Mary Rayn Taras, an Oakland Community College instructor and a former social studies teacher, shares this April 12 letter with Birmingham Patch. It's a follow-up to comments about safety downtown on weekend evenings that she and others voiced April 9 near the end of a City Commission meeting.
Dear City Commissioners:
Thank you for being willing to listen to my concerns about the direction of Birmingham. I know the hour was late and we were all tired.
I understand that you want to wait for a more complete report on recent events (April 1 gunshot on Merrill Street), but that event is just one in a series of such events. It does not change the reality that there is an uneasy balance between your desire to develop the downtown area and the needs of the citizens of Birmingham to have a civil and peaceful community. I am concerned that Birmingham is becoming more of a destination place than a community where we live and raise children and grandchildren and, yes, go out to dinner and walk about town.
For the record, I did not call for a task force to be formed. I requested a community hearing — not for action immediately, but for listening. I think that calling it a community conversation would be a better term.
It could be formal with people coming to speak before you, but it might be better if it were less formal with people talking in small groups — each led by one or more commissioners.
You have the knowledge of the facts and of the reality of what is possible. Others may have different perceptions of reality. Each has a contribution to make in a conversation. We are all part of the same community and surely want some of the same things.
The suggestion was made that increased incivility and crime are societal problems. I think that fixing society is too large a task for us here, though I think we could model a civil society. Let's just work on keeping Birmingham a lovely place to live.
I would be glad to talk with you further on this.
I would also like you to consider opening public comments earlier in your meeting. One hybrid suggestion would be to allow brief comments with strict time limits early in the meeting, with a time for open comments at the end. There are many other options as well.
Mary Ryan Taras
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