Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery has called for calm as debate rages over Wollongong's so-called antisocial behaviour problem.
The controversial issue was reignited this week as business owners were told the council had engaged the Wesley Church to help deal with troublesome mall users.
Though many Mercury readers celebrated comments by City Diggers club general manager Phil Ryan - who said retailers "despised" those known to congregate in the mall - Cr Bradbery urged the community to have "a bit of compassion".
"For a start, I understand people's concerns, but the solution isn't as easy as people have put out there in terms of making sure those people don't come into the mall," Cr Bradbery said.
"I mean, are we going to set up fences? Who gets to choose who qualifies to come into the mall?"
He urged disgruntled business owners not to inflame a "complex issue", which would be better addressed by a united effort from police, council, community agencies and government departments.
"If people's behaviour is inappropriate then the police can enter into the issue, but you need to remember everyone has rights and liberties and you can't be going around picking on people because they look differently.
"I would just ask people to manage their language because when you go out and vilify others, certain people think that's an opportunity to go out and really heap abuse and attack those people and I don't want that in our city."
Cr Bradbery asked the community to have patience, saying the Crown Street Mall refurbishments were designed to create a more positive city environment.
"We did design the mall so that line of sight for CCTV cameras would be easier and passive surveillance was part of the design.
"The other way of coping with antisocial behaviour is to activate the mall, so that those who might be behaving inappropriately are drowned out by larger numbers of people who will bring behaviour into line."
Online, most readers supported the stance taken by Mr Ryan, who said the mall revamp would be a waste unless "antisocial inhabitants" were moved.
"Got it in one - Wollongong will always be seen the same way unless we move the junkies and their hangers-on to a different location," said one reader.
"Much respect to Mr Ryan for having the courage to put his name and photo to comments that many of us in the region share," another said.