by Daniel Schere

East Ward residents hear from Derwin Montgomery on city projects @Daniel_Schere

Residents of Winston-Salem’s East Ward gathered last Thursday at Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church for a town hall meeting hosted by Councilman Derwin Montgomery. The meeting was attended by virtually every city department head and focused on concerns surrounding transportation and public safety.

Councilman Montgomery began the meeting by giving updates on various community projects including those listed on the $139.2 million bond referendum, which citizens will vote on in November. He said it was difficult to prioritize which items were most important, and that a truly comprehensive bond package would have cost the city more than $700 million.

“What you see here is the city council’s attempt to provide a bond that is equitable but also addresses the needs of the community,” he said.

Montgomery said the bond does not include the renovation of the convention center or historic union station building, but they will still be paid for.

“Those projects are moving forward but they’re being paid for through a different bond package,” he said.

Resident Joanne Allen does not support the bond because she feels Winston-Salem is lagging behind other cities like Charlotte, and that the current leaders do not have a long-term plan.

“If you take 14 years to do a bond referendum, that tells you there’s something wrong in Winston-Salem.”

Department of Transportation Engineer Pat Ivey gave a presentation on the progress of the Salem Creek Connector project and other improvements planned for the East Ward. He explained that one of the key issues holding up the progress of the connector is the lack of an agreement between the contractor and the railroad to replace the railroad bridge over US 52. This must be done before any work can be started on improving the freeway or its ramps. Ivey said he thinks a deal would be reached in the next two weeks. The tracks in Winston- Salem are owned by Norfolk Southern, CSX and Winston-Salem Southbound.

Ivey said another obstacle has been relocating power lines on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in order to improve lighting. He said the area they are hoping to relocate the lines is property of the National Guard and the US Army owns the lease.

“Once the lease expires, the utilities can get in there and start relocating those lines,” Ivey said, adding that he thought it would happen some time in the fall. “They’re ready to go.”

The project will also include a realignment of Vargrave Street, added turn lanes to MLK and a traffic signal at the intersection of MLK and Williamson Street. The latter came as a result of concerns from East Ward residents who often have difficulty making a left onto MLK due to the large volume of traffic and limited visibility.

Ivey said the progress on Salem Creek has already been delayed six months but once the red tape issues are cleared the project will be able to move forward.

“We believe we can see the light at the end of both of those tunnels,” he said.

Ivey asked the residents to be patient and realize the connector will be very beneficial once complete.

“We understand how much of an impact this has had on this community. We knew it from the very beginning,” he said. “I can guarantee you when we finish, you are going to have a new road out there that this community can be very proud of.”

The meeting also featured a presentation from Police Chief Barry Rountree who gave an update of departmental activities. Among the highlights of the statistics he gave, there was a 3.3 percent reduction in burglaries, and a slight increase in homicides. Rountree also mentioned the department’s purchase of 95 body cameras that some officers have begun wearing. He said this is to supplement in-car radios, which capture 85 to 90 percent of officer activities.

Montgomery asked Rountree to discuss the department’s protocol when deciding whether to use force, in light of the shooting of 18-year old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9 by a local police officer.

Rountree said there is a continuum that officers operate on when determining whether the use of force is necessary which begins with an officer’s presence and raised tone of voice. He said the next step may depend on what the person is doing.

“The primary goal is to use the least amount of force to keep the situation under control,” he said.

Rountree said all officers go through sensitivity training and diversity training. He added that the department’s current racial makeup is 83 percent white and 17 percent black, which differs from the city’s demographics of 51 percent white, 35 percent black according to the US Census Bureau.

Also present was Lt. Chris Lowder, who displayed the various weapons sometimes used in use-of-force situations such as the baton and teargas.

Lowder said his training states that the only reason to use force would be to stop a threat. He used the example of an officer being threatened with a deadly weapon.

“If they feel like their life, or the life of others is in imminent danger, they are trained if it rises to that level to use their department-issued firearm to stop that threat,” he said. !