Civil Service Commissioner Will Tate and the Helena-West Helena code enforcement officer Tekila Martin were among those on the agenda of the Beech Street Neighborhood Watch meeting
One of the topics of discussion over the past several months at the neighborhood watch meeting has been citizens' concerns over the high fail rate of police candidates taking the Civil Service test. Prior to employment with the H-WH PD all candidates must pass the test. The former chairman of the Civil War Commission Will Tate, who implemented the current test three years ago, began addressing concerns, noting that, "Everybody says that this test is too hard." He continued, "We as a commission wanted to develop a test that would help us find out about an applicant's interpersonal skills, his emotional skills, stress levels, and his/her cognitive skills- all the skills that a police office should have." Using these guideline, Tate continued, "We found a test but it was not an easy test."
Tate noted that the commission found that, "Most of the applicants that were taking that test were just not equipped to take it. Many were coming in with a 7th or 8th grade education, they were 'wanna be' police officers, and they wanted to carry a gun and a badge." He complained, "We are not bowing down to that; we refuse to change the test." "The same test that the firemen were taking, they were passing it at a 78 percent pass rate while the police officer candidates were passing it at 33 percent... we are not getting the right candidates."
The commissioner continued, noting that the commission's job is to "supply the police chief with a bank of names to choose from to fill all the empty spaces." The current test has been administered three times at a cost of approximately $100 per test.
Another function of the Civil Service Commission is to protect the rights of all the civil servants, including police and fire, including providing hearings. Tate continued, "If a [civil servant] feels they have been wronged, we ask that they send us a letter within 10 days of the incident requesting a hearing...whatever ruling we have is a final ruling."
Next on the agenda was the code enforcement officer Tekila Martin. On the job for 6 months, Martin noted that she now hold 4 certifications: ICC building official, residential zoning, ICC Permit Technician, heating and air, and in two weeks she will be certified in plumbing. She noted that, "It has been a challenge. I am a one woman army and I do the best that I can do." In describing the work she has been doing in code enforcement, she said that, "It has been a challenge locating owners [of abandoned properties]... it is an ongoing process, but we will be doing demolition soon."
One of the properties high on the list is the Kelly apartment complex at the corner of Beech and Porter Streets. It was noted that someone has already stolen windows from the complex. Martin related that currently there are 20 buildings slated for demolition in high-traffic areas. There are a total of 40 ready for demolition.
Page 2 of 2 - Doug Friedlander, president of the Phillips County Chamber of Commerce, asked Martin, "What is holding you back, aside from just the process?" Martin replied, "When you enter on someone's property, you want to take the proper steps before you do anything." Friedlander asked, "Aside from the process, is there anything keeping you from moving forward? Is there a lack of money? Is someone not signing the paperwork? Or is someone sitting on case files?" Martin replied, "No, I have not gotten to that step yet. I am moving at a pretty fast pace for there to be only one code enforcement officer in the city."
One of the obstacles Martin said was holding the city back from demolition is the lack of landfill space. "We are opening another [landfill] cell in October. That will be more than enough room to take all of the debris to."
Concerned citizen Shane Williams, director of the Helena Museum, told Martin that, "Here in Helena you want folks to come in and buy historic properties and to renovate and rehabilitate properties - I am one of those people that did that." He continued, "I counted 11 burned out and abandoned houses within a one block radius from my house... this is ridiculous. We have lost entire city blocks and we have got to expedite the process... we are loosing Helena house by house. The city has got to step up."