Organizers of the Midtown Neighborhood Planning Assembly held their first formal meeting Monday to discuss a variety of issues.

Lashonda Billue, owner of an insurance company on Norwich Street, serves as the assembly’s chairperson. She went door-to-door to invite people to attend the meeting.

Those who attended included elected officials, law enforcement, business owners and other stakeholders.

“This is a collection of everyone in the neighborhood,” Billue said. “It gives everyone a voice.”

The assembly’s board set the bylaws and constitution in June, followed by a poll of the issues of concern.

Billue said it’s a lot safer in the midtown area the past several years.

“We’ve never had much of a problem in our area,” she said.

Police Chief Kevin Jones said crime in the midtown area is down 33 percent in the past three years as a result of community policing where officers get out of their cars to talk to residents.

The proliferation of gangs is one of law enforcement’s top priorities, Jones said.

“They’re spread out everywhere in the city and county,” he said. “The gangs of today are very smart.”

The big concern is the growing number of guns in the hands of gang members.

“Guns is the new currency,” he said.

He said citizen complaints are one of the key ways law enforcement officials identify problem areas that need more patrols.

“Give us something to do,” he said.

A growing trend is the number of girls who are gang members. Juvenile gang members are also a challenge because the offenders are often released back into the custody of family members.

“Juvenile law is very lenient,” he said.

Schools have anti-gang programs, but Jones said parents and churches play an important role.

County Commissioner Allen Booker said a program, Rebuilding Together of Glynn County, Ga., has been created to help with home repairs for low income families, veterans and the disabled. He said there is a need for more organized athletic opportunities in the city to lure city youth into positive activities.

“We consider ourselves building lives,” he said.

Lots of request are made for homeless services, including a growing number is homeless single mothers. Many nonprofit agencies are joining forces to help deal with the problem. Access to services and immediate housing are the greatest needs.

City Commissioner Felicia Harris, who suggested the creation of neighborhood assemblies, praised organizers for holding the meeting. She urged them not to be discouraged by the small turnout of residents at the meeting. She cautioned them to be prepared for a good turnout if any controversial issues are discussed.

“It’s a vehicle and you drive that vehicle,” she said. “It’s good to get out of the office to see residents face to face.”

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