Mayor Sue Catron's innovative "Coffee Cup Conversations" could be an extremely important tool in bridging the gap between the powers that be, and the people who put them there.
Voters across the state – and indeed, the country – are increasingly complaining that elected officials are unresponsive to their queries and their needs. They report that when they call to lodge a complaint or make a suggestion, their phone calls go unreturned, or voice mailboxes are full. If they get a response at all to an email, it's almost always a form letter – one of a handful the official's staffers choose to best fit the circumstances. The Daily Press has seen several of these lately from state- or federal-level officials.
And then there's the fact that some "public servants" refuse to face the public. In a way, they can hardly be blamed; there's always someone in the audience who wants to raise Cain, sometimes without provocation. But the fact is, these people chose to run for office; they've pledged to serve their constituents, and those who refuse to deal with the public aren't worth the ballots their names were printed on.
When Catron initiated her program, she promised to listen. That doesn't mean she will accede to the wishes of everyone who attends these meetings, but at least she will hear their concerns, and under ideal circumstances can relay them to the City Council. Of course, city councilors would do well to attend these meetings, so they can hear first-hand from the people of their wards.
In the first meeting, held Tuesday morning at The Drip, Catron heard comments about street lights that are too bright, or are placed in areas that could cause problems for night drivers – or perhaps pedestrians. Directional signage was also discussed; these would be important in helping visitors find their way from downtown to highways and perhaps attractions around the county. More than a few visitors, and even residents, have been confused by the various highways wending their way through the area.
One matter that may need immediate discussion is the tendency of customers of nearby businesses to use the parking lot of the splash pad. It's not an issue right now, but when the weather warms up and the pad opens around Memorial Day weekend, children dashing to and fro could be endangered by moving vehicles.
Catron said some good ideas were presented by attendees, and she even described it as "a lot like a family gathered around the dining table," adding that it was casual and fun. That's good news for anyone who hopes to see Tahlequah grow and progress well into the future.
And there's another advantage: These meetings will be held at various locations, the second and fourth Tuesday each month from 8:30 to 10 a.m. That means area residents will be able to check out some local businesses with which they may not have been familiar. Here's the schedule to date: Jan. 28, Out West Café; Feb. 11, Bryant’s Daylight Donuts; Feb. 25, Sunrise Donuts; March 10, Kawi Café; and March 24, Morgan’s Bakery.
TDP will be staffing many of these, but we'd also like feedback from those who attend the meetings. And attend you should – participation is part of what makes this community special.