Concerns about public education and the need to improve communication between city officials and citizens about everything from parking to park usage were hot topics this morning at Mayor Michael Hancock's first community forum. Comments such as "City personnel need to be more available" drew applause from the more than 100 people gathered in the West High School cafeteria.
The program started at 8:30 a.m. with a buffet of tamales, fruit and baked goods. City Councilwoman at-large Robin Kneich addressed the crowd just after 9, announcing that Hancock had heeded her (and other council members') call to add $1 million to the city's draft 2012 budget for child-care subsidies for low-income families so that parents can work.
When Hancock took the microphone, which was set up at a podium in the middle of the cafeteria, he called Kneich a "rising star" and encouraged the crowd to "give Robin Kneich some love." Then he gave some love of his own, saying the number of people at the forum showed that "Denver is involved, Denver is engaged."
"I brought the entire city hall with me today!" he said, referring to the numerous staff and Denver City Council members in attendance.
The crowd eventually broke into small groups with instructions to make lists of pressing issues in Denver neighborhoods and recommendations for what to do about them. The groups were given the choice of several broad categories, including education, transportation, zoning, parks and recreation, and homelessness.
Several groups chose education. The issues they identified included making the schools more welcoming to parents, removing police from the school-discipline process, and addressing the needs of non-English speaking students. One bloc criticized the lack of community members on Hancock's brand-new Denver Education Compact, a confab of business and education leaders set to tackle issues within the city's school system.
Other groups called for a more user-friendly zoning website, more mental health services for the homeless, and a "buy local" directory to help boost the city's economy.
Drucie Bathin, who spoke for a large group of Burmese refugees at the forum, said the city's refugees need police protection from street-level violence in the rough neighborhoods where they live, often in low-income housing.
Vicki Gritters complained that the city's neighborhood inspectors aren't as responsive as they should be. "We're frustrated with the lax enforcement of zoning rules," she said.
Hancock's staff collected all of the recommendations, which were written with marker on large pieces of paper, and the mayor promised to take them to heart. "What wonderful work," he said as the forum wrapped up around 11:45 a.m. He asked the crowd to remember a quote: "This is the stuff greatness is made of."
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