09/24/07 — Last of town hall meetings is set for Tuesday

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Last of town hall meetings is set for Tuesday

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on September 24, 2007 2:09 PM

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners will host the last of six town hall meetings Tuesday at Charles B. Aycock High School.

The format of the meeting, which will run from 6 to 8 p.m., is expected to be much the same as the first five -- a short presentation from county Manager Lee Smith and then a question-and-answer period.

Topics at the earlier meetings have ranged from road repair, to concerns about trash on the side of highways, to the effects of the new solid waste legislation passed by the state General Assembly this year. But the most common questions have focused on county finances, school facilities and the relationship between the commissioners and the school board.

To those questions, Smith and the commissioners have answered that a school funding plan is still a work in progress -- that they are waiting to hear about some of the county's other capital projects, including the needs of the jail, the Department of Social Services, the Health Department and Services on Aging. They are expecting to have a plan together by the end of October.

But so far, the town hall meetings haven't just been county officials talking to residents. They have also been an opportunity for people to share some ideas and concerns with the commissioners.

Here, too, most of the focus has been on the schools, with several people offering thoughts on how the proposed renovations and new buildings could be financed, as well as ideas about what could be done to address issues like the drop-out rate.

Overall, the commissioners said they think that despite the low attendance at many of the meetings, it has been a worthwhile experience.

"I think the town hall meetings have been good," Commissioner Atlas Price said.

Not only has it been good to hear from county residents, he said, but the sessions have also allowed the commission the chance to explain some issues and to dispel some popular rumors.

"The public needs to be informed," Price said. "They need to know what's going on. What happens in local government, happens to all the people. And I have heard some people say they were surprised to learn some things they weren't aware of."

He and the others just wish more people had turned out over the course of the last month, and added the commission is hoping for a good crowd for its final session Tuesday evening.

"This is a good idea," Commission Chairman John Bell said. "We're not going to quit just because of a lack of attendance. It's just been good to hear from people, and if just one person has a concern, to me, that's important.

"We want to address all these issues. We're doing this to get the people to trust their elected officials and talk to us when they have concerns."

The commissioners have said they plan to continue the town hall meetings in the spring -- possibly with a slight change in format to allow for a little more give-and-take and open discussion during the two-hour forums.

"I think it'll be better in March or April -- whenever we do it -- but even if we don't have a large showing, we need to continue," Commissioner Efton Sager said. "This has definitely been worthwhile."