Sanford Residents Share Coffee, Concerns with Mayor and City Manager
Residents in Sanford's Goldsboro neighborhood say they're still unhappy with the city's police department, months after protests over police handling of the investigation into the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin. The mayor and city manager of Sanford held a meeting Tuesday night to hear their concerns.
At the meeting in one of Sanford's historic African American neighborhoods residents voiced frustrations about crime and run-down streets.
It was the second of three "Evening Coffee" informal meetings held by Mayor Jeff Triplett and City Manager Norton Bonaparte across the city.
Bonaparte says since Martin's death residents have become more vocal about trying to improve Sanford.
But on Tuesday night the teenager's name came up just once.
"What I did hear was people concerned about storm water, people concerned about streetlights, I heard people concerned about activities for young people," says Bonaparte.
"Those are ongoing issues that have nothing to do with the killing of Trayvon Martin."
However, Bonaparte says the police still have work to do to rebuild the public’s trust in them.
“One of the key parts that we heard was citizens want to see more visibility of the Sanford police department, and more of a commitment from them to making Sanford a safe city.”
Trayvon Martin’s death sparked widespread protests after Sanford police decided not to arrest the shooter, George Zimmerman, and police chief Bill Lee was eventually fired.
Bonaparte says the company leading the search for Lee’s replacement will meet with city officials and community members next week to find out the qualities Sanford wants in its new police chief.
Community Activist Kenneth Bentley says meetings like the one on Tuesday night have taken place in the past, but he thinks city leaders are now more receptive to residents concerns.
"We've met with the city planners, we've met with everybody, and we've basically just never been heard." he says.
"After February we're being heard. And it's sad to say, but that young man had to lose his life for people in Sanford to be heard."
Bentley says Sanford has $4 million dollars in federal grant money set aside for city improvements, but it has yet to spend it.
"How do you explain to me a savings account with block grant money for the past two years in a city where the houses are dilapidated, the sewerage is terrible, the lighting is terrible?" says Bentley. He says African American neighborhoods of Goldsboro and Georgetown are in need of repair.
City Manager Norton Bonaparte says he's been told informally the Federal Government has now approved the spending plan for the grant money.
"We're waiting for the actual documents that the mayor will sign and execute, and that will allow us to draw down those funds to get them out in the community," he says.
"We're excited about that."