Only your hands can affect change

The City of Winslow will start a program to improve the city's image, but they insist that the residents must take up responsibility

Cesspools of human excrement, shards of glass, abandoned and dilapidated gas stations, tracts of bare property with dead soil under leaking cars and plastic bags, chicken-scratched 13s penned onto alley fences, and old signs for businesses that closed years ago ­ these are some of the problems that are said to diminish the community's esteem in Winslow, but these problems are also symptomatic of long-standing social problems that exist everywhere else too.

The City of Winslow is tired of the negative view in and about this town and is taking the first step to address these problems locally. They say it will not be successful unless local residents understand that it should not be the city's job to make locals have respect enough for their the community to keep it looking nice.

During a Winslow City Council work session last week, city staff addressed Council before the public to get ready for the city's new Code Enforcement program. They talked about the need for improving Winslow's image, what the problems are and where, who can clean up and how, out-of-town property owners, citizen cooperation and how to collaborate with civic organizations. The city staff and administrator reiterated that Code Enforcement will not be out to get people and that they want to meet and work with people that they contact or who contact them, to try and come-up with the easiest and fairest solution for all those involved.

"Our goal with the City of Winslow will be compliance, not punishment," said Police Chief Stephen Garnett. "Compliance is the first priority an we want to make sure that citizens of Winslow know that we are out to work with them to correct these problems."

He said that this method of enforcement by trying to avoid imposing fines will take longer but it is a fair process that the citizens will appreciate.

The problem with issues like this is that they have been going on for 50 ­ 60 years in Winslow and will not go away overnight, Garnett said.

Code Enforcement Supervisor Earle Wagner, spoke about how he will be the contact to deal with problems related to Code Enforcement for the city and will be talking with residents to help them deal with particular Code Enforcement issues.

The priority now is to be proactive with the entrances to town on First and Second Streets and also on Highway 87 coming into town, because that is where Winslow's image is most projected on visitors from other communities.

Currently, Wagner has 10 open cases in Code Enforcement that mostly involves abandoned properties.

"I'll be in Planning and Zoning looking up owners who bought property in Winslow and are making money off us, who are back in California while their places here look like trash. I'll be working to get letters and phone calls out to them so we can start working to improve these things we are seeing," Wagner said.

An example of this problem is the abandoned gas stations on Hipkoe Dr. and Rt. 66 and on Berry Street and Rt. 66 ­ both are prominent ambassadors of Winslow to visitors which Wagner said affects they way other people perceive Winslow. Also named as a problem area, was the vacant lot just west of the Winslow Indian Health Care Center and just a few properties down is an abandoned bar, salon and truck.

These empty properties are eyesores, and that is a common sight around town according to one large company that lost interest in Winslow after it visited here. Some of these poor sights were dutifully noted last October by representatives of Kohler, a major manufacturer of faucets, that was interested in establishing production in Winslow. This could have provided about 200 jobs, but the company decided that the town was undesirable, too run-down and lacked housing for this area to be of any interest to them.

The run-down appearance, street intoxication, dead yards and vacant properties ­ "These are the things we need to be concerned about and take care of because they are scars on the city's image," Wagner said.

Now that the Code Enforcement has been initiated, beginning with proactive enforcement on the entrances to town and reactive enforcement based on complaints within town, the city will soon be expecting further assistance and contacts from civic organizations, citizens and eventually neighborhood groups to follow through on this program.

If there are complaints made toward a property, the residents or owners of that property have the right to make an appeal to Code Enforcement in case they believe they are being unfairly targeted by whomever is making the complaints. Wagner said, he understands many property owners have problems that are beyond their control and that he will work with them to get those issues solved. He also said that residents need to be open-minded enough to work with each other to help clean-up areas beyond just their own backyards and immediate neighborhoods.

"I understand that Winslow is a town where many people work hard and it can be difficult to think about these kinds of things when you come-back home with a day or two off to spend time with your family," he said.

Councilwoman Dee Rodriguez said maybe residents can organize front-yard clean-ups days on Saturdays. This issue of community involvement will be addressed further as the city rolls out the neighborhood program over the course of this year.

"It should go back as much as possible to the citizens and not be city enforced," Wagner said.

Ferguson said, "The most important thing now, is that we make sure we are all comfortable with ­ and that we all recognize ­ that we now have the law Council provided, with the teeth to do what needs to be done. The organization that was created because of it; I think will do a good job, but I hope the citizens recognize that it isn't going to happen overnight."

So far Wagner has had full cooperation with the people involved in the 10 open Code Enforcement cases he is dealing with currently. They really want to see things change as well, he said.

For future clean-up efforts, Maribelle Ogilvie said she could talk to the school district about assisting in dealing with graffiti and working with student groups to assist in other clean-up projects in the future.

One idea brought up at the Council work session was to build a wall specifically designated for artistically inclined graffiti art, like the tag "MISK" seen around Winslow.

"I've seen some of that stuff around and sometimes they can do some beautiful work," said Councilwoman Stephanie Lugo after the idea of building such a wall was mentioned.

Other communities have supported such ideas, like in Flagstaff where youth graffiti artists have collaborated to paint community centers and local businesses as a way to discourage gang-affiliated semiotics and replace them with a more socially conscious and aesthetically aware form of communication.

Other ways of improving the way a community looks and interacts, especially as a way to deal with empty lots ­ can be through community gardens. Flagstaff Southside Association Program Coordinator David Bonnell said that since he began opening up public gardening areas four years ago, he has seen remarkable change take place in these neighborhoods.

Those interested in getting their own hands involved to help make Winslow a better place or if you have any problems areas that you think should be dealt with, please contact Winslow Code Enforcement Supervisor Earle Wagner at 289 ­ 3232.

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