County Board Debates, Tables Proposal To Bring In Violence Reduction Specialist; Info Session To Be Held Next Friday

Andrew Trzaska | December 10, 2010

Muskegon County’s Board of Commissioners tabled a proposal on Thursday to use up to $20,000 to hire a renowned violence-reduction expert to assess the county until more information could be gathered on the plan.

The proposal seeks to bring in Robert Woodson, Sr. who is Executive Director of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE).  The CNE’s successes include training for grassroots and governmental organizations and the Violence-Free Zone, a program designed to reduce youth violence while building mentorship programs.

The 5-4 vote to table the proposal does not reduce its chance for eventual passage, but does delay action at least 12 days until the next full board meeting.  If approved, Woodson could come Muskegon as early as January 12, 2011 to begin work.

The money to fund the study would come from the county’s Strengthening Communities grant, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  The Strengthening Communities Fund is run by the Department of Health and Human Services to help communities hit the hardest by the current economic downturn.

Despite Thursday’s split opinion, it appears that those extra days will not go to waste.  A previously-scheduled informational meeting to discuss more details about the proposal, Woodson and the CNE will be held at 12:00 noon next Friday, December 17 at the Louis R. McMurray Transportation Building in Muskegon Heights.

The meeting is open to the public, and special invitations were extended to “targeted, strong stakeholders” in the Muskegon community whose presence was deemed vital, including police and fire departments, school systems and prosecutors.

Split Vote, But Consensus That More Cooperation and Communication Is Needed

Before the proposal was tabled at Thursday’s meeting, board Vice-Chairman Charles Nash commented favor of it. He cited the success of the CNE in other cities, including Milwaukee, Dallas and Baltimore.  He also said approval would not lock the county into a deal yet, but would help pay for the initial assessment with money left over to begin executing a plan if developed.

“The community needs to rally and needs to say ‘we need to do something and do it now’.  This community has to come together, including law enforcement, schools and other organizations.”

Commissioner Bob Scolnik indicated that local law enforcement felt approving the CNE proposal would be premature.  Citing recent contact with the Norton Shores police department, Scolnik said local police have not yet exhausted all of their ideas on how to stem violence in the county.

Scolnik went on to say that the proposal was a good in theory but that more information should be passed on to the board and the public before funding was decided upon.

“We have not had any of this explained to us, yet we are being asked to spend the money.  Let’s hear what they have to say [at the informational meeting] on the 17th, and we will respond on the 21st.”

When asked about Scolnik’s law enforcement statement, Nash expressed similar sentiments about the need for more communication and cooperation.

“We have turned into a ‘pocket community’… No one is talking to each other. This community should be working together to make effective, positive change.”

He explained that having the informational meeting a few days ahead of the next board meeting would give all parties more introduction to the proposal and give it a better chance of passing at the final board meeting of the year.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst