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Town Hall Verdict: Waste of Time

Last night’s “Town Hall Meeting,” scheduled from 5:30-7:30 p.m., ran from 5:55-7:10. Mayor Thomas and Councilor Dennis Mitchell, the at-large representative, the forum organizers, took no questions despite the remaining twenty minutes of scheduled time.

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 Here’s how the meeting transpired.

  • Upwards of 60 people gathered at the bar at the Mellow Mushroom eager to hear from and engage with elected officials, where they milled about until nearly 6 p.m. when the meeting finally began.
  • Mayor Allen Thomas spoke briefly to introduce and “brag on” Carl Rees, the city’s Economic Development Officer. Rees presumably spoke about economic development initiatives in the city for fifteen or so minutes. Tony Khoury, president of Uptown Greenville, a non-profit partner in the city’s economic development efforts, also spoke, presumably about the importance of a strong center for a city’s economic well being.
  • At-large Councilor Dennis Mitchell introduced Lamarco Morrison, a Parks Planner for the city, who presumably spoke about the $200,000 river study council approved in June.
  • Thomas then introduced (and “bragged on”) Kevin Mulligan, director of Public Works who presumably spoke about “roads, rain and railroads,” according to Thomas’ introduction.
  • Thomas introduced (and “bragged on,” of course) the final speaker Police Chief Hassan Aden who presumably spoke about the city’s new crime plan.
  • All the city staff presenters were gathered in the speaking area and the audience was given the opportunity to ask questions of each in turn. A question went to Rees about how the city will attract young professionals, there was a question for Morrison about 24-hour recreation opportunities, and a question for Aden on crime.

Why the repetition of the word “presumably” in the above account? Sitting about fifteen feet away from the speakers–one of the closer spots–it was impossible to hear any of them except the mayor. Not having amplification in an open space with busy restaurant and bar activity going on all around was a major planning mistake. But it was only one of the elements rendering the entire meeting pointless for the majority of those in attendance.

To answer the question posed here yesterday, campaign rally or town hall, I suggest neither, preferring instead to call the gathering vain and useless, a waste of time. Instead of listening to information, ideas and concerns from citizens, the city’s cheerleader (i.e., the mayor) told citizens how lucky they are to have such great city staff working for them. There was no interaction between the citizens present and the elected officials holding the forum. The elected officials did not take a moment, and there was no shortage of time- remember, the meeting ended twenty minutes early-to hear the concerns of the people they represent. (Is such interaction not the primary purpose of a “town hall meeting”?)

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On logistical matters, I asked Mitchell before the meeting about the organization of the event. He said he and the mayor rented the space from the restaurant, paying for it and the appetizers from personal funds. Maybe he was just unaware, or the question was unclear, or he was distracted by the number of people crowding in. A manager at Mellow Mushroom told me the space wasn’t rented but was treated as a call-in party. The manager also told me the appetizers were provided gratis, compliments of the Mellow Mushroom.

In addition to the speakers, there were several other city staff present, as well as councilors Marion Blackburn, Max Joyner and Calvin Mercer. District four candidates Rick Smiley and Terri Williams were also present.

The next time they bring citizens together for the stated purpose of reflecting on how to move Greenville forward, Thomas and Mitchell will hopefully reach out to citizens in a more genuine way.

Did you go? Were you satisfied? Could you hear anything? What did you learn? What are your observations from the evening?

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Responses (2)

  1. Lisa Wilbourne says:

    I got an email from a reader asking where the event was publicized. Having wondered the same thing myself, here’s the response I got on July 24 from the City of Greenville administrative assistant I contacted about it:

    The City has publicized this meeting in the following places:
    · on the City’s Calendar of Events, which can be found on the City’s web page

    · it has been advertised on the City’s channel, GTV9

    · it will be sent out in the Public Information Office’s Event Tips, which is sent out every Thursday to the media

    · it is scheduled to be advertised in the Daily Reflector in the City Page Ad section on Monday

    · it has been posted in City Hall on the board near the first floor elevator

    Council Member Mitchell and Mayor Thomas indicated that they would do additional publicity on their own.

  2. Ted Weil says:

    The dissatisfaction of our citizenry will be self evident in Nov. Our elected officials, with a couple of exceptions, depend of the lack of follow through when it comes time to vote.

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