Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias Mayor William Radigan made a suggestion at Monday's City Council meeting that receives our full support.

We may live in an era of fax machines, e-mail and cell phones, but nothing can replace talking one-on-one to someone, in Radigan's view.

He has proposed that the city council find time in its schedule to hold periodic "town hall meetings" to give the public the chance to informally meet with aldermen and discuss issues.

There would be nothing formal or stuffy about these gatherings, and no official city action would be taken. There, instead, would be lots of give and take, lots of communicating and listening.

Radigan noted that the last place he would want to hold these meetings would be in city hall, in front of the glare of the cable television cameras in the meeting room.

We have to agree with him on that point. We'll never stop arguing that the public has the right to know what public officials are up to, but in the case of these meetings, the presence of television cameras may serve as a deterrent in at least two ways: people may feel uncomfortable talking about issues in front of a camera, and some members of the public may just stay home to watch the meeting unfold on their televisions without ever providing the council the input it desires.

We picture these town hall meetings to be very similar to the Cracker Barrel meetings that our legislators hold in the community every winter while the state House and Senate are in session in Pierre.

These meetings are highly informal, with the public sipping coffee and munching on cookies between questions and answers.

What's more important than the informal nature of these meetings, however, is what is ultimately accomplished � citizens and elected officials keep in touch in a most effective, intimate way.

The idea of town hall meetings, we suspect, didn't just occur to Radigan on a whim. In late February, the city council and staff held a day-long retreat at The Bluffs Clubhouse to simply sit down and brainstorm.

Here are just a few of the issues that were batted around that day:

* Transportation facilities � General traffic patterns, public transportation, airport use, downtown to Cherry Street, Crawford to Chestnut, defining corridors.

* Schools, parks and open spaces � Joint use possibilities with public schools and state facilities, need for parking and public transportation, city image, working with Clay County on parks.

* City image, aesthetics and historic preservation � The gateways to Vermillion and the public's first impression, importance of a positive image, tourism and visitors, importance of historical image, better promotion of existing facilities, areas of critical concern, downtown parking, convention facilities/opportunities, inventory of aesthetics and image-defining areas.

It wouldn't take long to add a few more points of discussion to this list:

* Vermillion's downtown. Can't anything be done to revitalize the city's Main Street? Or can we only watch helplessly as business after business falls off the vine?

* Cable television. It's been about a year since the city council granted a cable television franchise to Mediacom. In that time, they've added six channels to the basic cable package. But the quality of reception still leaves much to be desired. As Radigan so appropriately stated Monday, "It stinks."

* A new fire hall. The city will be opening bids soon on construction of a new fire hall to house the community's fire trucks and ambulance. What should the council do if the bids come in too high? How should the facility be redesigned (should that be necessary) to meet budget goals?

It also wouldn't hurt to talk about some of the positive things going in the city. Operation Pride, the new school addition, the new veterans memorial all are serving to enhance the community.

It's time to turn the process used by the city council inside out. The retreat earlier this year, we're sure, gave aldermen an opportunity to sincerely communicate with one another.

Now it's the public's turn to communicate.

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