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5th Ward councilmen hear variety of questions

Jefferson City 5th Ward Councilmen Larry Henry (standing, rear) and Ralph Bray meet with area residents Saturday at the McClung Park Pavilion.

Jefferson City 5th Ward Councilmen Larry Henry (standing, rear) and Ralph Bray meet with area residents Saturday at the McClung Park Pavilion. Photo by Bob Watson.

They began with 32 chairs. By the end of the morning, 68 people attended Saturday morning’s 5th Ward Community Meeting at the McClung Park Pavilion.

“I had no idea what to expect,” Councilman Ralph Bray told the News Tribune afterward. “I am so happy that so many people took the time to come and participate in this, and take advantage of this opportunity. ...

“Certainly, we’re going to have to do this more often in the 5th Ward.”

Bray and freshman Councilman Larry Henry organized the two-hour meeting.

“Ralph and I (put) together a list of topics that we were looking forward to discussing,” Henry said after the meeting. “We knew transit would come up.

“We knew we’d have a discussion on the conference center. And the budget — those are the three hot-button issues right now.”

The council continues to look at two options that bidders have proposed for a conference center, both men reported — and said they understand the public’s reluctance to subsidize the project.

Much of the residents’ focus was on Jefftran, the city-operated bus service that, last spring, faced a hefty budget cut.

“The funding was restored,” Bray reminded the audience. “I believe I can speak for the city council — we and the staff are going to look at Jefftran, inside and out.”

Longtime resident Sandra Robinson was one of several people who encouraged the council to improve bus services.

“How can we go about having more money (for transit) so the disabled, senior citizens, students and people who don’t have their own transportation can get around?” she asked, adding that current transit administration “is doing a fine job.”

Businessman Steve Dinolfo cautioned that, with a heavy reliance on federal subsidies — and the U.S. government’s unpredictable financial future — “it’s important to look at the dollars and the efficiency — where do you draw the line?”

Another man, who said he relies on buses because he hasn’t driven a vehicle “for 44 years,” said city leaders, and Jefftran critics, should “put your keys in a box for a month, if not two, and get a ride from a family member or friend sometimes, but use the bus the rest of that time for transportation — then come back and decide whether or not we should have transit for people who do not drive.”

Michelle Scott Huffman, pastor of the Table of Grace church, noted transit “is important to all of us,” but many in Jefferson City “don’t feel the trauma that others do when they hear that transit might be cut, again.”

Bray said: “We would like to increase ridership and increase hours — but the discussions about that will not take place, probably, until the fall,” after the 2013-14 budget is approved and a conference center decision is made.

And 3rd Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner, who sat through the meeting but didn’t speak during it, told the News Tribune that transit, like a lot of issues facing city government, is a difficult one.

“It’s a balancing act — how do you provide the services that people want, and pay for them at the same time?” he said. “People will say they want something — but they’re not willing to step up and fund it.”

Public works also dominated the meeting — especially street and sidewalk repairs.

Although the city tries to maintain and renovate streets on a 15-20 year cycle, several residents said their streets hadn’t been addressed in 40 years or more.

And, they said, there’s confusion over who repairs sidewalks.

While the city charter makes the homeowner responsible for maintenance and repairs, the city in the past few years has used sales tax revenues to improve some sidewalks, and more are in the planning stages.

One man asked about crime, and why police aren’t reacting more quickly.

Jefferson City police Sgt. Joe Mathern said the department investigates complaints as quickly as possible.

“Often,” he explained, the department will use plain clothes or undercover officers to monitor a crime-related complaint, and “you won’t even know we’re there until we take action.”

Capt. Chuck Walker added, police are trying to do more with children, to help them avoid criminal activities as adults.

“We have to change our mindset about the way we do business in our community,” Walker said.

Henry said he learned “that community involvement means everything to us. This was a good turnout for us (and) hopefully, the rest of the council gets on board and has (similar) meetings.”

Freshman 4th Ward Councilman Carlos Graham said he and Carrie Carrol, the other 4th Ward representative, already have been talking about a similar public meeting.

“I was able to hear some concerns that constituents have, and we need to hear those concerns,” he said after Saturday’s meeting, “so that we can keep in the forefront of what needs to take place, to move Jefferson City forward, in a positive direction.”

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