Morgantown council wants more information then sharps

MORGANTOWN.WVa. – The result of the Friday workshop regarding sharps containers was just that, more work. Mayor Bill Kawecki, Deputy Mayor Rachel Fetty and councilor Jenny Selin said they need more information, and city manager Paul Brake concurs.

More information is sought about public education, safety, public policy and the succession plan of the program in the event Milan Puskar Health Right could no longer manage the program or dissolve.

In November, Health Right peer recovery coach, Dani Ludwig told council members her organization would purchase, place and maintain the containers.

Ludwig tells WAJR News she is trained in proper, safe methods to maintain and/or move the containers if needed.

Ludwig attended the Friday workshop and was disappointed but determined to get approval for the program.

“I didn’t think it was going to be this complicated, I thought it was a step in the right direction and part of the solution we’re looking for,” Ludwig said,”I didn’t realize it was going to drag out so far, but I’m here until they tell me yes or no.”

During a special meeting on October 11 council members asked for testimony from police chief Ed Preston about laws and limitations in enforcing nuisance ordinances in the downtown area. Preston provided detailed information, including case law that limits officers from arresting people for loitering, trespassing and public intoxication.

Deputy mayor Rachel Fetty talked about areas that she said there are “massive amounts” of drug abuse, like on South High Street where the property owners enraged because they appear to be the host of these activities. She added they are frustrated and upset because there’s not much enforcement in the area.

Mayor Bill Kawecki is for the containers and believes used needles in public places are a health hazard and asked police chief Ed Preston if the containers would increase traffic in the new container areas. Kawecki intervened as Preston explained there was really no way to know that, but if Health Right employees and police visit the areas traffic will increase.

“I’m sorry I don’t mean to interrupt you, but I don’t think the idea of having a container there is going to make the contact with Health Right anymore active,”Kawecki said,”They’re going down there to collect the needles, not to talk to the users and they’re not going to catch them using at the time. That’s a little disingenuous, if you don’t mind me saying it.”

Preston fired back at council in defense of his officers and the challenges they face.

“To lambaste the officers and say they’re not doing their job is unfair and absolutely ridiculous,”Preston said,” We have a situation where we’re charged with policing social issues, we’re required to make everyone feel safe, but we can’t even put anybody in jail for trespassing because there is no punishment for trespassing.”

Kawecki, deputy mayor Rachel Fetty, councilor Jenny Selin and city manager Paul Brake prefer to move forward carefully.

“We need to be careful about this,” Paul Brake said,”Miss Jones said they have been dealing with this for four years and we’ve only had it before us for about two months.”

Councilors Zack Cruz and Barry Wendell pushed for program to go forward citing the magnitude of the problem and studies from Los Angeles, Vermont and Toronto.

“When Ontario placed 12 sharps containers they saw a 98 percent decreases in 600 foot radius of each sharps container.” Cruze said.

Councilor Wendell is concerned about the spread AIDS and the danger the discarded needles present to the public.

“First we have an immediate issue we have to deal with, I think we should put those up, people from Health Right and the police department know where to put them,” Wendell said,”Everything else we can deal with later, but that’s the first thing.”

Dr. Lee Smith, executive director and health officer for the Monongalia County Health Department is expected to testify before council during the next meeting on January 21.