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Posts Tagged ‘City Council’

Living Democracy in Hobson City: Week Six

In Hobson City on July 29, 2013 at 2:29 pm
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Hobson City citizens gather to hear plans at city council meeting. (Photo by Audrey Ross)

Big Topics on Small Town City Council Agenda

By Audrey Ross

One of the most important aspects of a community is its local government, and Hobson City is no exception. Just off Martin Luther King Drive, inside what

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used to be Hobson City’s C.E. Hanna School, one will find the city clerk, the mayor and the rest of Hobson City’s city hall crew. The meetings, held every other Monday at 6:30 p.m., take place inside the old school that now serves as city hall. Just inside the long, open room where the meeting occurs are two stacks of handouts for the attendees of the meeting. One stack contains the minutes and other information from the previous city council meeting and the other stack is the agenda for the current day’s meeting.

In addition to the usual crowd of city council members, city employees and the mayor, everyday citizens are welcome to join the discussion and take part in their own government. A surprisingly large group of citizens came out to see what was going on in their community at the city council meeting of July 22.

As citizens filed inside the room and into the old church pews, the meeting was soon called to order. After the beginning prayer and reading of the previous meeting’s minutes, the first issue was brought to everyone’s attention. Hobson City is planning a community celebration to bring all of the town’s local churches together on August 19. In a town of 765, the churches are extremely important in uniting local citizens. The hopes of this special celebration are to further develop that sense of community. The mayor, clerk and city council members discussed the details of this celebration and shared in the excitement of a community-building event.

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Council meetings are held in former school that houses city hall. (Photo by Audrey Ross)

Diane Glenn then approached the city council members to discuss a promising grant application. The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program under discussion could potentially provide Hobson City with $350,000 to use toward renovating old and damaged properties within the town’s city limits. The city had applied for the CDBG program the previous year but was not awarded the grant. Glenn explained that a crucial piece of the grant application is showing that the city and/or property owners would be able to maintain the renovations. The council members discussed how this could be done and how much of the city’s money could be set aside for this project. Although most of the council members were hesitant to make any monetary commitments from the city, the benefits to the city in the event that it was awarded the grant were apparent. At that point there was a consensus that it was time to take a leap of faith and commit to finding one percent of the total grant amount, $3,500, to continue to seek the funds. Other topics discussed at the meeting included a nearly $3.5 million project to improve the city’s recent water problems.

What all of the topics of discussion had in common was a feeling of hope for brighter days to come. Initial reactions to such enormous and sometimes daunting projects may be that a tiny town of less than 800 people like Hobson City isn’t up for the challenge or that there simply aren’t enough funds. In many cases like these, all it takes is one person to stand up and believe that change can be made to inspire the rest to stand together and get things done.

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Living Democracy in Collinsville: Week Nine

In Collinsville on July 24, 2013 at 2:51 pm
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Mary Beth Snow, center, gets warm reception at Collinsville City Council meeting. (Contributed Photo)

 City Council Meetings Turn Out To Be Interesting, Important

By Mary Beth Snow

Of all of the new things I’ve experienced this summer, one of the most interesting is probably not what you’d expect: city council meetings. I am ashamed to say that before this summer, I had never in my life been to a city council meeting and had absolutely no idea what to expect. When I envisioned a city council meeting in my mind I saw something resembling a mixture of British parliamentary debates combined with Judge Judy and a town hall meeting from the television show “Parks and Rec”. I am (for the most part) happy to report that city council meetings in the real world are not quite that rambunctious.

At the first city council meeting I attended near the beginning of my time in the community as a Living Democracy Fellow, a large crowd attended because the Collinsville High School soccer team was being officially congratulated for just having won the 1A-4A state championship. Recognizing the local champions was the first item on the agenda, so Mayor Johnny Traffanstedt called the players up to the front of the small room where they posed for a picture with their coach. He noted that they are only the second state championship team in the town’s history, the first being the 1975 basketball team. The coach of that team, L.D. Dobbins, was present at this meeting, and he and his wife are regulars at most of the city council meetings.

