Monday, June 05, 2006

They didn't want to pave paradise and put up a parking lot

New Kensington City Council, June 5, 2006The New Kensington City Council held its regular monthly meeting tonight with about 75 citizens present to advocate for protecting the playground for young children behind City Hall.

Over the past month there has been a lot of activity to mobilize residents to support this playground. There have been letters to the editor of the Valley News Dispatch and at least two articles (here and here).

Part of a mosaic inside the New Kensington City HallThere was no business on the agenda for tonight's meeting related to closing the playground, so the City Council heard from citizens after it had accomplished the scheduled business for the evening. Before hearing from the citizens, Mayor Link explained that the City Council wanted to preserve a playground for the children, that there had never been a proposal to eliminate the basketball courts, and that the Council was concerned about improving the playgrounds for children and making them better.

Councilman Regoli acknowledged that he had been quoted accurately in the newspaper, but explained that his statements had been about two separate issues.

The citizens who addressed the council spoke about the importance of the playground, and expressed their gratitude to the City Council for the explanation of what it was and was not doing. Nevertheless there were serious concerns from the citizens to ensure that the energy for resolving problems with the playground get resolved.

In unrelated business, Mayor Link also drew attention to a petition in support of rail service between New Kensington/Arnold and Pittsburgh.

This was the first time I had ever observed the New Kensington City Council. Readers of this blog have been following my notes about Tarentum's Borough Council, and I was interested to see how the style of Tarentum's government compared with another local government.

The City Council of New Kensington had four councilmen and the mayor - a smaller council than that in Tarentum, yet governing a larger municipality. I was impressed by the climate of mutual respect between the council members, a climate that fostered a healthy and respectful relationship between the council and the citizenry.

In spite of all that people have told me about how New Kensington was in trouble, my perception of the community at this meeting was very different. People were working together with a positive spirit, and there was a lot of positive energy in the room. I was impressed by the involvement of a number of the local clergy in the effort to ensure the continuation of recreational facilities and programs for the children. I can see why people love New Ken.

The Council meeting was organized very well. The agenda had the full text of each motion to be made. The Council used a consent agenda to streamline business and be able to take non-controversial actions very expeditiously.

My one criticism of the meeting was that the time for citizen comments on the agenda was labelled "Audience Participation." The terminology used did not reflect what was actually happening. The citizens present were not an audience, but actual participants in the democratic process. This meeting was not a TV talk show like Oprah or Phil Donahue, and in fact Mayor Link did not run it on the model of those "audience participation" formats. It was clear throughout the meeting that the elected officials were listening to the citizenry and ready to enter into partnership to work on solving the city's problems.

The next meeting to work on the playground issues will be June 15 at 6:00 PM at Mt. Calvary Church.

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