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Members hone in on community relations

Katie Perry | Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Student leaders emphasized their concern regarding the University’s stressed relationship with the community at a Council of Representatives (COR) meeting Monday, where they discussed a resolution to amend the South Bend Public Nuisance Ordinance and recent break-ins occurring at off-campus housing.

Community Relations chair Nick Guzman said the issue of his committee’s namesake has “raised in the eyes of many students” due to the passing of the July 25, 2005 ordinance as well as the repeated break-ins in past weeks.

“Student’s don’t see [the South Bend community] as being part of their lives, but [these instances] are showing it is,” Guzman said.

A resolution to tweak the ordinance was passed unanimously within Student Senate on Nov. 30. It both recognizes the concerns of the South Bend community regarding the discourteous behavior of Notre Dame students and points out what student body president Dave Baron called “contradictory” elements of the ordinance.

“The resolution … recognizes the space between the community as a whole and the student body [and] recognizes that these are issues we can deal with,” Guzman said. “We can take a proactive role.”

The resolution said the Public Nuisance Ordinance should be amended so it could be consistent with its original intent – that eviction proceedings take place only after an initial “Notice to Abate” letter fails to change the behavior of the admonished tenant.

Baron and Guzman’s intention for the resolution was to go in front of the city – and strides were made to realize that specific goal at Monday’s COR meeting.

Baron suggested the resolution be brought up at the Feb. 27 South Bend Common Council meeting by COR representatives, who will each – by virtue of Council practices and policies – have three minutes to speak freely at meeting’s conclusion.

The central goals of a Notre Dame presence are to “talk about eviction proceedings as a defense provision” and “increase the scope” of the University’s community participation, Baron said.

“My hope is that it will [pose] our position in a light they haven’t seen before,” he said.

Members said speakers at the event should present coherent arguments instead of being redundant. Additionally, members agreed it would be best to approach the meeting with professionalism and tact.

“It is not my intention to spring this on [the council],” Baron said. “I’d like to tell them we’re going to come and talk about this on a particular day … It’s prudent and courteous to let them know. I think it’s our duty to go and present our case.”

Members agreed there should be more permanent Notre Dame representation and participation at future Council meetings – an aspiration that might be achieved by student liaisons.

Baron said the issue of off-campus break-ins was also paramount in the struggle to ameliorate Notre Dame’s relationship with the South Bend community.

“The mayor’s office has approached me and showed signs of [its] affinity for helping students out,” he said. “They want to do something proactive.”

But members agreed students must first take an initiative to protect themselves.

Guzman presented two measures that might prevent crimes occurring at student homes off-campus. Project MARC enables students to enter valuables into a South Bend Police Department (SPBD) database so they might be returned following a theft. Students can also partake in the SBPD-run neighborhood watch program led by captains within their respective neighborhoods.

Members lauded the solutions but grappled with how to encourage students to participate in such programs and protect themselves from crime.

“This is making the idea of community relations that much harder,” Baron said.

Center for Social Concerns representative Kate Distler said students need to be smarter about their belongings.

“We need to do a whole lot more ‘common sense’ things,” off-campus president Matt Wormington said. “Don’t leave big televisions by the window … things a lot of kids don’t know.”

Members also said the installation and proper use of alarm systems is a sensible solution to the problem of break-ins and vandalisms in student housing off-campus.

“I really think the alarm systems ought to be played up,” Club Coordination Council president Beth O’Shaughnessy said. “I think that would keep people from taking things out of the house – it sounds like the most practical thing to address.”

Wormington said the “biggest issue” was not that students did not have an alarm system, but rather the system was incorrectly installed or non-fully functioning – a key error he said might be resolved if property owners like Mark Kramer switched from Safeguard to ADT security.

Members said students must be made more aware of procedural steps they can take to reduce future crimes like those occurring during winter break – such as Notre Dame Security/Police’s storage availability for valuables – and suggested a summer mailing be sent to off-campus students to educate students concerning off-campus security.

In other COR news:

u Steve Friend was nominated and approved to resume the post of student union treasurer Mike Marshall for the time frame spanning yesterday through March 1.

“He really knows what’s going on and how to do things,” Marshall said, “He’s been up to date on things we’ve done here. I really think he will be a good addition to the Financial Management Board and COR as well.”