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District Six Town Hall engages Americus community

AMERICUS — Town hall meetings are meant to bring constituents together to ask questions of their elected leaders, share their ideas, and just simply engage. The very first town hall meeting was held in 1633, in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Town halls emerged as a form of government democracy. Recently, city Council member Daryl Dowdell sponsored a gathering of District Six constituents using this engagement tool. Over 50 people met at the Rees Park Economic Development Center to hear updates, understand services, and voice their opinions.

With multiple social media tools, minimizing face-to-face communications is almost welcomed in today’s society; however, town halls boost appeal for the community and its leaders. The session did no less than that as it dazzled attendees with seven department leaders bringing forth introductions to their service groups and processes while at the same time providing valuable, “Did You Know?” items. For example, Natural Gas Director David Wooden highlighted an existing “Main Street Energy Financing Program” (zero percent interest) where homeowners of single-family dwellings might finance the purchase and installation of natural gas energy star residential tank and tank-less water heaters and combination gas heating units. He shared, “to help our valued customers control home energy costs, we have a water heater ‘swap out’ program. If you are an existing gas customer with an electric water heater and will agree to replace it with a gas water heater, we will give you a 40-gallon natural gas water heater free. You are only responsible for the cost of installation. For those customers that already have a natural gas water heater that needs replacing, we will sell you a new 40-gallon water heater at our cost.”

City Manager Charles Coney comments, “This is our third community town hall in the past few months, and I am pleased to see the inquisitive turn-outs and their receiving of our information. Maneuvering through government can seem mysterious, and we offer these gatherings as a change to provide transparency of our work along with why we make the decisions we do.” The town hall format solicits questions and observations based upon conventional thinking while prompting unconventional thinking for the solutions to problems that surface. The facilitated Q&A period at the end allowed innovative ideas and clever perspectives to flow as department heads spoke directly to the customers, the citizens.

Panelists at this Town Hall included, City Manager Charles Coney; Director of Tourism Nicole Kirksey; Director of Finance Diadra Powell; Police Chief Mark Scott; Main Street Director Qaijuan Willis; Chief Building Official Roger Willis; Public Works Water & Sewer Superintendent Chris Wooden; and Natural Gas Director David Wooden.

“I encourage our leaders and potential leaders to bridge the gap between government and the citizens with formal settings like this and even informal interactions,” responds Council member Dowdell. During the town hall, he shared his background having grown up in neighboring DeSoto and how he sees his elected role from a public servant perspective. “We’re here to address the issues that matter and create a sense of community.”

The final delivery by Director of Tourism Nicole Kirksey addressed the question in the community, “What is there to do in Americus?” with statistical data such as hotel/motel tax figures year-to-date through July at $207,677 (an $11K increase from last year this time) with over 10K visitors having already come to Americus. The city has even more events, festivals, and opportunities planned between now and the end of the year. “As a state-certified regional visitor information center (the largest and most interactive one in Southwest Georgia), we encourage everyone to stop by and allow us to help plan your local events, whether they are weddings, family reunions, or just visits. Let us be a part of your planning,” Kirksey said.

Everyone is reminded of the upcoming events:  “Taste of Sumter” on Sept. 26; “Plains Peanut Festival” on Sept. 28; “Andersonville Historic Fair” on Oct. 19 & 20. These events draw thousands to Americus & Sumter County.

Other department heads were present in support of their colleagues. Noted Town Hall attendees were Americus City Council members Juanita Wilson (District One) and Kelvin Pless (District Five); former Americus Mayor Bill McGowan; DeSoto City Council member Doretha Dowdell; Sumter County Co-Administrator Rayetta Volley; along with special VIPs, the citizens of Americus.

At the conclusion, Dowdell thanked everyone for attending and offered himself for direct contact as their representative. He also welcomed them to attend council meetings. The Agenda Setting Meeting is held the Thursday after the second Monday with the regular council beeting to be held the following Thursday. September’s Agenda Setting Meeting was held at 6 p.m. Sept. 12 in the Council Chambers at the Public Safety Building (119 S. Lee St.) and the regular council meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday.