Memphis City Council Chairman Edmund Ford Jr. says the open house held at City Hall Tuesday (Jan 8) will be his way of reaching out to the public as he presides over the council for 2013.
Ford envisions meetings scheduled on a quarterly basis and he hopes large crowds will attend for what he says is a sincere effort to connect more citizens to City Hall.
"I think it's very important for people to know how their government runs, and especially to get to know their elected officials," said Ford.
But suppose too many people respond?
"Too many is always enough in my point of view," Ford said. "The people suffer when there is a disparity of information about what their government is doing and this is my attempt to address that disparity. This is one particular way that I want to assure that people get the information they need. I'd rather have too many to inform than little to none."
Public outreach calls proved effective for Ford in two recent notable instances. He strongly pushed the public to attend council meetings to voice concerns over the closing of golf courses. He also brought in citizens to speak before an executive session where council members were weighing the fate of the Foote Homes housing development.
While some may challenge the value of such moves by Ford, Council members did, interestingly enough, direct Memphis Housing Authority officials to go back and make sure the public is properly informed about the Foote Homes remodeling plans.
There's a dual-edged purpose to the meet and greets, said Ford.
"Whatever happens this year, and this touches upon the open houses, let's not have bickering and moan sessions," pleaded Ford.
"I've seen it dozens of times. People will show up to complain about an issue, and then when you tell them, 'OK, let's get together next month to try to create some solutions,' eight people show up. It's easy to point the finger, but it's difficult to do the action and the work. If an issue is important to the community, we all have to put some work in."
In particular regard to the African-American community, Ford sees a major need "for economic development, making sure their tax dollars are going back into their community and making sure their respected elected officials are held accountable for everything they do in their elected capacity."
When told that the line about economic development sounded old and tiresome, Ford opened up a bit more.
"We're not the sole contracting officer of the city, people need to know and understand that. That question needs to go to the mayor," he said.
"I've talked about that in terms of (people) needing to know what the office of Contract and Compliance does, and the mayor's office. So if you have problem with minority- and women-owned businesses not getting a fair share of the contracts that the city gives out, that's not an issue for the council," said Ford.
"We can't sign any contract to say that this particular contract goes to a particular group in any way. The City Council appropriates money for something to get done, but it's the mayor's office's decision of who does it. Exclusively!"
Well, does the council have any real power to strengthen the African-American business sector?
"I can't speak for others, but I've done to the best of my ability to educate people about how we actually get economic development into our communities," said Ford, which brings him right back to the open houses.
Ultimately, Ford said, he is committed to wielding the council's gavel in a fair and precise manner.
"There will be issues I'd like to bring to the table that will force me to yield to the vice chairman for a particular motion, because I'll be steadily fighting for my district."