Tuesday night of this week I attended a town hall meeting in Marietta almost entirely by accident. I drove through the blinding rain to Franklin Road to fulfill contractual obligations in regards to a focus group. What I stumbled upon though, was a vibrant meeting of community members, religious leaders, council members, and the Marietta Police discussing the revitalization and crime of Franklin Road. If you are unaware (as I was) Marietta passed a $68 million dollar bond issue to revitalize the dilapidated Franklin Road area. The bond will essentially raze buildings (including apartment complexes) in order for new buildings to be built as well as areas for business. In addition to the downside of some apartments being lost in the process, the bond will essentially raise taxes for Marietta residents. However, it should be said that there is no anticipated owner occupied property lost in the redevelopment process.
However, the issue at hand at this particular meeting was less about taxes or even lack of homes and more about children, crime and safety. There was less fingerpointing and more citizens asking how they could unify to combat the crime in their surroundings. It ended with direct questioning of two council members and with a plan to meet again with more community involvement at the next meeting.
The meeting was hosted at Christ Harvesters Global Church Outreach and two clergy members organized a panel of police officers in attendance to answer questions and essentially brainstorm together about how crime could be combated in a more comprehensive manner. The ministers served as facilitators to the discussion, but began the entire meeting by placing the responsibility of preventing and addressing crime upon the community’s shoulders- not the cops. I was truly impressed. In so many settings in the wake of crime there is so much blame placed (sometimes fairly, most of the time not) on the police force’s shoulders.
Throughout the meeting, the members of the police force in attendance responded to direct questioning, encouraged the community members to call upon them and inform them as often as they are able. While well attended, there was some complaint that the meeting had only a few actual residents of Franklin Road. While there were flyers dropped in complexes, phone calls made to religious community members, and social media engaged by the church, the sad fact is the average citizen rarely attends these town halls unless they are unhappy and ready to air grievances.
And there were a few complaints as well.
Complaints of no park, sidewalks, and mismanagement of funds by the City Council were made, answered, and all were invited back. Like the police, the two council members present, Michelle Cooper Kelly and Phillip M. Goldstein, answered direct questions in regards to the bond and crime in the area. When directly questioned if the people of Franklin Road mattered to Councilman Goldstein, he answered affirmatively, in both word and deed. (His and Councilmember Kelly’s presence there was not part of the panel nor was it part of the program.) Clearly the fact that these two council members showed up to a townhall, on a torrential rainy night, on what many would assert is a questionable side of town to answer complaints from an audience that was not particularly favorable to them illustrates what Goldstein asserted- Franklin Road residents matter.
The challenge that Marietta and in particular these folks will have to weather is that the redevelopment will bring about change- some they want, others for which they will not have prepared. However, this is the first step to revitalizing the area: the engagement of the people, not the passing of a bond. I gave my card to the Police Sgt. before I left and asked that he let me know when the next meeting will be. I will post it once I have that information.
Marietta citizens should go if you have the time; not to complain, but to watch a community revitalize itself.