Just over 30 days into his new job as the top administrator in Mesquite, Andy Barton held an open forum with the community at Peggy Sue's Diner on Thursday, June 14. Breaking with the tradition of the city manager being securely locked behind closed doors at city hall and citizens obliged to go to city hall to see him, Barton hosted the meeting in a place less official.
“I believe in taking city hall out to the community. It is less intimidating and the public becomes more involved in the process,” said Barton. “In the future, I am exploring taking the city council meeting out to the neighborhoods, beginning it with an informal meeting and culminating in a city council meeting. This community is more involved in its future than any I have ever seen and people want to have input in important decisions.”
With that Barton asked “what can I do for you? I am here to listen.” One of the first issues asked of the city manager was about the proposed sports center. “I am very fiscally conservative. I would have to be convinced that we could operate it and maintain it properly. It is a very big and costly project and I would have to see more numbers before I said yes or no. One other issue with the sports complex is its location. There are many people that think it should be located near downtown instead of up near Sun City. That would have to be worked out. The city is in good shape financially with healthy reserves but we want to be very cautious how we handle our money.”
Another citizen asked Barton if he thought the city council had made the right decision this week on the formation of an economic development plan. “In a short answer yes. We want to see responsible growth for our city. We want to be a business friendly city. We would love to see our community grow but we want to maintain the quality of life that our citizens expect.”
Barton was asked what his top three priorities are and he said his first priority was listening and learning what the community wants. Second, the city should provide the
best level of service it possibly can and third, he wants to make sure the city has the resources to do all of the things it wants.
Barton was asked if there could be anything done about abandoned buildings or blighted areas in Mesquite. Barton explained that in many cases it becomes a situation where the government is trying to tell a private property owner what to do with his property. In the absence of any city ordinance or city code, the city has no legal authority to do so. However, Barton encouraged citizens with those type of complaints to call Developmental Services Manager Kurt Sawyer and have him research the problem for a solution.
Another question presented to Barton was the availability of RDA funds (Regional Development Authority) for downtown development and whether they were “unfrozen." Barton emphatically replied RDA funds are not frozen nor earmarked for any special projects and are available.
Barton was asked why the senior center had to be closed on Friday afternoon and he explained that all city departments were asked to cut their budgets and the senior center had very little activity on Friday afternoon so the budget cuts were made there. When the economy improves that will most likely change.
The turnout for the City Manager's first outside meeting was good including many city employees who stopped by to hear what their boss had to say. “It is easy to get trapped in city hall and never get out,” said Barton. “Council meetings where the public has to get up in front of a crowd are intimidating. I have an open door policy, anyone can come see me at any time without an appointment. Please come to the council meetings or call me. We can't fix something if we don't know it is broken,” said Barton.
Barton said he intends to get out into the community more. He wants to be open and transparent and plans his next meeting for the end of September, possibly at the Oasis Golf Club followed by a meeting at Sun City. He said this type of communication will avoid “conspiracy theories” about things going on in the city.
“I don't make policy,” said Barton. “The city council does that, I just execute their wishes but I am here to listen to what you have to say. Together we can get things done.”