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Mary Beth Snow used paint gun and support from local merchants, city officials to restore downtown trash cans.

After the soccer team left, it was my turn to speak. I introduced myself to the council and the audience and then explained my summer projects. I told them that local merchants had donated $250 to go toward my efforts on downtown beautification. I then asked them to donate the same amount, which we could also match from my Living Democracy project fund.

Much to my surprise, the mayor then asked me if I could match a higher amount if they donated more, a generous offer of support that astounded myself and many others, including the mayor’s brother who (lovingly) described his brother Johnny as a “tightwad” to me the following week.

The second city council meeting I attended was much different. Instead of a big crowd, there was only a small group of people: myself,  Jennifer Wilkins, my community partner who attends every meeting to report on the activities of the public library, Coach Dobbins and his wife, and Miss Mattie, who was one of my students from the weekly Spanish class I taught in Collinsville.

Jennifer and I reported on the different ways we used the funds that we had for the downtown beautification project. We were able to accomplish a lot during the summer with those funds: we bought six new planters to accompany the ones already lining the street, the soil and flowers to fill more than 20 planters and the supplies to renovate five trashcans downtown. With local help I spent a week in the blazing summer sun using power tools and pressure washing the trashcans before giving them a fresh coat of paint. Work continues on choosing the design for streetlamp banners that will line Main Street, but thanks to generous support from both merchants and city officials, the cost is covered.

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Beautification effort brings in freshly painted trash cans, flowers and banners.

The best part of the city council meeting was that the mayor thanked us for all of the work we’ve done this summer. It’s a dangerous thing to work for recognition, so I always try to work with the mindset that what I am doing will never be recognized and that keeps me focused on doing things for purer motives than personal glory. However, it is nice when recognition does come, and Jennifer and I were both happy to know that the work we’d done, along with the help of some great high school students and library board members, was making a difference around town.

In all honesty, it’s a shame that more people don’t go to city council meetings. One of the biggest complaints that we hear about government and “politics” is that people feel disconnected or that their voice isn’t heard. But city council meetings are too often held in empty rooms. I don’t say that to point fingers.  I know that people have things to do. There are baseball games to attend and dinner to cook and a million things pull us from every direction. I think that part of the problem is that we sometimes don’t even realize that things like city council meetings are going on and that they pertain to us, but they are and they do. That’s one of the best things I learned this summer. And you don’t have to be in Living Democracy to learn that. So next week be engaged, remain informed and go to your city council meeting!

Living Democracy in Linden: Week 10

In Linden on July 23, 2013 at 3:53 pm
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2013 Living Democracy Fellow Kaleb Kirkpatrick, center, worked with community partners Marengo County Extension Coordinator Kathryn Friday, left, and Brenda Tuck, executive director of the Marengo County Economic Development Authority.

My Summer in Linden

By Kaleb Kirkpatrick

Living in rural southwest Alabama has been an extremely beneficial and rewarding experience during my ten weeks of Living Democracy in Linden. This time in Linden taught me more about how the “real world” operates than I ever could have imagined, helping open my eyes to rural life in America and especially in the Black Belt. I discovered both the benefits and disadvantages of living in a small town.

Marengo County is certainly a different atmosphere than what I am used to in my hometown of Mobile. For example, I learned about having to drive almost 30 minutes to go to Wal-Mart.  The people of Linden recognize the problems associated with small town rural life and yet they would never trade it for anything in the world. To be honest, I have grown quite fond of the quiet, rural life. It is really quiet on the weekends and at night especially. But, during the day in the local stores, it’s anything but silent. I think what I’ll miss the most about living in Linden is the simple fact that everyone knew my name. Whenever I walked into a store there was someone who would stop and say “Hey Kaleb. How are you today?”

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Local artists displayed their work in downtown businesses during the summer art walk. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Coming from Mobile and as a student at Auburn University, I’m used to not seeing anyone I know when I go to the store.  The only conversation that occurs is the usual “Hi …how are you?” But in Linden, it’s totally different. The people actually want to know how you are. They care if you’re okay or not, and they want to know how your life is going. It’s almost a sense that they would rather spend all day talking with you about life than actually “get down to business”.

