Town hall meeting a good start

Published 7:00 am Friday, April 1, 2016


I was pleased with the turnout at the town hall meeting in Bogalusa last week. I hope it’s the beginning of a series of meetings that involve community members and elected officials, because meetings like this can spur creative ideas, they can also help both public and private officials see eye-to-eye on matters.

I’ve gone to public meetings for years, and no matter where I am, I have seen public officials and citizens disagree over things they probably could have worked out together, had they cooperated and talked the issues through. Of particular note was the call for better code enforcement.

In every town I’ve lived in (including Picayune) lax code enforcement has been a No. 1 concern, although it shouldn’t be. Any city can organize a volunteer code enforcement team, train them, arm them with citation forms and set them loose upon the streets. Some cities have such organizations.

Of course, once dozens of citations have been issued, not infrequently to the elderly or disabled or those otherwise unable to care for their property, another sort of complaint arises — harassment and bullying. For what it’s worth, I think it might be better and politically easier for neighborhood organizations — say, a local church group — to tackle blight and overgrown yards and similar issues. We’re seeing just this sort of cooperation after the flooding, so there’s no reason to think it can’t be sustained.

Beyond the airing of grievances, I think the meeting was a success because it’s always good to get people to talk about and think about teamwork and progress. While every community I have ever lived in has problems, the communities that are the healthiest also have various methods that facilitate good dialog between community leaders and elected officials.

Besides town hall meetings, one good avenue for these sorts of interactions is the business-after-hours groups I’ve seen in other cities. Usually these groups are led by chambers of commerce, though not always, and they’re held once a month at a different restaurant in the community.

The restaurant will typically offer some light snacks, and business and community leaders will come together for informal conversation, news and announcements. These meetings typically don’t have any set agenda aside from some opening remarks at the start of the meeting, so they don’t depend on a lot of organization and preparation, but the informal setting can be a great conduit for sharing and conversation between people who may not otherwise meet face to face.

Whatever happens in the future, last week’s meeting was a good start. While many of Bogalusa’s problems will require much money and machinery to correct, it’s nice to know there are a few things that only require cooperation and clearly, we have that.