Reed calms fears, details city’s plans to address gun violence and other issues

About halfway through Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed’s town hall meeting Tuesday night, there was a question about a hypothetical city ordinance that would seek to hold parents accountable for the actions of their unsupervised children.

The question was important, given Montgomery’s current plight, where citizens are increasingly concerned about gun violence, much of it involving minors. The circumstances also highlight the complications city officials and police face in trying to address gun violence but also deal with the realities of a justice system not designed to deter minors and absent or indifferent parents.

But it was also a hypothetical, complicated question, and these kinds of questions are usually easy to answer, especially if you’re dealing with a politician facing difficult situations, like the one Reed is currently facing.

Except this one didn’t.

Instead, Reed gave an unusually detailed response, explaining the potential legal issues such a proposal would raise. He said that while some lawyers thought it might be legal, others disagreed, but that he would likely support it.

“And maybe it’s just one of those things that we do and they have to come and tell us we’re wrong,” Reed said, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd.

That was Tuesday night for Reed and Montgomery. Reed was at his best: focused, personable, willing to provide facts and details and open to any topic. From schools and homelessness to crime and economic development, Reed had a detailed explanation of what’s wrong, how the city is addressing it and what they hope the outcome will be.

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It was a performance that, while it will not succeed in calming his critics, will at least make his criticisms seem superficial and political for a while.

It was also a reminder that government, even good government, sometimes moves at a snail’s pace.

For weeks, Reed’s critics have criticized the mayor for his lack of action in the face of the city’s alleged crime wave (there is no evidence that such a wave has occurred, but as numerous officials have noted, there has instead been a continuation of long-standing crime problems that have spread to more exclusive neighborhoods).

Tuesday’s town hall meeting made it clear that Reed and city officials and employees have been doing quite a bit, but the work has gone unnoticed because much of it — such as organizing response teams, meeting with nonprofit groups and speaking with various community leaders and law enforcement officials — has been conducted out of view of the cameras.

That work created a silent vacuum, and in that vacuum, rumors and wild conspiracy theories filled the silence. Many of them were accepted as fact, and almost all of them only served to increase tension and spark interest in what was happening in Montgomery. State lawmakers began to pay attention and take action.

The reality, however, was something completely different.

Take, for example, the rumors of a rift between Reed and Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham. For weeks, it was an indisputable fact that Reed had not even spoken to the sheriff and that Cunningham was there to save the town against Reed’s wishes.

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Not so much.

Reed said Tuesday that there is and has been a working partnership between the city and the sheriff’s office, and that partnership will continue.

“They’ve been great. (Cunningham) hasn’t budged one bit and doesn’t plan to,” Reed said, noting that Cunningham has already met with Montgomery’s new interim police chief, Jim Graboys, to work out logistics.

That’s where the crack ended.

Reed also spoke candidly about the challenges of attracting new police officers to the understaffed ranks of the MPD. Long before the current crisis began, the city was working on a plan to increase officer pay by 15 percent (on top of a 14 percent raise two years ago). That should attract more officers, and Reed said his real challenge now is making sure those officers stick around.

At one point, Reed took the opportunity to say clearly that public safety is the number one issue in Montgomery right now. He acknowledged that regardless of the statistics, the current perception is that Montgomery is not a safe city for families, workers and everyday, law-abiding people. He said he knows it is his office’s job to change that perception and make people feel safe.

That’s what the town hall meeting was basically about. It was an opportunity to lay out what the mayor, the city and law enforcement officials have been doing to address long-standing problems and shortcomings.

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For several weeks now, several people in the city have been clamoring for the mayor and others to do something.

On Tuesday they found out that they had already done so.