Sunday, July 18, 2004

Y'all come: Florence Council takes government to the streets

By Brenna R. Kelly
Enquirer staff writer

FLORENCE - Instead of waiting for people to come to the government, Florence is taking the government to the people.

"What we find with most council meetings is that we don't get a large attendance," said Mayor Diane Whalen.

What: Florence Neighborhood Night Out
When: 5 p.m.-7 p.m.
Where: Tuesday: Yealey Drive, near Yealey Elementary School.
Aug. 3: Burgess Lane.
Aug. 17: Orleans Park, St. Louis Boulevard in Orleans subdivision.
Sept. 21: City-owned lot on Woodland Avenue.
So once a month during the summer, city officials take to the streets.

They bring food, drinks, a grill and hold Neighborhood Night Out.

"It's fun," said Whalen, who started the events three years ago, "and you get to hear what people are thinking."

Council members, the mayor, department heads and police are all on hand to answer questions that residents probably wouldn't come to city council meetings to ask.

"We are all so busy with everything," Whalen said, "unless there's an issue that directly affects or has impact on us or our neighborhood we don't ask questions, we don't come."

But residents flock to the night outs.

"I am the designated dispenser of hamburgers and hot dogs," said Councilman Mel Carroll, who dons an apron and stands next to the grill.

There are also soft drinks, cookies, police cars and fire trucks.

The events usually turn into a block party, with neighbors chatting with neighbors instead of just waving hello.

"People are hungry for interaction with their neighbors," Carroll said.

The events also give city officials a way to get information directly to residents.

Last year, in the Farmview subdivision, residents were concerned about a new development they heard was going to be low-income housing. City officials took plans showing what the development really was.

They also get information. During a night out in Pleasant Valley, council members learned water was eroding back yards in the area.

"We didn't know anything about that until they brought it to our attention," Carroll said.


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