Three topics - Jefferson City's animal shelter, its transit system and the possibility of a new conference center - dominated the discussion at the Fourth Ward community meeting on Saturday.
About 60 residents turned out to share their views with Fourth Ward council members Carrie Carroll and Carlos Graham. The meeting was held at the Capital West Christian Church Event Center on Fairgrounds Road.
Although a few of the questioners put Carroll and Graham on the spot - needling them about various positions the two office holders have taken - many participants also mentioned their appreciation for their community service. But the loudest rounds of applause came when some members of the crowd expressed frustration that city officials are not responsive and when other residents argued bus system funding must not be cut to balance the budget.
Several city department heads were on hand at Saturday's meeting to talk about various city projects, but the bulk of the meeting was spent responding to citizen's
questions and concerns.
Doyle Sager, paster at First Baptist Church, spoke about the need for a "vital" transit system.
"I really believe the transit issue is a moral justice issue," he said. "We do not want to cultivate a two-tiered society of drivers and non-drivers. We should never balance the budget on the backs of people who can least afford it."
Sager asked the two council members to create a citizens' commission to examine transit issues in depth, and both said they supported that idea.
"I think a transit commission makes sense," Carroll said.
"My goal is to see transit flourish and expand so we can improve ridership," Graham added.
Marge VanHorn also spoke in favor of preserving - even expanding - busing options.
She noted taxis at $12 per trip aren't an option for most low-income people and said medical personnel are worried about how their patients will get to appointments. A mid-day break in service would be a "disaster," she said.
Other people attended the meeting to simply say the bus system is important to them.
Penelope Quigg, who lives on Blair Drive, asked her council representatives to consider reopening Chestnut Street to two-way traffic. She noted the street was made a one-way street during a construction project, a decision that was never reversed.
"What is the resolution to Chestnut going to be?" she asked.
She complained many student illegally park on the street today and she particularly didn't like the idea of closing the street to vehicular traffic entirely.
"That's very concerning to me," she said. "I think it would further isolate Lincoln University."
Carroll said the University favors closing the street to make it safer for students to cross campus. It's a position she supports.
"They are trying to make their campus more pedestrian-friendly," Carroll said.
Tim Stallman on Melody Drive quizzed Carroll about her support of the conference center, calling it a "boondoggle" and a potential "white elephant."
"Why push for a conference center when it's obvious most citizens are against it?" he asked.
The two argued about what citizens intended when they voted increase the lodging tax, with Carroll saying residents want the money to be used for a conference center and Stallman insisting it was meant to promote tourism.
"A minority (of people) agree with you," Carroll said. "I am committed to a conference center. We are the Capital City. I am very proud of that."
Ed Story raised concerns about the animal shelter. He didn't like the idea of a "hand-picked" advisory committee of local veterinarians. He questioned the city's choice of gas to euthanize animal, which he thinks is a slow death.
"We believe it should be run with sensitivity, kindness and caring," Story said.
Michael Riley, who was the city's attorney in the late 1960s, was particularly annoyed with city government.
"In 20 years, I've never seen a city government less responsive," he said.
Riley agreed with Quigg that Chestnut should remain a "vital artery." And he also complained that the city's animal shelter is being run for the convenience of the employees, not the public. He also decried the idea that the city could save costs by shuttering night court.
He said years ago he and his colleagues vowed: "We are going to make things user-friendly for the people."
Night court was one way to help the average working person so they didn't have to take off work to resolve problems, he said.
"I'd like to wake up some morning and read in the newspaper: "Jefferson City is going to do something for the public today!'" he said.
Others defended the dedication Carroll and Graham show by serving in public office.
"I think these town hall meetings are healthy," said Arthur Brown.
Not everyone always agrees, he said, but the format gives everyone a chance to air their opinions.
"The city staff ought to be commended ... the city is becoming more user-friendly," he said.
Glover Brown said he was pleased with the representation on the City Council.
"All of them are very attentive to what the future is going to be in Jefferson City," he said.