Sometimes, the answers are simple.
Gerald Berke wants to know what’s going on in his city. He shows up at meetings and events, reads the papers, listens to the radio, and pays attention to local blogs. He asks questions, and he wants answers. Berke gives feedback. He considers this his town, too.
He is an interested, well informed, thoughtful, involved, and sometimes opinionated resident of Kingston’s 4th Ward. When he got the chance recently at a Kingston Citizens forum to ask Aldermen James Noble, Matt Dunn, and Deb Brown anything about the Common Council’s workings, he got right to it. His problem is simple. He doesn’t know when his Alderwoman is holding her ward meetings.
She does hold meetings, Saturdays, at her neighborhood diner. I asked, and she told me she brings in guests to answer questions and meet with neighbors. Alderwoman Deb Brown holds monthly meetings, and jokes they are well attended because she brings food. The 7th’s Maryanne Mills and the 5th’s Bill Carey are regulars with their meetings, and others’, too. Elisa Ball meets constituents at the Quick Check in her ward.
As Mr. Berke said, though, people don’t always know. Ward Meetings: Where and when are two questions that come up a lot, and the answer often changes.
Let’s keep it simple. We don’t have to make a law or pass legislation. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We only need to agree. How about a monthly “Ward Meeting Day”?
We agree that we can do this on a particular day, the same every month. Whether it’s the fourth Thursday at 7:00 or the last Saturday at Noon, it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s consistent. It should be after the committee meetings have been held, and before the Caucus and Common Council meetings, so the Aldermen can present what’s before them to their wards, and the people can tell their Aldermen what they want done with the issues.
We agree that every Alderman can find some free venue in the ward to hold the meetings. While campaigning last year, I found people at George Washington School and the Hudson Valley Senior Residence more than generous, and happy to provide a space for the meetings here in the 3rd. Other wards might find a church hall, a community center, or theater willing to open their doors to their neighbors.
We agree to have guests at meetings that can help answer the questions of the day, or explain what they do. The Mayor, Police Chief, Alderman at Large, City Engineer, Firefighters Union President, Development Director, Assessor…the pool of potential official speakers is deep. Many already do this, and tell me they’d be happy to do more.
We agree that this is a back and forth, where people can talk about their solutions as much as their problems. It’s an open forum, and the agenda is flexible.
We agree to publicize the whole event, city-wide, for cheap to free. Use your Facebook, Twitter, and email lists. Ask residents to share listings with friends and neighbors. Use the City’s improving website, get it to KingstonHappenings, and ask every local blogger to do his part. For people without regular internet use, we can take advantage of calendar listings and stories in the papers, Public Service Announcements on the radio and TV, and post listings on local bulletin boards. Heck, find out if we have some printing money in the budget, hire a local printer to produce schedules on quarter sheet cards, and put some of the franking fund into a one-time Every Door Direct Mail blast.
We agree to take November and December off, and give us all one less thing to worry about for our holidays.
We agree that most members already do some version of this, so it shouldn’t be considered a giant leap forward. It is just one more step in service to the people of your ward and our city.
Mine the collective intelligence of the people of our city, and strike the rich veins of individual gumption we find there.