A cold, blustery rain and the busy holiday season may have contributed to only a handful of East Ridge residents attending the first “Coffee with Kenny” meeting, Friday morning at Local Coffee.
Acting City Manager Kenny Custer announced earlier this week that he wanted to begin a series of informal, conversational meetings with East Ridge residents to engage in a dialogue about the city’s present state and where they would like to see it head in the future.
Gail Varnell, a Frawley Road resident and recent city retiree, queried Custer about the conditions of houses in various neighborhoods around the city. She wanted to know what was being done to improve sub-standard houses.
Aside from the intensified efforts of the city’s code enforcement division to crack down on unsightly and unsafe houses, Custer said that he was pursuing grants through a program called the “State Farm Good Neighbors Grant.” The money could be used as seed money to use to buy supplies to buy paint from local hardware stores.
Custer said he is looking to recruit volunteers from our community to help assist homeowners – like the elderly and disabled who physically can’t do routine maintenance – in improving their properties.
“A lot of what you see (in neighborhood housing) is more of an eyesore than any kind of safety condition,” Custer said.
These volunteers would be part of a community outreach program who could paint houses that are in need of painting and do light landscaping work he said.
“But, we’ve got to get the community to buy in and support it,” Custer said.
Custer was careful to note that 40 percent of the houses in the city are not owner occupied. Any community outreach for maintenance would be offered to only owner-occupied houses.
Danny Lance, owner of Local Coffee, who along with his wife Debbie supplied the venue for the event, commented that Chattanooga’s Southside is filled with artists and musicians who live there. He wanted to know if the city could in some way target who we wanted to move to East Ridge.
Custer said that the City of East Ridge was founded more than 90 years ago and we have never had any kind of “mission statement or direction.”
He said that in meetings like these some fundamental questions need to be asked, among them; “who are we? Who do we want to be? The past is past … we need to think about the future.”
Another citizen had concerns about garbage trucks being maintained properly and how those garbage trucks are operated.
Custer said that that “customer service is something we need to focus on” as a city. He said moving forward that East Ridge needs to become more “customer-centric.”
Custer said that future informal meetings would be held not only by him but also by City Attorney Mark Litchford. The plan with the attorney is to help residents understand how municipal government actually works. Custer said it would be something akin to “Civics 101.”
Newly elected Mayor Brian Williams was in attendance and he said that he is planning meetings of his own outside of City Hall in an informal setting. Mayor Williams said those gatherings would begin after the first of the year and would include the presence of city department supervisors.
East Ridge News Online will keep its readers informed of upcoming community outreach meetings by city officials.