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City forum draws comments on accountability

City forum draws comments on accountability

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People talked about everything from racial disparities to potholes during a public forum Thursday that took place online rather than in person.

But accountability in city operations seemed to be one of the common concerns, whether it was expressed as concern over how the city allocates money for affordable housing, or worries that the city is losing talent while failing to emphasize what’s working well.

“Most people want better oversight of community funding,” said Emily Bickle, a participant who was reporting one of the concerns that was raised in her small breakout group.

People need “better accountability in terms of incentives for affordable housing,” said Elise Barrella, speaking for one of the other groups.

All the results will be put before the Winston-Salem City Council as that eight-member group, plus Mayor Allen Joines, meets later in March for a goal-setting workshop.

And the public forum on Thursday is not the only group giving feedback: The city is having separate forums to gauge the views of business leaders, nonprofits, community and neighborhood leaders and others.

The public forum was structured the way many of these type events are, with everyone together at the start and then broken into smaller groups for more individual expression. Then, someone from each group would report back to the general group on what was discussed, with consultants taking notes in the background.

What was different was the online nature of the event: instead of sitting around a table, members of the breakout groups found themselves in smaller Zoom meetings within the larger one.

Most of the concerns raised in the forum have been raised in one form or another in various council meetings: They included such items as providing more affordable housing, redirecting police spending to other needs, curing educational disparities, fixing food deserts, improving streets, stopping floods of low-lying areas, compensating city employees fairly, and many more.

Reparations for racial equity were brought to the table, as well as advocacy for a non-discrimination ordinance to cover sexual orientation as well as gender expression.

Some said the same old community groups shouldn’t be getting public money so that fresh approaches can be tried. One person said that what was needed was more action and fewer studies.

People talked about how the city needs to do a better job so that people are simply able to keep up with what is going on.

Michael Banner said city government and the council are stifling new ideas from coming forward.

“I would think the biggest challenge the city faces is to be open and receptive to new approaches,” he said.

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@wyoungWSJ

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