Fair offers easy access to city government

Saturday, October 18, 2008 | 2:56 p.m. CDT; updated 11:51 p.m. CDT, Sunday, October 19, 2008
James Tatum takes some brochures from Officer Mike Hayes' table at the "Keys to the City: A Civic Awareness Fair" at the ARC on Saturday morning. Tatum said he was just walking by the Activities and Recreation Center and saw the sign for the event, so he decided to go in and see what it was about.

COLUMBIA — For three hours Saturday morning, Columbia's city government came together in one room.

"This is a good thing to do because seldom do you see this many city departments and staff representatives in one place," said Karl Skala, Third Ward councilman. "It's kind of one-stop shopping for civic affairs."

Departments represented at "Keys to the City"

Planning and Development

Parks and Recreation

Activities and Recreation Center

Public Health and Human Services

Fire Department

Human Resources

Public Works

Water and Light

Police Department

Purchasing Division of Finance

Office of Volunteer Services

Convention and Visitors Bureau

Office of Cultural Affairs

Columbia's Visioning Project

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The city held a "Keys to the City" event to provide citizens an opportunity to talk to "people the public otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to interact with," said Leigh Britt, the city's volunteer coordinator. The event was related to the city's Visioning Project, which is an effort to make community-identified goals a reality.

Skala, along with Mayor Darwin Hindman and City Council members Paul Sturtz and Laura Nauser, held office hours at Columbia's Activity and Recreation Center, and more than 20 representatives of city departments manned 14 booths. They were there to inform citizens about their services and to answer questions.

Tim Teddy, director of the Planning and Development Department, had surveys at his booth so Columbia residents could comment on development plans and projects, including the Consolidated Housing and Community Development Plan and the city-sponsored "congress" of neighborhood associations.  

Teddy said he hoped the event educated people about the services the departments provide.

Susan Clark came to learn more about the city.   

"There's so many things that they do that I always learn something," Clark said. "They have a lot of wonderful services. There's a lot of things people don't know about, and this is just one way to find out what they do."

Clark already interacts often with city government through her position on the Neighborhood Watch board of directors, but she said she still learned something new on Saturday morning.

Melissa Tague wants the city to build a sidewalk on her street and decided to seize the opportunity of easy government access when she saw a sign for the event at the nearby Columbia Farmers' Market.

"They all were in one place at one time, so I don't have to go from office to office," Tague said. "I've done that before, but it's easier when they're in one room."

Like Tague, James Tatum saw signs for the event and wandered in without knowing about it beforehand. Tatum used the opportunity to talk to members of the Public Works Department about a construction project on his street.

Garry Magruder stopped by after doing water aerobics at the ARC. Although he lives outside of Columbia's city limits, he said he uses city resources frequently, and he thought the event was interesting and informative.

"I think, you know, they should do this maybe twice a year or so," Magruder said. "I don't know how often they do it, but this is the first time I've known about it."

Attendance for the first-time event was consistent throughout the morning but minimal. Small groups of people wandered among the booths, always outnumbered by the government workers with white name tags who waited to answer their questions.  

Britt said the turnout was about what she expected.

"I think because of the nature of the event we weren't expecting masses of people," she said.

The city has formed no long-term plans for future "Keys to the City" events. Britt will survey city staff to get their reactions and attendance estimates to determine whether the event was a success.

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