08/29/05 — Officials want to talk with neighbors

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Officials want to talk with neighbors

By Renee Carey
Published in News on August 29, 2005 1:48 PM

Mayor Al King and City Manager Joe Huffman know Goldsboro has problems that must be addressed, and that each neighborhood has a different idea of which need is most pressing.

For some residents, it is crime, while others are worried about the trash that litters their streets. In some areas, the priorities are drainage and storm sewers, while other residents are more concerned about street conditions.

So, over the next few months, King and Huffman, along with members of the Goldsboro City Council and city staff, will be going to the city's neighborhoods to talk with the people about their concerns and their priorities for the future of their city.

The first in the series will be Sept. 15 at Walnut and Kornegay streets. Officials will block off the streets and be prepared to not only introduce themselves to the residents, but to listen.

"I think what we are looking for here is a dialogue," Huffman said.

The meetings will begin with a 30-45 minute introduction to the neighborhood meetings program, which will include meeting city officials and staff.

After that, city officials will take general questions.

Then, there will be food and a chance to mingle with neighbors.

After that, city officials hope to offer breakout sessions dealing with specific problems and giving residents the chance to speak to city staff and others about what they see as the priorities and needs in their neighborhood.

Although any resident is welcome at any of the neighborhood meetings, Huffman encouraged citizens to wait for their meeting to be scheduled so they can address the issues that are specific to their location.

The idea is to get as many people as possible to contribute to not only determining what is wrong with the city, but how to fix it.

"This is not about going out and only inviting the people who have lived there a long time, either," Huffman said. "It is a chance to connect with a variety of people."

Many voices from many different perspectives will help city leaders set a direction and, most importantly, get the people involved in their community.

"We are inquiring because they have the answers," Huffman said. "To get the answers, you have to talk to the people who will be part of the solution."

King advised residents not to be shy.

"It is very hard to hurt my feelings," he said. "They are going to say something about stuff we can do something about and stuff that we won't be able to do anything about. The stuff we can do something about is what we are focused on."

Huffman emphasized that residents are not being asked to "tattle" on their neighbors, either. If city officials see illegal activity during their neighborhood stops, they will act on it, but the purpose of the meetings is to address the problems and set a course for a solution, he said.

He said he knows the meetings will be tough.

"We have a really great city, but we still have a lot of work to do," Huffman said.

And he, King, the City Council and the city staff are prepared for the effort required to make the neighborhood meetings project work.

"Sometimes it gets tough," he said. "And that is when most people give up. We just won't quit."

But hearing about problems is not all city officials hope to accomplish. They want to reach out to residents who might need some help or be looking for a new life.

"We are also looking for people who might have been part of the problem in the past," Huffman said.

Getting them to join forces with their neighbors in a positive direction will do more than just improve the community, King said. It could change a life.

"If you give people alternatives and show them a direction, they make different decisions," he said. "We want to help them turn their lives around."

Showing residents where to turn for assistance, and talking about issues that really matter to them, like jobs, is an important part of that process, Huffman said.

"When (Goldsboro police Chief Tim Bell) and I walked around in some neighborhoods, we said 'jobs' and their eyes got a little bigger," he said. "Jobs mattered to them."

King is no stranger to the walk around the city concept. He said he regularly parks his car in a neighborhood and talks to residents about the future.

"I go all over the place," he said. "I have learned that is the best way to find out what is really going on. There is no place in Goldsboro that I am afraid to go."

And he said he meets a lot of people struggling to keep their community safe. He wants them to know they are not alone.

"We have some good people living in some bad neighborhoods," King said. "One of the neighborhoods we visited is already starting to clean up the area. We need to help them."

Pooling resources and increasing dialogue among residents and city staff could be the key to changing the future of the city, King said.

And that is where the priority should be, the people, Huffman said.

"People are the city," he said. "It is not buildings and roads. You can always learn something from anyone. If you don't go out where the action is, you are not going to find out what is going on. We have problems, and we are going to face them."