(Please note, the civic assembly was February 22 but the story is important to share even if the event is over. The assembly continues on.)
Bowling Green and Warren County residents have been heard through their input into the first-ever Bowling Green Civic Assembly, posting more than 800 statements about important issues facing the community.
Now, whether residents participated in the online town hall portion of the civic assembly or not, they were invited to hear from local leaders and learn about the issues and ideas that can move the community forward. The event occurred last night in Bowling Green.
Step two of the civic assembly, put together by the Daily News, the American Assembly at Columbia University and the pol.is civic engagement platform, is Thursday’s in-person town hall at the La Gala event venue downtown next to Circus Square Park. It will be followed by a community workshop at La Gala on Friday afternoon.
“We’re focusing the whole evening on discussing the results and the issues of the virtual process in which more than 2,000 residents participated,” said Sam Ford, a Knight News Innovation Fellow at Columbia University who lives in Bowling Green. “I hope it’s a conversation of depth that covers a whole range of topics.
“A lot of different leaders have committed to coming. I hope they will tell us about some things in the works that will address some of the issues raised in the online town hall. If people want to get a good pulse of what issues are important in the community, they should come out.”
The in-person town hall starts at 5 p.m. with an hourlong informal conversation. Food will be available for purchase from the BG Cheese Wagon food truck. Information about the results of the online town hall will be available during this informal period.
The formal programming starts at 6, with a 30-minute discussion of the civic assembly process led by representatives of Columbia University, the Daily News and pol.is.
Called “the first of its kind” by American Assembly Vice President Joe Karaganis for its use of both online and in-person elements, the civic assembly is an example of how newspapers are helping drive conversations about public policy.
“One of the important things newspapers can and should be doing is solutions journalism,” said Joe Imel, Daily News director of media operations. “We’re connecting our readers with the people who can have an impact.”
Toward that end, the final two-hour portion of the town hall will involve many local elected officials and decision-makers as the event is divided into three main areas: quality of life; policing, crime and drug policy/enforcement; and education and workforce development.
“Most of the issues raised in the online town hall fit into those three areas,” said Ford. “Quality of life will touch on topics such as housing affordability and how we’re managing the growth of the city and county. In the crime and policing area, there are a lot of concerns about the opioid epidemic. In education and workforce development, we’ll look at how much of education is workforce preparation and how much is preparation for being a good citizen.
“It will give leaders a chance to respond, and it’s a chance for people attending to ask questions or make points about topics they’re interested in.
One of the participants in the crime and policing section, Warren County Attorney Amy Milliken, sees the town hall as a valuable exercise.
“I think all the county officials are very interested in hearing the concerns and addressing what we can,” Milliken said. “Many of the issues are out of our control; but what is good about this type of exercise is that we can see what the community wants and needs, and then see how best to address it with state and federal officials.”
One of the participants in the quality of life session, City-County Planning Commission of Warren County Executive Director Ben Peterson, hopes the town hall leads to better understanding of some complex issues.
“I hope it leads to an opportunity to have constructive conversations about community issues that often have no simple majority answers,” Peterson said. “It would be great if it leads to an opportunity to educate and be educated on a vast array of topics that span all areas of government, social services and beyond.”
After Thursday’s town hall, Friday’s 2 p.m. community workshop will focus less on information gathering and more on finding solutions.
“The community workshop will dive a little deeper into the issues,” said Ford. “We hope to have some passionate people come on Friday afternoon, people who want to be a part of rolling up their sleeves and working on some of these things.”
More information about the civic assembly process and results of the online town hall can be found at bgdailynews.com/civicassembly.