Populist efforts serving Jenkins well, so far

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As one daughter read, and the other fidgeted, Suzette and Peter Cyr of New Auburn patiently waited for their turn to speak. Suzette rose to voice concerns about the condition of neighborhood sidewalks, while Peter, speaking after, called New Auburn a “sleeping giant” primed for revitalization.

The Cyrs were two of the 50 or so people who crowded Sherwood Heights Elementary School for the first stop of Auburn Mayor John Jenkins’ traveling ward meeting roadshow. Jenkins had promised vociferous New Auburn – Ward 5 – the first crack at him.

And cracks abounded.

Cracks in the New Auburn sidewalk especially, cracks in the communication between residents and City Hall, and cracks about last summer’s unfortunate scene of public works employees lounging in lawn chairs while waiting for tar to finish a paving project.

Through them all, Jenkins listened intently and kept a log of citizen issues, both old and new. Marjorie Lizotte, who lives on Riverside Drive, spoke of the perennial need for streetlights along her road, which had been removed, she said, as an energy-saving measure during the Carter administration.

Following his election as mayor in November, Jenkins made the big promise: reinvigoration of citizen participation in city business. To date, public comment sessions during city council meetings have been moved, ward meetings have been scheduled and – thunder of applause here – the city’s Web site has been much improved.

Residents seem to have responded. The varied cross-section of residents packing the Sherwood Heights school cafeteria on Monday was heartening, as were the impassioned views about the needs of New Auburn expressed by longtime residents and relative newcomers, alike.

Grandstanding was nonexistent. Concerns expressed by residents were sensible and infuriating, the kind of day-to-day gripes that get easily lost in the murky workings of a bureaucracy. The Dunkin’ Donuts in New Auburn has poor pedestrian access. There’s a giant fir tree on South Main Street blocking drivers’ views and endangering children on bicycles riding home from school. The tennis court is in disrepair.

The mayor made some more bold promises during the meeting, such as establishing a visioning committee for New Auburn and maintaining an online accounting of all the grant funds received by the city of Auburn and their stated purpose, to avoid allegations of misdirection or misconduct.

In the course of the upcoming ward meetings, it will be interesting to track Jenkins’ promises. We have few doubts the mayor is sincere, and we encourage his enthusiasm, but hope he embraces the most practical approach to fulfill the wishes of all city residents.

So far, he’s made the right steps. His presentation is polished and populist, as is his pitching of the bright yellow “Community Volunteer Service Form,” on which more than a few hands at Sherwood Elementary were scribbling on Monday, enlisting for service on municipal committees.

If Jenkins was looking to hear the “vox populi,” he succeeded. “This is all about bringing City Hall to the people,” he said Monday, and it appears – after the first meeting anyway – he’s done just that.

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