City moves closer to opening community center

Image: Italy Police Officers recognized Chief Diron Hill Monday night at the city council’s monthly meeting. He has been chief of police for a year.

Italy Police Officers recognized Chief Diron Hill Monday night at the city council’s monthly meeting. He has been chief of police for a year. (Alysa Kirton)

The city of Italy is one step closer to opening the Boze Community Center following Monday night’s city council meeting.

Following a lengthy discussion, council members unanimously voted to charge a $250 deposit fee with $100 returned if there is no damage to the building. The actual use of the building is $40 per hour with a four hour minimum.

Some residents at the meeting said this was too high a price to charge residents.

Teri Murdock, city secretary/administrator, said there will be community-sponsored events that will be free of charge. She said Oncor energy is planning to use the building in August offering energy saving options for residents. She said the city plans to provide such events as blood pressure screenings and elections.

Rodney Guthrie, mayor pro tem, said it will cost about $150 to clean the building once it is used. He said $100 of the deposit can be returned which allows the city to break even with the cleaning. He said they need be charge enough to keep up with maintenance through the years. He said the city doesn’t need to make a lot of money, just enough to maintain the facility because the city cannot afford to maintain the building with its budget.

The council authorized Murdock to go out for bids for building clean up.

Mayor Frank Jackson said they compared prices with surrounding community centers.

James Hobbs, council member, said the council can always revisit the charges in 90 days or 180 days.

Bryan Cochran, citizen, said often times, these things never get “revisited.”

Guthrie said the community center must be operated as a business and the city must be able to replace hot water heaters or air conditioning units as needed.

Greg Richards eventually made the motion to approve the charges as discussed. Guthrie made the second and the motion passed unanimously.

Murdock said Roof Time Contractors are nearing completion of the new roof on the Boze building. She said Wayne Boze, as part of the sales agreement, will replace the air conditioning unit once the roof is completed. She said Don Chambers it putting together a proposal for a kitchen and serving line to be placed in the back of the center.

The council meeting began with several local police officers surprising Diron Hill, police chief, with a plaque for his first year of service with the city.

Officer Eric Toliver made the announcement, thanking the chief for his leadership and training the past year.  

Much of the meeting dealt with citizens complaining about the police presence on Harris, Williams and Hardeman streets during the week of July 4.

Jocelyn Cofer began by thanking Dean Carrell, public works director, for his assistance when her house flooded on Harris Street recently.

Cofer said she has talked with the police chief and they have agreed to disagree about the police presence over the holiday. She called it “complete overkill.”

She said because of the police presence, they moved their family reunion to the other side of town. Cofer said she has lived in various cities and has never seen that many police cars in one area. She said the presence was disruptive and said the officers didn’t need to be there until they were needed.

Bryant Cochran also echoed Cofer’s sentiments. He said it felt degrading with the amount of police presence.

Cochran said he has lived in Italy over 30 years and said last year’s events were ridiculous but said nobody has ever been shot on the Fourth of July.

He said the main focus of the police department should have been prohibiting cars from blocking the roadway.

Cochran said a rotten seed was planted when barricades were put up. He said he felt as though they lived in the projects.

Cochran said the fireworks and the softball games on Saturday were awesome.

Sondra Drummond said she appreciated what the police department was trying to do but didn’t think any type of barricades would go up until after 6 p.m. on Independence Day. 

She said the Andersons have annual family reunions and have had problems but said guns were never involved and nobody has ever been killed. She said the barricades were very embarrassing and they felt targeted.

Dorothy Anderson said they have always had reunions without trouble. She said many relatives didn’t come back on Saturday or Sunday because of the police presence.

She said that someone had to have complained to the police chief since he was not with the city last year.

She said the “mess” two years ago on Williams Street was not on her street. She said they will not have another reunion as long as the chief is here.

Elmerine Bell said she has complained about the fireworks for the past eight years.

She said people congregate at Stafford Elementary on Harris Street and shoot fireworks for hours and hours. She said there are many senior citizens in that area and are forced into their homes once the fireworks begin. She said it is more than “disturbing the peace.”

She said they not only feared for their safety but feared what one spark could do to their homes.

Bell said fireworks discharged inside the city limits violate the law. She said Italy is no different than most cities in Texas and throughout the United States. She said many people feel laws are too harsh and some people intentionally break the law. She said some say that the banning of fireworks takes the fun out of Independence Day. She said many from out of town come into Italy to cause trouble because Italy has been wide-open in the past.

She said one or two begin lighting fireworks and then it just escalates. Bell said she has personally witnessed 300 to 400 people with backpacks filled with fireworks. That type of scene, she said, gives the criminal element a place to hide. She said that this isn’t just about fireworks anymore.

She said on Monday, July 5, 2010, she was working in her yard when she heard a helicopter with a loud speaker telling residents to get inside their homes immediately. She said no less than 30 to 40 police cars were called into the community to investigate gun possession and assaults that escalated from the evening before. She said not a single individual was ever arrested although many residents knew who the guilty parties were and where the guns were hidden.

Bell said she appreciated Hill and his efforts. She said she did not always like the way some things are handled but also admitted that she is not a trained police officer. She said she would obey the law and support his authority. She said real leadership in the police department has been lacking for too many years.

She turned to the mayor and each council member and urged them to support Chief Hill and the police department. “If not,” she said, “shame on you.”

During department reports, Hill presented dash cam recordings from the Fourth of July in 2010 and 2011.

He said in 2010, there was no fireworks ban enforcement, officers were told not to respond or patrol on Harris Street. He said there were hundreds of people on Harris Street with five major incidents involving weapons. Another major incident occurred on July 5 which also involved weapons.

In 2011, he said there were more than 25 calls with no enforcement. He said there were hundreds on the street with one major incident. Several were arrested in that incident. He said many police officers responded from around the county. He said there were near-riot conditions as officers tried to make an arrest. He said there were other events from previous years but said he felt those two cams made the point. 

He said that is why the police department did what they did.

He said officers set up at Mt. Gilead Church parking lot and provided snow cones, coloring books and other things for the children. He said the K-9 dog was on hand for children to pet. He and officer Mooney walked the streets getting to know the citizens.

Hill said the council charged him with coming up with a plan to keep these types of incidents from occurring. He said he worked with people and scaled down original plans. He said the department did not stop anyone from traveling up and down Harris Street, Williams Street or Hardeman Street. He said the department did not restrict any movement.

He said there were no major incidents occurring over the holiday and felt it was successful. He said one citation was issued for fireworks. He said officer presence as a watchful eye and relationship building cannot be a bad thing.

In other business, Tom Little complained because the city has not mowed the right-of-way along Derrs Chapel Road. Although he had not requested to address the council during citizens comments, Little continued to berate the city’s failure to force property owners to mow.

Guthrie finally told Little that he had made his point and to stop interrupting the council meeting. Little responded that he can speak whenever he feels like it. Guthrie pointed out that Little could be removed from the meeting. Little told Guthrie that he could be voted out.

All the council members thanked the citizens for coming out and sharing their thoughts.

Guthrie said historically, there have been problems on the Fourth of July and said he thought the chief did the best that he could. Richards said he has made lots of calls as part of the emergency medical service through the years and said he was thankful that there were no major incidents this year. He thanked the chief for what he was trying to do. He said everyone should feel comfortable in their homes during the holidays. Bruce Utley also praised the efforts Saturday night with the ball games and professional fireworks display. Hobbs said he thought the chief did a good job on some things but said the council needs the positive and negative feedback.

The mayor urged those in attendance to come back to council meetings. He said, “This is your city and you need to know what’s going on.”

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