About 60 townspeople, City Council members, business owners, and the city mayor attended a discussion at City Hall concerning delinquency in Central Square in downtown Keene.
City manager John McLean stressed, “This is not an official meeting, just a conversation,” he said.
McLean said he would be serving as a moderator for the conversation and noted there was a diverse amount of opinions in the room.
“I think everyone had a fair chance to talk,” McLean said after the meeting.
The city manager gave everyone a forum in which to bring up concerns and experiences about certain violent, illegal, and inappropriate behaviors in Central Square, a landmark in downtown Keene which has been the sight of several protests and arrests in the past.
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Ken Meola, the police chief, said the area downtown is a place for people to congregate and gather.
“We’ve had several complaints about behavior in Central Square. It’s a very small few creating the problems, but we’re getting them on an hourly basis,” he said.
Meola said the community has to be partners in eliminating this problem. “I have no quick fixes or a magic wand, but we need to work together.”
Several townspeople have experienced issues in the downtown area because of a large group of youths who congregate there every day.
According to some townspeople, people who hang out in the town square can often be seen engaging in violent behaviors, such as fighting, arguments, throwing bottles, and threatening anyone who walks through the area.
Carmelita Tomlinson is the owner of Miranda’s, a clothing shop located right on Main St. She said she has often been intimidated by the youths hanging out in the square and it’s ruining property value.
“I have a right to have a business and make a living, but customers don’t want to shop when there are people urinating and spitting on the sidewalk right outside my shop.”
Peter Bradshaw, another Keene resident, also emphasized the importance of people working together.
“I think it would be encouraging if [the youths in Central Square] can police the area too. I really hope this whole group can come together collectively,” said Bradshaw.
Other various complaints that Keene residents spoke up about at the meeting included being flashed, physically threatened or being sworn at, drunk and belligerent behavior, as well as seeing drug deals and people smoking marijuana in the area.
According to one townsperson, he had seen several people urinating in public as well as a person threatening him by swinging chain links over his head, like numchuks.
Jan Manwaring, City Councilwoman, stressed the fact that Keene State College students were not the problem here, although some residents in Keene did complain about drunk college students often traipsing down residential areas such as Church, Water, and Grove St. late at night.
“It’s really not the college that’s the issue here because it’s not KSC students who are hanging around in that square,” she said.
Some of the youths seen in Central Square just minutes before the meeting showed up at the meeting and had several words to say to the people who were talking about the issue.
One young man who identified himself as Will, said not everyone in the square is up to no good.
“Let’s not label everyone for something others are doing,” he said. “My view is, if there is a crime there must be a victim.”
He explained he had been in the area during an organized dance party when four people were arrested.
“I don’t want to live in Soviet Russia,” he said.
The City Manager threatened to kick Will out of the meeting for repeatedly interrupting other residents who had stood up to speak.
“Most of the crimes that we’re experiencing are open containers, public drunkenness, and disturbances. The quality of life issues is what we’re dealing with,” Police Chief Meola said. “These violations of city ordinances can’t always be policed.”
Meola, however, did point out one youth who had actually helped him with the delinquency in the town square. “There are some people who are willing to stand up and help, but it’s up to all of us to keep this behavior on track.”
The City Manager, John McLean said the police department is not going to satisfy everyone.
At the end of the meeting, he strongly urged the people who had attended the discussion to go to the upcoming formal City Council meeting on Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall.
He said while there were no recorded minutes, he suggested Keene residents to check out the city of Keene’s website for more information on filing complaints and also encouraged people to continually call the police when dealing with certain issues.
In the end, however, he said people on both sides need to partner up in order to solve the problem.
“On the Oct. 26 meeting in Town Hall, residents can speak with City Council members and we can all come together to find a solution.”
Whitney Cyr can be contacted at email@example.com.