I’ve got to hand it to Brian Williams, the new Mayor of East Ridge, he’s a good listener.
He said he was going to have a “meet the mayor” event where he would sit and talk with residents of East Ridge and take the temperature of the people he serves. By golly he did it.
On Saturday morning at Local Coffee more than two dozen Pioneers sat down with Mayor Williams and Assistant City Manager Kenny Custer and had a very frank, sometimes blunt conversation about where our city has been, where it may be headed and what we might be able to do to make it better.
Mayor Williams did a lot more listening than he did talking, something rare for an elected official in the 21st century.
In his opening comments, while those in attendance sipped a hot cup of java, Williams said he wanted to have an “open discussion” with East Ridge residents in an informal setting. He got exactly what he asked for.
Topics discussed ran the spectrum from formulating a “mission statement” for the city, to mosquito control on the many “blue line” drainage ditches which crisscross East Ridge.
The “mission statement” idea is something that Custer has been pondering for some time. The City of East Ridge was chartered almost 100 years ago and has never had a formal declaration of what it is and why it is and what it wants to do.
I know, a mission statement is only words on a piece of paper. To breathe life into it takes gumption and resolve, two things sometimes in short supply on Tombras Avenue.
Frank Degarmo asked the hard question … how will the mission statement be devised? Where will the concepts of what East Ridge stands for and what it aspires to be come from? Williams assured him that any mission statement would not come “from the top down.” It would come from citizens’ input.
Now that’s a real sea change in how things have been done in East Ridge for many, many years. Let’s all take heart that our new mayor wants to hear from the people about what they want from the city.
There were questions about the hiring of the next City Manager. It was noted that since the city changed its form of government from a commission-type government to a weak mayor/city manager type of government that East Ridge has had more than a dozen city managers. The average tenure is about two years. What can be done to keep a city manager in officer for more than an election cycle?
No easy answer there, dear reader. Williams explained that the council is charged with setting policy and that the city manager is responsible for the daily operations and hiring and firing of city employees. Williams said that in the past some elected officials in our city have crossed the line and interfered with the job of city manager, essentially telling him how to do his job.
The city received almost 50 applications/resumes for the city manager’s job. Those resumes were reviewed by staff, presumably human resources, the acting city manager and others. The number was culled to nine and those were handed over to the mayor and council, who by the next council meeting will move forward and select five candidates to be interviewed in the very near future in an open meeting.
I’ve got a real issue with this one. Since when does any organization turn over, in large measure, the responsibility of hiring a boss to those being bossed? Here’s an idea, hire an independent consulting firm to select the best candidates for interviewing. Might get a much higher quality city manager in the future with some staying power.
The conversation turned to what made East Ridge a desirable place to live in the past. You know, the glory days of the 1960’s and ’70’s when we had owner-occupied houses, a thriving shopping district and a community pool.
Schools, many of those in attendance concluded.
The county-run schools back then provided a much better education, several at the meeting said. We need to think about establishing our own school system.
Debbie Colburn, who was our elected representative on the school board from 1994 to 2006, said that idea is nonsense. It will cost too much money. She’s got a point. About $400 million of the $600-plus million Hamilton County budget goes toward running the schools. How could East Ridge afford it?
One man in the room said privately to this reporter that taking control of the school system in East Ridge was a sure-fire way to bring back young families to this city and raise East Ridge up. He said that good schools would turbo charge property values, once again making East Ridge a hot commodity.
Perhaps. But to pay for it our tax rate would most likely become the highest in Hamilton County.
Lynda Stephens, who serves the city on the Housing Commission, came up with the idea of doing a community assessment of the schools. Others spoke about the kids zoned to attend East Ridge schools don’t even live inside the city limits. How do we promote pride in East Ridge schools?
These are just a few examples of the problems that our city leaders are grappling with.
But, our elected officials need help, don’t they? It appears that this new administration is willing, maybe even eager, to now give citizens a seat at the table, a voice. Mayor Williams is listening. And he said he will continue to listen, as he plans on having monthly “meet the mayor” events.
I urge anybody who cares about this city to attend future “meet the mayor” events and speak up. Who knows, you might get that pesky pothole on your street repaired or the skeeters under control in that ditch that runs behind your property.
And maybe, just maybe – if the stars line up just right – the priorities inside City Hall might once again be driven by the people and not the politicians.