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City communication needs attention

Communication is key in a small town. Communication at the level of citizen-to-city and city-to-citizen is essential for keeping our community as vital as it is. There is a crack in this communication, I hope that we can find a way together to mend it.

Normal Neighborhood Master Plan: More than 150 citizens attended the Sept. 1 council meeting. They came to speak to the council about their questions, suggestions and criticisms of the master plan. At least half of these folks left because of directions “…don’t repeat anything that has been said; the council doesn’t like repetition… .” Others left because there wasn’t enough room for them to sit in the council chamber. In the entry room to the chamber, where the overflow people were directed, they could watch the proceedings on closed circuit TV, however, there was no sound to hear the proceedings. More folks left.

The Sept 15 council meeting was a continuation of the previous meeting. After well over 40 citizens had addressed the council with little repetition, a substantial majority asked for a delay of the plan. Delay would provide citizens the opportunity to have their questions and concerns responded to directly by the council and staff in an open format. This did not happen throughout three years of planning. I attended many of the Normal subcommittee meetings as a citizen. There was no dialogue. Citizens simply want a dialogue with evidence of being heard. The council, however, has made it clear that it is continuing to deliberate on the motion to accept the master plan. Citizen voices are respectful, well-informed, critical and clear; but they seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

380 Clay Street — Tree of Hope and Affordable Housing: The hundreds of citizens who have expressed outrage at the potential demise of the 2013 Tree of the Year remain in limbo. Neither staff nor the council is telling them what progress or lack of progress is occurring with the citizens’ proposed solutions, aimed at saving the tree and providing for 20 affordable housing units in the process. The council and staff went silent over two months ago on this subject and have not been heard from since. Why are citizens being kept in the dark?

Union Pacific Railroad Cleanup: The Oct. 6 council meeting will have in attendance three DEQ representatives and railroad consultants to answer council questions. Citizens, it seems, will not be allowed to be a part of this dialogue. At stake is the issue of contaminated soil from the Railroad District that must be transported via dump truck through Ashland neighborhoods. Four thousand truck trips will be needed, up and down Oak Street over a period of several months. Why isn’t there a public forum for citizens to ask questions of these consultants and representatives? Citizens who live on Oak Street and adjoining neighborhoods deserve to be in dialogue with these representatives; the council needs to listen to and respond to their constituents’ concerns.

Why are citizens who want to participate in city decision-making being treated with disrespect? Or is it disinterest? The council seems not to be accepting the charge that citizens have given them as elected representatives: Listen to our voices.

Finally, there are solutions. There is a plethora of possible solutions to make the communication between the city, including elected officials, and the public, better. Here is a link to begin our conversation on developing better communications and more open and participatory processes: http://tinyurl.com/qgn5e2j.

From a citizen who spoke on Sept. 15 during public forum: “We’ve got the government we deserve. We can’t just install them (councilors and mayor) and forget them. I call on Ashlanders, if you love your town and want to see it retain its character, get involved. Pick one topic that captures your interest and study it. Come to City Council meetings, speak out, write letters, spread the word. Form an action committee, and learn how the process works. Because you can be sure the people with money, power and influence are familiar with how the game is played and how to finesse the game to their benefit.”

Carol Voisin is a member of the Ashland City Council.