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‘It’s about connecting’: City’s first Chit, Chat & Chew draws neighbors, staff together

SALISBURY — City Human Relations Director Anne Little lives in City Park, the first neighborhood to host a Chit, Chat & Chew town hall.

“I love this community. I love this city. And for me, it’s part of my fiber,” Little said. “And so for me, it’s just so awesome to be able to engage and talk to folks.”

Chit, Chat & Chew is a new town-hall-style initiative by the city meant to give residents a chance to voice concerns in an informal way. The first one was held Thursday night at City Park Recreation Center.

Little said there are a number of benefits to hosting such a forum.

“I think people are accustomed to seeing council from afar. They sit behind the dais,” Little said. “And so how cool is it to be able to sit down across the table and break bread with your city leaders?”

The forum had staff members and residents sitting and eating together at large round tables.

Fire Chief Bob Parnell grilled hot dogs for the guests’ dinner, and city staff members helped serve condiments.

Little said the format gives the city a chance to “humanize its leaders.”

“Because we’re all here in Salisbury. Salisbury is our common denominator,” Little said.

City staff from almost every department and three City Council members — Brian Miller, Karen Alexander and David Post — were present.

Little said it was a group effort between the council and staff to put it together and make it “casual.”

“You know, you can stand behind a mic at City Hall. And so this is kind of, again, casual, informal. And we always act different when we’re sitting across the table from somebody breaking bread,” Little said. “It’s about connecting.”

Residents had a chance to either stand at their tables or go to a microphone and ask council and staff members questions about how to deal with neighborhood issues.

For residents of the City Park neighborhood — particularly Annandale Avenue, West Henderson Street and West 14th Street — speeding was a major topic.

“In the past one-and-a-half months or so, there have been two car accidents,” said Macon Stewart. “People fly down West Henderson Street.”

A resident of West 14th Street said it is “like a race track” around 5 p.m.

Councilwoman Karen Alexander suggested having a police officer stationed at certain points on the street or installing a speed monitor.

Other concerns that were brought up included having more street lights, especially near the neighborhood’s parks; having stricter code enforcement; and having more efforts to pick-up litter.

In response to a question about code enforcement, Planning and Development Manager Preston Mitchell said trying to get people to obey city codes is like the cat-and-mouse show “Tom & Jerry.”

“We just have to be a bigger Tom,” Mitchell said.

If residents voiced their concerns during the forums, their thoughts were written down by the staff member who could best address the question.

Those that did not wish to speak publicly could write down their thoughts on index cards supplied on the tables.

Little said that even if residents didn’t get the answer they wanted, they would get responses to their questions.

After the forum concluded, Stewart said she thought the conversations were “really good.”

“But I think the proof is in the pudding,” Stewart said. “So it’s what happens after today. But I definitely felt like my voice was heard, which is always a good feeling.”

City Park was the first of nine Salisbury districts to host a Chit, Chat & Chew.

The next two locations will be J.C. Price American Legion on June 26 and Destiny City Church on Aug. 23.

Little said more locations will be announced in the next month.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222. 

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