” she said. “People have a chance to be heard. I think more people should be in attendance (at) these things; citizens really just don’t value these like they should. Maybe if they did, they’d know more about what they should or should not do.”

Fagin added that she was impressed to learn from Fire Chief Keith Rowley about how advanced the city’s Fire Department is. 

Police Chief Eric Hawkins was also on hand at the roundtable to answer questions, attending for the first time as chief, he explained.

“It was great to be able to share information with the community in that type of format. Probably the most common question I get is, ‘Is our community safe?’” he said. “I always let people know that we continue to have a very comprehensive crime prevention program in the Southfield Police Department and that crime is down over the last four years in all major categories.”

Crime went down 13 percent in those categories in just the last year, he added.

Overall, he believes that working with residents to be another set of eyes and the ears in the community will help improve public safety for Southfield.

“It’s important because people in the community see things, a lot of times, that we don’t see, and they are aware of some of the issues in the community that we need to take a look at,” Hawkins said.

And that’s the whole idea, according to Lawrence.

“We work together as a team,” she said.

To register for the May 22 code enforcement roundtable, call (248) 796-5100. The session will begin at 7 p.m. in the Meeting Room of the Southfield Public Library, 263000 Evergreen Road.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jessica Strachan at jstrachan@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1108.