By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Police Department will assign one of its officers to East Middlebury in the wake of a recent convenience store robbery that has sparked concerns about public safety in that neighborhood.
Middlebury police Chief Tom Hanley stressed that the officer will not be solely dedicated to East Middlebury, but would rather act as a liaison, or familiar face, to work with the community in addressing public safety concerns.
Those concerns are particularly high right now, in the aftermath of the Sept. 16 armed robbery of Mac’s Convenience Store. The masked culprit made off with a few hundred dollars and has yet to be caught.
Some members of East Middlebury’s Neighborhood Watch group attended Tuesday’s Middlebury selectboard meeting to voice their concerns. Those concerns were somewhat defused by the announcement that new Middlebury police officer Russell O’Dell would be assigned as the liaison to East Middlebury. He is expected to be on the job, full time, by early November.
“The reason I came here, before I talked to Chief Hanley, was to plead and beg for an officer,” East Middlebury Neighborhood Watch member Katherine Windham told selectmen. “But now we have one. We are so pleased with that, and we will go forward with the crime watch.”
Windham said the group will soon send out a letter to fellow residents informing them “we are stepping up the program.” Moreover, the group will host a community meeting on Monday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. at the Methodist Church in East Middlebury, to learn more from police on how the neighborhood can better protect itself.
“I think we would all like to be in a position where we had more resources so that we could more actively patrol all areas of the community,” selectboard Chairman John Tenny said. “At the same time, we know that with the resources we have… there is always a difficulty in being in a position to cover all of the community as well as we’d like to do.”
Officer Shannon Moore had been the Middlebury Police Department’s liaison to East Middlebury, but he left in June of 2007 to take another job. In the meantime, other officers have left — some to take jobs with larger departments, others deployed with U.S. armed forces and one officer out on medical disability. The department is currently carrying four vacancies.
O’Dell — a 26-year veteran of the Cornwall on Hudson, N.Y., Police Department — fills one of the vacancies, and the officer on disability is expected to return within the next six to eight weeks, according to Hanley. The department has what Hanley said are four “great” candidates to fill the remaining two vacancies.
Until the positions get filled, the department has to proceed with current staff, who are putting in overtime to make sure shifts get covered.
“We’re running these guys ragged,” Hanley said. “The work doesn’t stop. When you’re not proactive, doing preventative work, things get out of hand a little bit. We think, now, that we’re starting to turn things around.”
In other action on Tuesday, Middlebury selectmen:
• Unanimously agreed to add Storrs Avenue; College Street, between Adirondack View and Storrs Avenue; and South Main Street, between Storrs Avenue and the eastern-most driveway to Middlebury College’s Nelson recreation center, to the list of areas included in Middlebury’s year-round overnight parking ban.
The new additions to the overnight ban (midnight to 6 a.m.) are in response to some Middlebury College students using select streets in and around the campus for long-term “storage” of their vehicles. As a result, those spaces can’t be used by others.
Police Chief Hanley said it was college officials who suggested the inclusion of the aforementioned streets in the overnight parking ban ordinance. The ordinance already included a portion of Weybridge, Shannon and Short Shannon streets.
Asked if the overnight parking prohibition in the new areas would simply prompt students to park long-term in other areas of town, Hanley said, “It remains to be seen whether kids will park that far away (from the college).”
• Unanimously agreed to designate, beginning next month, the Steele’s Service Center lot at 83 Main St. as a three-hour-limit parking area. The town of Middlebury recently acquired the Steele’s property to make way for the new Cross Street bridge. Paul and Jane Steele are phasing out operations at the station and have requested that water be shut off as of Nov. 1, according to town officials. Selectmen reasoned the service center lot could be put to good use for parking for shoppers and diners until the land is cleared as part of the bridge project. Officials are hoping the new span will be completed in 2010. Selectmen had first considered a two-hour parking limit for the new lot, but boosted it to three hours in deference to volunteers at the nearby Ilsley Library and other institutions who would otherwise frequently have to move their cars.
• Set an Oct. 28 date on which to convene a public hearing on the Middlebury Planning Commission’s proposed revisions to the town’s zoning and subdivision ordinances.
• Agreed to approve, for a future public hearing, a revised swimming pool fence ordinance for town. The revised ordinance makes it clear that the walls of an above-ground pool can qualify as a required enclosure as long as the means of access to the pool can be restricted. It also makes clear that pools with safety covers can qualify.
• Awarded repair contracts to three contractors who will fix portions of North Branch Road, Dragon Brook Road and Creek Road that were damaged during a severe rain storm last June 13. The board awarded the contracts to low-bidders Delphia Excavating ($49,904) for North Branch Road; Seeley Excavating ($35,750) for Dragon Brook Road and Seeley Construction ($44,500) for Creek Road. The town will be responsible for 12.5 percent of the project costs, with the state picking up 12.5 percent and the federal government covering the remaining 70 percent.
A separate round of contracts will be awarded in the future for repairs associated with the Aug. 6 storm.