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Citizens town hall is Tuesday
In the City Council chambers, only a small stretch of carpet and a dais stand between elected officials and the community.
Still, despite the lack of a substantial physical barrier, many islanders have said they feel disconnected from the decision making process.
And although new faces at City Hall have infused hope into a political climate recently marked by distrust, some citizens want to pull the rug and with it city government just a little bit closer.
There are good people on the council, said American Legion Adjutant Fred Scheffler. But theres no forum where the ordinary citizens can have a one-on-one dialogue with the people theyve elected.
Hoping to spark that dialogue, Scheffler and others have organized a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the American Legion Hall on Bucklin Hill Road.
Several council members and the mayor are expected to attend the event, which will be moderated by islander and Kitsap Newsgroup writer Charlie Bermant.
Rather than a structured agenda, the meeting will be driven by audience questions. Questions or suggestions can be submitted via email to email@example.com.
The idea was spawned late last year by islanders Rod Stevens and Dennis Vogt, who scheduled a town meeting at Grace Episcopal Church before later canceling.
We had a fair amount of support, Stevens said. We also had a fair amount of pushback. The intent was to create a dialogue about the role of city government and how citizens can help support the process, but we felt it would be hard to have a positive discussion when there were people saying we shouldnt be having the meeting at all.
Many of those who objected, Stevens said, did so on the grounds that problems at City Hall dont exist or have in many cases been overblown.
Not among that crowd, Scheffler called Stevens and offered to help organize a meeting at the American Legion.
Both felt the venue might bring out segments of the population that dont regularly attend council meetings.
Someone asked me why not City Hall? Stevens said. I thought it was very important to have the meeting in a different setting so that the community could really feel like it owned the event.
Similar events have been held irregularly in the past. Community members called a town meeting last spring to discuss Winslow Tomorrow, and the various council wards used to host their neighborhood discussions.
Should this event prove successful, Scheffler said it could lead to more town meetings at the American Legion in the future.
Part of the need, he said, is due to the limited communication between community members and officials at council meetings.
Public comments are typically limited to two or three minutes per person, depending on how many people have signed up to speak at a given meeting; though the trend is shifting, the council has had a long-standing policy of not responding to public comments.
Council members, many of whom said they will attend Tuesdays meeting, said they too would welcome more collaborative discussions with the community.
This is one of my priorities, Council Chair Bill Knobloch said. When I ran one of the issues that I said was important to me was dealing with neighborhood problems sometimes, you have to sit and listen.
Though he expects some pointed questions, Knobloch said he isnt worried about being put on the spot.
I dont have a problem with that, he said. If a question is inappropriate or unanswerable, its okay to say I dont have an answer. You just make sure you get one.
Councilwoman Kim Brackett shared Knoblochs enthusiasm.
Ill be there, absolutely, Brackett said. Im all for accountability and transparency in government and I think this is a great way to get information.
Mayor Darlene Kordonowy will be on hand as well.
These are changing times, Kordonowy said. There are a lot of important decisions to be made and I look forward to hearing from the community.
Councilwoman Debbie Vancil said she hopes the tone of the meeting will remain positive.
Im more concerned about this community now than I ever have been, she said. This is a big year.
Organizers said they are trying to ensure the event will be televised, though no decision has yet been made.
They also stressed that the event is designed to assist, not tear down, those at City Hall.
It should be as congenial as possible, Scheffler said. We all live on this island together.
The town hall meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the American Legion Hall on Bucklin Hill Road. For more information call Fred Scheffler at 842-2100. Questions and suggestions can be emailed to Charlie Bermant at firstname.lastname@example.org.