In the “critical community conversations” series he’s organizing this summer, City Councilman Eddie Davis said he wants to be sure the community’s voices are heard.
During his first planning meeting for the series Wednesday afternoon, he heard some.
“Ideas and suggestions have come from the community,” said Durham resident James Chavis. “Next thing we know, they sit on the shelf.
“Find a solution and do the solution – do the followup and make sure the community is involved,” Chavis said.
Chavis was one of three city residents at the meeting, along with two other council members and two from the Durham school board. (Davis had invited Durham County commissioners, but the meeting conflicted with their work session on next year’s county budget.)
Community conversations are Davis’ idea, as a way to bring issues critical to the Durham public – such as police-community relations – into the open and prevent the sort of confrontations and violence that have broken out in Baltimore, Ferguson, Mo., and other cities in the past year.
Davis mentioned police-civilian relations and the criminal-justice system – particularly “second-chance” opportunities for young offenders – as possible topics for conversations.
Police and courts, though, were barely mentioned again as the planning conversation ranged wide. Davis also suggested education and economic development to benefit all segments of the city, and Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden brought up families, “which are the basic foundation of community.”
Resident Sheryl Smith said children feel unsafe at school, and she and resident Gwyn Silver said schools need to do a better job of communicating with parents. School Board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said it’s “critical” to frame the conversations “with authentic facts about the systemic issues of (racial) disparity that we have ... and acknowledge those as a concern to everyone.”
Chavis complained that nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity may build affordable houses in low-income communities, but ignore the community when seeking prospective buyers. School Board member Natalie Beyer said gentrification is an issue that needs discussing.
Councilman Steve Schewel said he supported “free-floating” conversations instead of setting topics in advance.
“If we have too many topics people may feel like they’re being steered,” he said.
The group appeared settled on holding conversations on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. and providing food, but left formats and dates to be determined at more planning sessions in June. Chavis had a final suggestion, for any public officials taking part:
“We’re all Durhamites,” Chavis said. “Take your titles and throw them out the window – come there as a person with interest.”