In Lorain, 'It's Going To Be A Year Of Doing'
A hotel is slated to open on Broadway, the city’s main street where new sidewalks, lights and signage will go in this year. Violent crime and property crime are down. Changes to the schools as part of the Lorain Promise are in the works. Those were some of the highlights discussed Saturday afternoon at the annual Speak Up and Speak Out event at Lorain City Hall.
About 50 residents showed up to hear the city’s mayor, police chief and schools CEO answer community questions.
Mayor Chase Ritenauer called 2018 the year of transition and 2019 the year of doing.
“I see a 2019 where, when you’re at Rockin’ on the River, you’re downtown for the International Festival, you see a new streetscape that is more fitting for an entertainment district. You see a new hotel, finally a hotel downtown,” said Ritenauer. “People said it couldn’t be done, it’s getting done.”
But there’s plenty of other work to be done including asking residents to renew a 0.25 percent income tax levy in May, amounting to about $2.4 million for the city’s general fund. The tax first passed in 2005 when Ford closed its Lorain assembly plant.
Ritenauer said he’ll also be working with the Ohio Mayors Alliance to convince Governor Mike DeWine’s new administration in Columbus to provide more funds for municipal needs including roads, police and demolition of blighted properties.
“I have been advocating at the state and federal level, though, for a pivot to commercial demolition,” said Ritenauer. “Many cities have commercial demolition needs that, frankly, there’s just not the dollars available to pay for.”
Violent and Property Crime Down
Lorain is also short on dollars to pay for police officers. According to Chief Cel Rivera, the city’s officers are the lowest paid in Lorain County. That makes recruitment and retention a challenge. In the next few weeks the department will lose 19 of its 113 officers, many to other agencies. To help attract new officers, they’re trying to emphasize recruitment within the city.
“You know, and play on the emotions of people who grew up here and understand the community and love the community with the understanding that, hey, it may take a while to catch up to everybody else,” said Rivera. “But we ... pay 100 percent for college tuition so that might entice somebody who wants to go to school.”
Darryl Tucker, managing editor of the Morning Journal, speaks with Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera. Tucker moderated the Speak Up event. [Annie Wu / ideastream]
The good news is that Lorain’s violent crime — murder, robbery, rape and aggravated assault — is down about 17 percent in the past year. And property crime – burglary, theft and arson – is down more than 20 percent. Instead, the number that stands out is “discharging firearms”. Sergeant Orlando Colon describes these incidents as drive-by shootings that hit a house, for example, but not a person. Between 2016 to 2018, “discharging firearms” incidents more than doubled.
“So yes we have reduced violent crime in the city of Lorain, but it’s not for the lack of effort of a few determined individuals,” Colon said. “They’re engaging in acts of violence. They’re just not hitting anybody. Luckily.”
Addressing the problem is the police department’s primary focus this year. Chief Rivera said they’re taking a two-fold approach – harsh enforcement against violent crimes and outreach to juveniles.
“We’re gonna try to identify the kids who are not there yet, who are not shooting but who maybe are not doing well academically,” Rivera said. “They have home situations, and they’re just looking for some alternatives. They want a sense of belonging; they need resources; they need jobs; they need a pathway to success.”
School CEO Pushes Back Against Criticism
Rivera said the program is a partnership with community groups including the Urban League and El Centro as well as the city’s schools, which after years of failing grades, is now under the leadership of CEO David Hardy, Jr.
At the Speak Up event, Hardy faced questions critical of his leadership over the past 18 months, including why his children don’t attend Lorain city schools. But Hardy, who under Ohio law, has the authority of a superintendent and school board, was resolute.
“I will not apologize for the fact that I am trying to just bring a mirror to the ills that have been a part of our educational system for way too long,” Hardy said.
He pointed to the 93 percent of Lorain high school graduates who went onto Lorain County Community College and had to take remedial math or English and to the writing scores of the district’s 500 third graders who collectively scored two points on a state writing test.
“When I see that our athletes are praised to a degree to the detriment of their future academic behaviors, when I realize that we have a Sports Hall of Fame but we don’t have an Academic Hall of Fame, when we walk into the hallways and there are kids who are asking for tougher classes but are receiving less than tougher classes,” Hardy said the community needs to step up for the kids.
Lorain City Schools CEO David Hardy, Jr. [Annie Wu / ideastream]
This year, the district is looking at academic initiatives, the rigor of the curriculum, and the quality of instruction. It’s offering pre-K in all 10 elementary schools, and it’s replaced the Parent Advisory Council with a Chief Family Officer to improve communication between home and school.
“Literally going to homes, participating in line dancing where they know that families line dance here in Lorain,” Hardy explained, adding, “We’re also moving in the very, very near future to actually meet families at grocery stores on Saturdays and Sundays because we know at some point that’s where our families will be.”
He said it took at least 15 years to get to this point, and it’s going to take more than the 18 months he’s been in this job to turn the district back around.
The Speak Up and Speak Out event was sponsored by the Lorain Negro Business & Professional Women’s Club, the Lorain County Section of the National Council of Negro Women, and the Lorain chapter of the NAACP.