A day after hold a special City Council Meeting (Friday 9am) and special Board of Estimates & Contracts Meeting (Friday 9:30am), both in the City Council Chambers, passed authorization for the City of Mount Vernon to agree to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s consent order, paying a fine of $40,000 for the environmental concerns at Memorial Field, the City Council and comptroller hold a Town Hall Meeting, Saturday afternoon.
Town hall meetings or town hall forums are a way for local and national politicians to meet with their constituents, either to hear from them on topics of interest or to discuss specific upcoming legislation or regulation. With all the misinformation, fake news and alternative facts flooding the internet, not to mention the powerful spin machine of the Thomas Administration, the Council and Comptroller thought it was time to take their message to the streets and hold a series of town hall meeting. This was just the first of many more to come possibly quarterly.
The great thing about this Town Hall was even though it took place in the City Council Chambers, it gave more of a chance for the Council and residents to interact or respond to each other than the format of a City Council Meeting, where the residents speak and then the Council responds at the end, but neither have a chance to respond back and some leave feeling their issues are not being heard or addressed.
“Today’s Town Hall forum was surprisingly informative,” Talbert E. Thomas. “I would definitely embrace having additional sessions conducted like the one today. In the future could we look to get all of our elected officials–including the mayor–in the same room, at the same time for the sake of fairness and greater transparency with a display of statesmanship rather than rancor?”
Over 100 Mount Vernon resident, stakeholders and taxpayers filled the City Council Chambers, Saturday afternoon, for a chance to hear from their elected officials and have their questions answered by the entire city council the comptroller. With all the social media and media presence of the mayor, he has done a good job to control the narrative. But Saturday’s Town Hall showed, the town hall forum setting is still one of the best ways for elected officials to meet with and get the word out to their constituents, and for the residents, taxpayers and registered voters to have concerns addressed in public up close and personal.
“Town Hall was well attended and informative,” Brenda L. Crump who was in attendance with her two teenage children, tells BW.
“Great meeting good question. Lots of information was given out. Hope they would keep it going!” Mount Vernon resident, Eddie Johnson wrote on the event’s Facebook page.
While I agree, with Johnson and there should have been more in 2016, this was not the first Town Hall, where the Comptroller and members of the City Council were involved. Saturday, November 12, 2016, Councilman André Wallace hosted a public forum in his building for the Board of Estimates (Mayor Richard W. Thomas, Council President Marcus A. Griffith and Comptroller Maureen Walker) so they could address the public all together on matters of the 2017 budget and anything else the residents wanted to know. While there was some discrepancy on the Mayor’s absence and him claiming to have never been invited, the town hall meeting went on as planned and many in attendance told BW they left more informed than when the arrived.
“I thought this town hall was very productive and informational,” MVPL Trustee Cathlin Gleason tells BW! “What was one of the most encouraging things is seeing new faces as supposed to seeing the same few faces that show up for everything. I was happy how well-organized it was!”
“As a resident of Mt. Vernon for 48 years I believe that the level of unbalance that is taking place will turn our city into a better city,” Cynthia Turnquest-Jones, Founder of Tha Brown Urban Mother Partnership (Tha B.U.M.P.) who just hosted Let Girls Learn Day in partnership with the MVPL, Saturday, March 25th, tells BW. “With hope on a tightrope to not only be a good city but a great city that abides by the charter. Many see it as a stain. I see it as finally, things are being addressed from both sides. I appreciate the City Council for hosting the town hall which is one of the charges from the Women’s March. I also appreciate the efforts of the mayor who is making changes that are uncomfortable, awesome, and questionable. I continue to have faith that both sides will come together as one.”
One thing is for certain as Turnquest-Jones mentioned both sides will have to come together as one if we are ever going to effectively moved the city forward. Mayor Thomas did recently hold a town hall in the Dole Center but some in attendance told BW it came off as more of an unveiling of his cabinet, or introduction to the individuals of his administration and his appointees, than an open public forum that dealt with the much-needed issues.
While I agree with most people’s assessment of Saturday’s Town Hall, it was a great informative open public forum, the division in our city government and well documented, Civil War in City Hall remains obvious and appears to many as a mountain too high to get over. While many insiders say this is nothing new, the fight wasn’t fought in the press and on social media timelines for the world to see and somehow at the end of the day, despite heated differences of opinion, the business of the city managed to get done. Unfortunately, until the residents see our politicians and elected officials make their cases in the same forum, the line in the sand will remain leaving many picking one side over the other.
“I went with an open mindset,” Mount Vernon resident Kevin Bunch tells BW. “It’s apparently clear that this Mayor refuses to work with the city council and comptroller, he constantly puts the residents of the city in danger with his irrational behavior.”
While many may share Mr. Bunch’s opinion, there is at least an equal amount who feel the Council and Comptroller are going out of their way to see the mayor fail. The few times the city has heard from everyone in the same setting, it’s obvious they agree on more than they disagree on and they all are passionate and what’s best for the city, they just have different opinions on how it should be done. In closing I leave you all with this, WE THE PEOPLE have to be more proactive than reactive and stand up and demand from our elected officials what we want and be more involved in how we want to be governed. REAL TALK!