Over the entire summer in Linden, I’ve learned so much about the Black Belt region and the problems that the entire area faces. I’ve also grown to understand what solutions are being implemented in order to alleviate those problems. Much of my understanding comes from the work my community partners are doing for the area. Brenda Tuck, executive director of the Marengo County Economic Development Authority, pushes efforts vital to the entire region and to Alabama as a whole. Without industry and jobs, small towns like Linden may totally dry up.

Kathryn Friday, also is providing valuable leadership for the community and region in her position as Marengo County Extension coordinator for the Alabamaart walk linden 2 Cooperative Extension System (ACES). The student career classes she is planning for the fall may help stop the “brain drain” occurring in Marengo County and other rural areas.  I can only hope the Linden Art Walk I helped organize with my community partners this summer had a small impact to help downtown development and unity.

Ten weeks of living in a rural community seems like a long time but it really isn’t. So much of it flies by in the small moments. Things like visiting the senior center or interviewing local citizens or attending the City Council meeting were extremely beneficial and enjoyable. It helped me to realize the people in Linden haven’t given up. They all want to fight and help Linden thrive. The people who run small businesses here help keep everything going. Of course, they need the support of local shoppers to continue on.

I’ve also learned some greater life lessons, especially that relationships count. I will never forget how many times Mrs. Friday told me how she was able to deal with this or that problem because she had a name at the ‘big’ office. And, of course, I know that one day when I’m working in Washington, D.C., or wherever and if  Mrs. Friday  calls me asking for a favor, I will be more than happy to oblige. I’ve also learned to never assume that things are done or have been done. This is especially true when working with the public as a whole. If you haven’t double-checked and gotten a 100 percent yes or no answer then do not assume anything. Just make sure that you are willing to do your own part, and everything will turn out all right. Overall, this experience was extremely enjoyable and fulfilling for me. It helped me to grow and develop as a young adult.

Cool Collinsville celebration culminates in Snow’s day

In Collinsville on July 12, 2013 at 3:52 pm
Mary Beth Snow poses with some of the children who attending her "Reading Party."

Mary Beth Snow poses with some of the children who attending her “Reading Party.”

By Nathan Simone / COMMUNITY REPORTER

Living Democracy fellow Mary Beth Snow celebrated the end of her 10 working weeks in Collinsville with a “cool” celebration that included the Collinsville Public Library as a place to eat homemade ice cream, create art and share a love of reading with more than 29 kids.

Snow invited children from all over Collinsville to come to the public library to eat pizza before having fun with a local artist.

Guntersville artist Kelly Jackson provided projects for the children to complete, which included bookmarks to put in the new books they would soon be receiving.

Community partner Myles Smith (standing) and Nathan Simone (left) make homemade ice cream. (Photo by Nan Fairley)

Community partner Myles Smith (standing) and Nathan Simone (left) make homemade ice cream. (Photo by Nan Fairley)

Jackson’s daughter Cadley and Guntersville High senior Mason Holcomb assisted her in passing out bookmarks to color and helping direct them when it was their turn to assist in one of two larger paintings that will hang in the front of the library.

After eating and painting, homemade ice cream was made and excited children had their pick of vanilla, chocolate or Grapico.

At the end of the event, each child received their own bag filled with four books, donated by Jean Dean Reading is Fundamental in Opelika, and ample school supplies to assist them in the upcoming academic year.

Head librarian Jennifer Wilkins said that Snow’s time in Collinsville working with the library has been a tremendous boost to the city and the larger community.

“We’ve just had the best time with her,” said Wilkins. “We hope she comes back next summer.”

Community partner Myles Smith, 79, assisted Snow in more than a few projects and introduced her to many people around town. From eating at 6 a.m. with the “Knights of the Round Table” at Jack’s to appealing to City Council, Smith said that Mary Beth is one of the most personable and straightforward people Collinsville could’ve asked for.

“I don’t know if we could have gotten anyone to better blend with the community,” said Smith.

