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CCAC convenes for first meeting

Joseph McMahon | Thursday, February 21, 2008

Formed in late September as a forum for students, university administrators and city representatives to discuss community relations, the Community Campus Action Coalition (CCAC) met for the first time Wednesday afternoon at the County-City Building in downtown South Bend.

“I’m grateful for our relationships with the universities and the opportunity to come together in this forum,” South Bend mayor Stephen Luecke said.

The CCAC was created five months ago after the South Bend Common Council members decided not to implement regulations requiring residents to pre-register large gatherings within the city. An ordinance eventually passed with provisions to that would require party permits, if the Council voted to activate them.

The coalition, in the meantime, will serve as a forum that will facilitate discussion about issues important to community members.

“To quote [University President] Father John Jenkins, Notre Dame thrives when South Bend thrives, and South Bend thrives when Notre Dame thrives,” local lawyer and member of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees Richard Nussbaum said.

Students, University administrators and South Bend representatives all stressed the importance of continuing the dialogue that began when the ordinance was first proposed.

“I’m just concerned that we should talk and be able to see things from other points of view,” said Councilmember Ann Puzzello, whose district includes the University campus. “I think dialogue is the most important thing.”

However, the coalition is far from complete. Only 15 of the 21 total seats had been filled as of Wednesday. Moreover, Indiana University South Bend was the only local school to send a representative besides Notre Dame, as both Saint Mary’s College and Holy Cross College did not respond to the Council’s messages, said Councilmember, and newly-appointed chair of the CCAC, Al “Buddy” Kirsits. Kirsits asked Notre Dame Vice President of Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman and the Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Bill Kirk to contact both schools before the next meeting.

“We’d like to get them on board,” Kirsits said.

One development noted by several Council members was a reduction in the number of complaints they received due to loud student parties. Krisits also noted a decrease in the number of students taken to local hospitals for alcohol poisoning.

“Informally, and I can’t quote any stats, I saw there was a decline in the alcohol toxicity response calls,” Kirsits said.

Kirk attributed this trend to increased University pressure on off-campus students.

“The offices I supervise are responsible for maintaining disciplinary standards,” Kirk said. “Last fall, it became clear that students’ off-campus behavior would not be something that is closely scrutinized. We did let it be known that tolerance by the University for that behavior would be very low.”

Members of the Common Council also attributed the decrease in out-of-control parties to the work of student body president Liz Brown.

“We created a Good Neighbor Guide and an off-campus seminar,” Brown said. “We’re hoping these will be printed in mid-March.”

However, although these improvements are seen as steps in the right direction, Luecke said it’s important to permanently establish a respectful atmosphere.

“We feel positive with the way the fall went, some of it perhaps because of enhanced publicity,” he said. “I hope that once you establish a culture of students’ respectful behavior to neighbors that it carries over.”

Tim Rouse, Coomon Council president and co-sponsor (along with Kirsits) of the original ordinance, agreed with Luecke, adding that all parties involved must continue to use the forum provided by the CCAC.

“It’s an ongoing dialogue, we need to keep the momentum among the whole group,” he said.

One of the key aspects of establishing a respectful environment is simply getting students and neighbors together, said local landlord Mark Kramer. For the past seven years, Kramer has thrown block parties at the beginning of the year to bring students and South Bend residents together.

“It’s hard to disturb their neighbor if you’ve met them and you know their daughter and their son,” local landlord Mark Kramer said.

Brown, however, said student partying was not the only issue the CCAC needs to address, and that security is very important as well.

“As far as student behavior goes, I think there’s been some big improvements, but safety and security are big issues,” she said. “That’s the issue that’s been prioritized by students over the past year.”

Kramer said despite the fact that he has two private security vehicles patrolling his properties, there was a break-in last week at one of his properties on St. Peter’s Street.

“We do whatever we can to prevent break-ins,” Kramer said. “My concern is to protect student tenants and for the neighbors to have a better relationship with one another.”

This, coupled with the rash of break-ins at Clover Ridge Apartments and Stadium Club Condos over Christmas break, has sparked student fears about break-ins. “At this point our main issue is break-ins,” said ISUB student government association president Ivan Blount.

Kramer, however, is already spending about $3,600 a month on security, leading Rouse to say, “I think that shows [Kramer’s] commitment to student safety.”

The CCAC did not discuss any specific plan for tempering the break-ins during last night’s meeting.

Brown also said many students are complaining about taxicab fares being too high, and she said the cab companies should let students know about posted rates.

“This is a big concern to students,” she said. “For some reason students are having more and more problems with taxicab drivers over the past year.”

Kirsits concluded the meeting by setting the date for the next forum – Thursday, March 13, at 3 p.m. “If we approach this in the proper way, we can make this a win-win situation,” he said.