People of Ellendale: Kathryn Woodard, Neighborhood Improvement Specialist (interim)
Like all of the City of St. Louis’ Neighborhood Improvement Specialists (NIS), Kathryn Woodard plays an important role in the keeping the City and its neighborhoods in good order.
Kathryn Woodard is the NIS for Ward 11 and temporarily NIS for Ward 24. Ellendale is one of ten neighborhoods located in Ward 24. (Ward 11 includes five neighborhoods.)
Woodard moved to St. Louis in 1983 and has been a Neighborhood Improvement Specialist (formerly call Neighborhood Stabilization Officer) for the last 20 years — working 18 years in Ward 5, the last two years in Ward 11, and just this summer was temporarily assigned to Ward 24.
But Woodard is no stranger to community service. Kathryn has a diverse background and has held the positions of Community Development Director and Domestic Violence Coordinator of Services in her home state of Nebraska, and was a Community Development Paralegal when she worked with Legal Services of Western Missouri, in Kansas City.
In the past she has worked with several community groups accessing Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for such projects as building a food stamp issuance center in Kansas City that also held the Welfare Rights offices and a small grocery store. “I was the primary driving force in all of this,” Kathryn said proudly. “I oversaw contracts, contractors, and insured all entities had the right licenses and necessary city permits for the project, and also prepared grant proposals and approved funding for various parts of construction.”
Woodard’s analytical mind lets her enjoy reading murder mysteries and playing the flute in her spare time. She also enjoys going places and doing things with her four youngest grandchildren.
While Kathryn is just an interim NIS for Ward 24, the role of NIS is well defined no matter which Ward one is assigned. She is just one of 28 Neighborhood Improvement Specialists throughout the City.
What is a Neighborhood Improvement Specialist?
The NIS is a member of the Neighborhood Stabilization Team (NST) whose mission is to “empower constituents to sustain a quality environment within their neighborhood through assistance, education, intervention, and organization.”
The NST connects police, elected officials, governmental agencies, social service organizations, community groups, and residents. They address issues and provide follow-up with these groups.
“I enjoy my position immensely,” explained Woodard. “I really like working with people and problem solving.”
A division of the Department of Public Safety, the NST is comprised of a Neighborhood Development Executive (currently Dotti McDowell who supervises all department activities), a Customer Service Manager, the Neighborhood Improvement Specialists, support staff, and the Citizens' Service Bureau (CSB).
“A typical week for me,” Kathryn explained, “would be to check on my field requests and my problem properties at the beginning of the week.”
A lot of NIS work is completed on the computer, but it also involves fieldwork and requests from citizens and Aldermen.
“Once I have checked my field requests and any problem properties I may have, I then go to the field and write up any new issues I see.” New issues can include high grass, building code violations, debris, and trash — anything that would require a city service. These issues are looked at and noted for repair, replacement, or removal. New issues are then entered into the computer system for distribution to other agencies (to be worked on) or for letters to be drafted to owners requesting they repair the problem.
Woodard, like all NIS, takes calls from citizens in regard to problem properties and from attorneys or police. However, Kathryn is also the keeper of the Problem Property Database, which means she records any data that is necessary about problem properties. As part of the problem property process, she may speak directly to property owners about issues, or she may meet with property owners, attorneys, and the Problem Property Officer in regard to the problems.
In addition to the above duties, Woodard and other NIS attend community meetings where they make presentations in regard to various programs/issues that may be of importance to residents. The position of being an NIS is a full time position with the City of St. Louis. A complete list of NIS duties can be found on the City’s website.
Kathryn feels her job is very rewarding and she can see her office has made a tremendous difference in the quality of life for the City. “Recently, one of my fellow NIS showed me a picture of alleys in the south side of the City from the 70s,” she described. “They were atrocious — huge piles of debris in the alleys, which would cause all sorts of problems with roaches and rats as well as health issues. These same alleys today are clean and free of debris.”
When citizens, Aldermen, the Neighborhood Stabilization Team, and other City agencies all work together in addressing problems, they can make a difference. To facilitate teamwork and provide structure to their efforts, task forces such as the Problem Properties Task Force are established.
City of St. Louis’ Problem Properties Task Force
The Problem Property Task Force is a partnership between the Neighborhood Improvement Specialist, the Problem Property Police Officer, and the Problem Property Prosecutor. Together they focus on eliminating problem properties (aka nuisance properties) and address issues such as problem solving for crime prevention and public safety by discouraging illegal activity and remind property owners of their responsibility to prohibit illegal activity (such as drugs, guns, gambling, disturbances, unnecessary noise, etc.) on their properties.
The Problem Property or Nuisance Process
When anyone from the Problem Property Task Force receives a complaint about a property, the team reviews documented calls for services and type of activity for the specified address logged by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
Under Ordinance #69730 the Task Force can declare the property a nuisance if the property qualifies as such. A nuisance is basically anything that causes you inconvenience, annoyance, or threatens anyone’s safety. To be a nuisance property, there must be a minimum of two incidents that deal with disturbances, fights, gambling, prostitution, etc., or only one incident that deals with drugs or weapons. Note: Essential calls for service for emergency situations are not included in this count (like calling for medical help, injured persons, theft, robbery, etc.).
If the property qualifies as a nuisance, a letter is sent to the owner and a meeting is held to discuss possible solutions — ranging from sending summonses (like traffic tickets) to the owners, tenants, and guests (of which fines could be between $100 and $500 and/or 90 days in jail per incident) to closing the property and boarding it up for 12 months.
Regardless of the solutions described above, the property is monitored for 12 months.
It is very difficult for the City, police, and prosecutors to resolve problem properties alone. Assistance from residents working together with the Problem Property Task Force is more successful at stopping nuisance and illegal activity.
To report illegal activity call the police and give the exact address of where the activity is occurring (do not give your address unless it is happening there), the type of activity (disturbances, fights, drugs, weapons, loud parties, a lot of foot traffic), and physical description and names of the suspects (if you know them). You can call 911 or if you want to remain anonymous call *67-231-1212.
Additionally, contact your NIS and leave a message with the address of the property and describe what's going on there. You have the option to leave your contact information. Also, Ellendale residents can contact the SLMPD’s South Patrol Division at (314) 444-0100 and ask to speak with the Problem Property Officer.
To contact Kathryn, residents can all Kathryn at (314) 657-1355 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Change sometimes seems very slow, but one must never give up trying to make a change,” said Kathryn. “We must persevere in our efforts in order to make significant and permanent change in improving our quality of life.”