Survey: Downtown businesses fed up with behavior of teens

A new survey of downtown businesses reveals mixed opinions regarding the afterschool behavior of some teenagers on the Circle.

The Barnwell Police Department sent a survey to downtown businesses regarding ongoing complaints about children in the downtown area during the afternoons. All but two of the businesses returned their completed surveys.

“The survey shows overwhelmingly negative about the children,” said Mayor Edward Lemon during city council’s May 1 meeting where the issue was discussed.

The Issue

Of the 15 businesses that responded, 10 said the children hanging out downtown have had an “adverse effect” on their business. Eleven believed that the children are a nuisance.

Councilman Pickens Williams Sr. said he’s witnessed children running back and forth across the street and jumping in the fountain. Several of the business owners’ responses also painted a similar picture of unsafe and inappropriate behavior, such as riding bicycles on the sidewalk, not using crosswalks, not paying attention to the people around them and using bad language.

“Our customers want to avoid the downtown area on Friday afternoon because the kids run out in front of them and run down the sidewalk with no regard to the dangers of what they are doing,” said Sheila Folk from Circle Cuts in the survey. “We have been closing as early as we can on Fridays.”

“Many of my customers have told me they will not come downtown on Friday afternoons because of the behavior of the kids. I have considered closing on Friday afternoons at 3 p.m. because of this,” according to Berley Lindler from Evelyn’s.

Berley Linder Jr. from Berley’s Pharmacy said some parents won’t let their children come downtown because of the ones who hang out there.

It was also brought up by council and survey results how some parents drop their children off on the Circle, which doesn’t help.

Solutions

Council discussed possible ways to help the situation, but took no action at the meeting.

“We enjoy having them downtown as long as they behave,” said Lynn McEwen, the city’s downtown development and tourism director.

The survey also asked whether children should be allowed to hang out in the downtown area, especially on Friday afternoons. Four businesses said yes while 11 said no. Eleven respondents also believe city council should consider an ordinance while four do not.

From a legal standpoint, city attorney Tom Boulware said they probably can’t prohibit students from coming downtown, but can prohibit behavior.

For the past few months the city has offered off duty police officers overtime to patrol downtown for a few hours afterschool on Fridays. City Administrator John Zawacki said things do calm down when officers are there. He said he and acting police chief Brian Johnson are reviewing codes to possibly draft an ordinance governing behavior.

“It’s a tough situation,” said Mayor Lemon, who suggested looking into paying teachers to be downtown afterschool in order to provide more adult supervision.

Some of the business owners suggested the parks and recreation department as well as the schools need to get involved. Fuller Park was mentioned as a better place for teens to go.

“I think the children need a safe place they can go and hang out. There isn’t anything in town to occupy them and there are just too many to be on the Circle and in the streets,” said Michael Long from Regional Finance Corp.

However, McEwen pointed out how attempts at providing alternative programs for students afterschool “failed miserably” in the past, including the parks and recreation department providing food and activities at Fuller Park last year after school.

“We want to help you and be part of the solution so people will return to the library on Friday afternoons,” said Mary Jo Dawson, director of the ABBE Regional Library System, which includes the Barnwell County Public Library downtown. She spoke during city council’s May 1 meeting on behalf of the library’s board and staff.