MUSKEGON, MI – A pandemic with stay-at-home orders, online classrooms, virtual public meetings, cancelled community events, shuttered businesses, and unprecedented election-year discord has left a relationship void between City of Muskegon citizens and their elected officials.
To help bridge the void that has grown in 2020, the Muskegon City Commission and key city hall staff members have embarked on more than a dozen listening sessions with key stakeholders who are integral to city priorities and commission goals. In the final two months of the year, city commissioners have been teamed with a member of the city staff to conduct listening sessions that will provide a pulse of the community and offer an opportunity to answer constituent questions.
“This is an opportunity for city commissioners to ‘reset’ any prior relationships with our friends and neighbors that might have been strained or disrupted from the pandemic, the social unrest and the gnawing uncertainty that we face as individuals and a community,” said Muskegon Mayor Stephen Gawron.
The commission-staff teams will reach out to a variety of groups in hopes of having an hour or two conversation with no more than a dozen people. These are designed to be focus groups preparing city leadership for a critical goal setting session in late January, an annual process that was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 public health restrictions on public meetings.
“Information gathered at the listening sessions will be used to inform the city leaders of significant goals and needed action plans moving forward,” Muskegon Development Services Director LeighAnn Mikesell said. “These meetings are being designed to create honest conversation where we can hear from stakeholders and establish a spirit of collaboration and partnership.”
Specifically, the groups being asked to participate in an initial round of community engagement will have particular interests in the areas of social equity, justice, youth, education and housing. Among the groups being asked to participate are the Muskegon County Social Justice Commission and the Muskegon Young Black Professionals. Other groups will include students and educators from Muskegon and Orchard View public schools, Muskegon Community College, Baker College of Muskegon and Grand Valley State University.
Agencies such as the Boys and Girls Club of the Muskegon Lakeshore and Community enCompass along with groups of major community investors, landlords and real estate agents will be invited to participate in the process.
The conversations are intentionally being kept small and not part of a public meeting so that city commissioners and key city staff can hear honestly from many citizens who many not be comfortable speaking at public meetings nor publicly sharing opinions and reflections on what could be difficult topics.
That is not to say that the general public is being left out of the goal setting process. The City of Muskegon has opened up a public, online survey for which citizen opinions are sought. Find the survey here: Stakeholder Survey | City of Muskegon (muskegon-mi.gov) (https://www.muskegon-mi.gov/stakeholder-survey/)
In addition, anyone can address the Muskegon City Commission at the end of all of its public meetings on topics of general concern and interest to the city. The actual goal setting meeting in January will be open to the public and have opportunity for public input.
“The city will better understand the breadth and depth of the challenges, opportunities, hopes and concerns of our citizens,” Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson said of the listening sessions that are being conducted in accordance with current public health precautions.
The engagement meetings will take place in through the end of the year with city staff creating a public report on the common issues, concerns and solutions that developed from the sessions. The report will help set the agenda for the goal-setting meeting.
“At the end of this process, it is my hope — and that of my fellow commissioners — to rebuild and strengthen trust and foster a willingness to communicate openly, recognizing that as a city we are stronger working together,” Mayor Gawron said.
For additional information, contact:
Mayor Stephen Gawron
Development Services Director LeighAnn Mikesell