Renewing their commitment to their communities, block captains and residents from Philadelphia’s 4th Legislative District braved Saturday’s heat to participate in 4th District Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.’s annual Block Captain Boot Camp.
In its fifth year, the Boot Camp featured both presentations from several municipal service providers and representatives from various city and neighborhood initiatives. In addition, there was a formal swearing-in of new block captains.
“I want you to know that in the 4th Councilmanic District, block captains are alive and well, and you’re not alone,” said Jones, a testament to the approximately 600 block captains in the district, dozens of whom were in attendance this weekend.
Asking those present to avail themselves of the many resources available both Saturday and year-round, Jones reinforced that constituents play an important part in keeping his office aware of community developments.
“We learn as much from you as you learn from us,” said Jones.
A change in venue
And there was a new twist at this year’s boot camp – a picnic, featuring a cookout, children’s activities, and a performance from the 4th District’s own HumbleMan Band.
In previous years, the Boot Camp had been held at local universities, but in the interest of making the event more engaging – and as a gesture of gratitude to Block Captains – Jones elected to hold the event at Belmont Grove in Fairmount Park.
Explaining the change in venue, Jones referenced Mayor Michael’s Nutter’s initiatives to establish a green city, and asked, “What better place than Belmont Grove?”
While Saturday’s 100-degree temperatures might have contradicted this, Jones said that were the event to be held at a college campus, he couldn’t guarantee access to air conditioning.
Instead, he offered, “We’ll use God’s AC.”
Addressing common neighborhood concerns
As officers from the 5th, 39th and 19th Philadelphia Police Districts addressed residents’ concerns in a nearby tent, representatives from the Water Revenue Bureau and Licenses and Inspections briefed attendees on new projects and the services available to city dwellers.
Greg Harris, field utility supervisor from the WRB, informed the residents that a battery change-out is underway across the city, designed to replace defunct batteries used in automatic meter readers, installed originally in 1999.
As a result of the dead batteries, many residents have been receiving zero usage bills. That is until recently, when large bills which include months – or years – of back payments have been sent to customers.
“Don’t let that happen to you,” he said. “If you see zero usage on your bill, give us a call.”
Dennis Link, supervisor of Operations West for Licenses and Inspections, addressed a problem of special concern to block captains – vacant houses.
“They create all kinds of headaches,” said Link.
As a result, he explained that L and I is taking proactive measures to track down the owners of vacant properties, and if necessary, take them to court.
To help residents and L and I work together, Link added that a website with detailed property information will soon be available to the public. He was unable to give a firm date, but in the interim, Link offered the residents in attendance his direct phone line for specific requests.
“Block Captains get that kind of access,” said Link.
A liaison between the city and the neighborhood
The event seemed to be well-received by community residents in attendance.
Steve Bell, a 10-year resident of East Falls, specifically praised both police and L and I for their presentations.
And, while he’s been cleaning up a few blocks of Ridge Avenue for some time on his own initiative, he’s on his way to becoming one of the newest block captains in his Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood.
“I’ve just got to get the paperwork in,” he said.
And while keeping things clean is an important part of being a block captain, Don Simon, chair of the Roxborough-Manayunk Bike Race Committee and four-year block captain, said that communication plays a major role.
As block captain, Simon responds to neighbors’ questions about city services, logs reports on the city’s 311 system, and works with members of Councilman Jones’ staff.
“There’s good communication with the 4th District staff,” said Simon, specifically praising Josh Cohen, who handles constituent services for the Northwest region.
200 captains sworn in
Speaking for Councilman Jones after the event, Cohen said that approximately 200 block captains were sworn in at the boot camp by State Senator Vincent Hughes from the 7th Senatorial District.
Noting the 200 newly-minted block captains present – as well as the junior block captains and block contact persons present – Cohen said that the new picnic format received a favorable response and will be considered for use again in the future.
Cohen also confirmed that there were no heat-related maladies stemming from Saturday’s boot camp.
“It was an overwhelming success,” he said.