ATLANTIC CITY — The state wanted input from the local community on addressing Atlantic City’s challenges, and its representatives got it Tuesday night, as about 500 people packed Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall’s historic Adrian Phillips Ballroom to share their concerns and ideas.
Libbie Wills of the First Ward Civic Association kicked off the evening with a talk about the need for residents to report crime to police and clean up their neighborhoods.
And she asked for more creative approaches from the city and state.
“There is no reason to wait another 20 years to get vacant lots developed or the South Inlet developed,” she said.
Atlantic City High School sophomore Tahani Muhammad, 16, gave a speech about the needs of young people.
“It will be impossible (to succeed) if the roads for success are not paved for us, like the casinos had roads paved for them,” said Muhammad.
Audience members asked Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs oversees the state’s control of the resort’s finances, about addressing blight, increasing police presence in neighborhoods, recreation and job opportunities for young people, and the time frame for returning city workers to Civil Service rules.
“The Legislature will have to restore Civil Service to Atlantic City,” Oliver said. “We are in discussion with the Senate president. We are not prepared to see legislation this year. But if we demonstrate we have made progress on a number of different fronts to becoming good fiscal stewards … we will get there. But I can’t tell you it will be in the year 2019.”
She also said the state will work with police Chief Henry White to increase patrols in neighborhoods, is embarking on a study to find out how to better serve the city’s youth and considers blight a major issue.
And she said the DCA is aware Atlantic City needs more school funding aid.
“We recognize increased state aid to Atlantic City schools is necessary,” she said. “We will see it coming up in the budget and subsequent increased funding for schools. We know the lack of additional state aid puts a heavier burden on the local property taxpayers.”
City resident Steve Young said he spoke on behalf of the group Coalition of Black Men United.
“We’ve been affected more than anybody,” he said of the African American community. “We don’t want to sit at the table. We want to set the table.”
Oliver said she would work collaboratively with his group.
So many people showed up that there weren’t enough chairs for everyone in breakout groups around 18 large tables, organized by topic from affordable housing to public safety, youth programs to business entrepreneurship.
The din of hundreds of voices in conversation made it difficult to hear, said attorney Michael M. Land, of Atlantic City.
“It was a first step in a big move, something that’s never been attempted,” said Annette Scott, 89, of Atlantic City.
The information collected by the DCA will help create a plan to implement recommendations in the Atlantic City Transition Report of September 2018 by March 12, said Jim Johnson, the special counsel who wrote the report.