Snow said not only did she have a tremendous amount of fun hosting the event, but received a deep sense of personal fulfillment as well.

“I loved having a last chance to visit with all the kids,” said Snow. “I had the opportunity to read and hug and love children, and to me that’s the most important thing I can do in life,” Snow said.

Head librarian Jennifer Wilkins (left) and Mason Holcomb (right) hang up the larger paintings the children made. (Photo by Nan Fairley)

Head librarian Jennifer Wilkins (left) and Mason Holcomb (right) hang up the larger paintings the children made. (Photo by Nan Fairley)

For however little things like ice cream and books may seem to adults, Snow said that seeing children excited by the simple things in life also made the event a success.

“To see those kids asking me if they could read a book to me or being amazing by seeing homemade ice cream made the event a success in my mind,” Snow said. “Because even though those things may seem small to us, nothing is small to children.”

With the look of smiles on everyone’s face as the children started to leave the library, this just may be a “Snow day” that Collinsville will never forget.

Living Democracy in Elba: Week Eight

In Elba on July 12, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Sierra city hall pic 1Put city council meetings on your agenda

By Sierra Lehnhoff

The room is large and open with high ceilings and bowl-shaped light fixtures. One wall is a light brick with a bank vault door. To the left, a large desk sits on a platform surrounded by white chairs. Offices behind transparent glass walls sit to the right. It all adds up to create a sense of openness when entering the Elba City Hall room where the City Council meets.

Elba City Council members Rolanda Jones, Tommy Skinner, Jack M. Mullinax, Jane Brunson, Harold Spicer, and Ronnie L Hammond sit with Mayor Mickeycity hall pic 3 Murdock at the front behind gold nameplates with their names engraved. Behind them are two American flags on stands and the framed nameplates of the former City Council members of Elba. They speak quietly into the microphone to their audience of five with Mayor Murdock and City Clerk Mullinax leading the majority of the business.

A large agenda is offered in paper format to the attendees, briefing them on the last City Council meeting and noting the business for the current meeting. The majority of the discussion was about the Carl Folsom Field Airport and reviewing city bills. One citizen remarked on an issue of funding due to interest rates, and the council listened closely.

The Council was very open about the public business, and the atmosphere was relaxed with jokes scattered here and there. These Elba leaders very well reflect the rest of the citizens and the mood Elba portrays: light, relaxed, and not in much of a rush, leaving no detail overlooked and voicing few complaints. Another order of business was Gappa Wise’s resignation in District Two of the school board. Rob Logan was nominated to fill the open position. Logan has a son in 10th grade and is a graduate of Auburn University.  Wise was thanked by Mayor Murdock for his years of service to the school board.

As the meeting neared the end, sirens of  fire trucks wailed outside as the trucks were inspected. The conversation then turned to a talk about the new City of Elba website. Mayor Murdock requested input from the committee. Jones and Brunson started a light-hearted conversation about wanting a more modern or professional look. The budget for the page and suggested changes in content were discussed.

The future holds great promise in Elba, and I think over time more business and issues will be brought to the table to in efforts to move forward. A few older citizens were in attendance, but one day I hope there more participation from all types of citizens. This city council was not a room for complaints, but for business. Although that is good, one hopes that citizens will speak up for what they want to see in their town. Everyone wants some sort of change for the better, and the city council meetings are a great place to start. Who can help you make a change in your city better than those who help run it?

City council meetings also help you stay informed. Elba’s City Council was not just strictly business. Community news of interest was also shared.  For example, Jones announced that a local church was having a football camp on July 20. They are bringing professional players, as well as some coaches from North Alabama, in for the event that starts at 9 a.m. All ages will be welcome, and children are especially encouraged to participate.

Going to a city council meeting is a great way to stay informed on big projects happening in your town, bills that are being sent in, city funds, police reports, and the area’s schools. These meetings aren’t just to help those who run the show. The regularly scheduled meetings can help those who attend be more informed and provide a chance to voice opinions on important items and issues. A productive town needs productive citizens of all walks of life, not just productive leaders.