A crowd of about 80 gathered Thursday night at Gethsemane Baptist Church in south Columbus for Mayor Teresa Tomlinson's first quarterly public forum of 2014.
Residents asked the mayor questions on a range of topics from slumlords and white flight to jobs and community redevelopment. Tomlinson, the Consolidated Government's top executives and Columbus Councilors Mimi Woodson, in whose district the church resides, and Bruce Huff, whose district ends just across North Lumpkin Road, fielded questions. "When are we going to get a bike route?" one man, who declined to identify himself, asked.
Tomlinson said the city has moved forward with adopting Complete Streets, which is a policy that requires the city to consider bike traffic in all new roadwork. The city will also build a rails-to-trails project similar to the Fall Line Trace in south Columbus, which will connect with the Chattahoochee RiverWalk.
A woman who identified herself only as Ms. Tarver complained about a house in her neighborhood that has been condemned "forever" but hasn't been demolished. "Now people are using it as a dumping ground," she said. "It's horrible."
Tomlinson said the legal process of condemning and then demolishing a house can often take a year or more. Inspections and Code Director Greg Coates said it is often a case of the city not having enough money to contract the demolition out.
A young man identified only as Greg said, "What I think would make this a better community would be if we had jobs for young people who are still in school."
Tomlinson called up Howard Pendleton, director of the city's Workforce Investment program, to address the issue.
Pendleton said the city administers a federally funded program that helps employ young people, especially in the summer, but that they also have an in-school program that provides work experience and internships for people in school. Pendleton advised the young man to get in touch with his office. Marquese Averett congratulated Tomlinson on doing a good job and took issue with some of the public for expecting the government to do it all and not being part of the process.
"We as a community have to be accountable for our own actions," Averett said. "If you just look back over the last year, we had a Liberty District project to come up, but people fought against it. We had a Martin Luther King project to come up, but people fought against it.
"When we have projects in our community that will add millions of dollars into our community, we've got to be responsible for that," she added. "And we've got to hold our elected officials' feet to the fire."