Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Community meeting generates many suggestions for achieving city council's goals

Mayor Tom Bozarth addresses the meeting as moderator Tad Long stands at left. Malcolm Endicott and Magistrates Larry Craig and Bruce Gill stand near the door. (Photos by Dick Yarmy; click on image for larger version)
By Jordan Vilines
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

More than 40 citizens joined together at Midway Baptist Church Monday night to discuss city goals with council members and Mayor Tom Bozarth. The meeting was requested by new members of the council to encourage the community’s involvement in the management of city affairs and explore various ways the community can work together.

At a private retreat in February, the council generated 70 to 80 ideas to improve Midway and announced five major goals. Tad Long of the Kentucky League of Cities, who facilitated the retreat, moderated the town meeting and directed the citizens’ attention toward generating innovative ideas that would help achieve each of the five goals:

Recycling: Explore opportunities that would provide the citizens of Midway with an affordable and sustainable recycling service.
Water and Sewer: Upgrade the city’s infrastructure while taking into account the future needs of the city.
Community Events: Strengthen the citizens’ unity and cohesion by improving the quality and quantity of events.
City Park: Improving the park to make it more accessible and usable.
Full Occupancy of vacant houses or buildings, especially on Railroad Street.

These goals were discussed during five rounds of a sort of musical chairs, in which the six council members and Bozarth took moved among small groups of citizens, in order to talk about particular goals with as many citizens as possible. After the city officials met with each group for five to 10 minutes, they or another group member announced two or more of the group’s ideas that could help achieve those goals.

Long said it was important to structure the meeting this way, since improving communication with and among citizens is a factor in achieving most of the goals. He told the gathering that the primary “challenges in a community are getting people to agree on one or two things and try to make progress.”

In addition to the five major goals, the meeting agenda originally included discussion of an array of secondary goals including a pedestrian bridge, a dog park, and so on, but the 90 minutes allocated for the meeting ran out before the discussion could go beyond the top five.

Council Member Joy Arnold, right, the main advocate of the town meeting, said “The weak point of this meeting was that there was too ambitious of an agenda, but that was outweighed by the generation of ideas and opportunity to talk to elected officials.”

Recycling was the most controversial topic of the evening and included some mildly heated comments from Magistrate Larry Craig, who represents the Midway area on the Woodford County Fiscal Court.

The city recently began exploring the possibility of taking recycled materials to Lexington, where more items are accepted than at the county’s recycling center. Craig said such a move could undermine the county’s service. Magistrate Bruce Gill backed Craig's arguments.

After some back and forth between the magistrates and city officials, and discussion of what can be recycled where, Long said, “Sounds to me like there needs to be more information sharing.” For the Midway Messenger's February story about recycling issues, click here.

Ideas for improving recycling included encouraging young people to recycle, placing attractive recycling bins downtown, starting a program to recycle hazardous liquids such as paint and pesticides, finding a recycling center that will accept glass, and researching how other communities handle recycling.

The goal of updating Midway’s aging water and sewer infrastructure is being handled by the Water and Sewer Task Force. At the regular council meeting that preceded the town meeting, the council signed a confidentiality agreement with its water supplier, Kentucky American Water Co., to do a study of the current system, with an eye to buying it from the city or taking responsibility for operating it.

Suggestions from the crowd regarding such a deal were divided among support, skepticism and opposition. One suggested seeing what Stockton, Calif., had done about the issue. Council Member Aaron Hamilton, left, said Kentucky American seems to be the best option right now. Bozarth concluded the discussion of the topic by saying, “Hopefully in six months we’ll have information to talk about and to decide what will be best for Midway.”

Recommendations for the Community Events category included expanding the Christmas event, establishing a homecoming weekend, holding themed festivals, spotlighting local musicians, partnering with Midway College, starting bingo, and having a Midway family night. Council Member Becky Moore said, “We should figure out how to let people in the community know that there are events to come and enjoy.”

Ideas for achieving Full Occupancy included making rent more affordable, putting higher taxes on unoccupied buildings, marketing the city as a place to live and visit, keeping downtown beautiful, providing entertainment, and advertising Midway at the airport.

The major disagreement on priorities of the council came from Malcolm Endicott, during discussion of the park. Endicott said his small group didn’t “think that the city park ranks high enough to be a city goal. The government shouldn’t be spending money there.” Ideas for the park included building a swimming pool, providing recreational equipment, planting more trees that provide shade, and building a path so people can walk entirely around the park.

At the end of the meeting, Long said that there isn’t an overnight solution for any of the five major goals. But he said “Perseverance will pay off” and urged Midway citizens to “continue to explore all of the ways the community can work together” because “Now is the opportunity to make a difference.”

No comments: