Ms. Talitha Eastridge Norris recently wrote a letter to the editor voicing her opinion about the Twin Lakes Dam closing, and government in general.
While I applaud Ms. Norris taking the time to put her thoughts to paper I do feel the need to respond to many assumptions she’s made in her article which are inaccurate at best.
Ms. Norris brought up the issue “why the city was able to take this action without asking citizens for their input.” She went on to state that the answer is “complex.” Let me assure Ms. Norris – and the public – the answer is not complex. It was a very simple decision to make. An outside engineering firm, at our request, tested the structure and informed us that the Twin Lakes Dam does not meet the necessary codes for safety, which means the roadway on top of it is potentially compromised; and since trucks continue to use that roadway (even though they have been banned from using it for the last two years), our concern became this: if we didn’t close the roadway the chances of some tragic mishap taking place would increase every day. And that was simply not acceptable: citizen safety is my first concern!
My administration understands that closing down the roadway over the dam has caused some inconvenience for area residents, but there are other routes.
But, if we had continued to leave it open and a tragedy had occurred, there would have been plenty of outcries that the City should have closed that roadway before anything could have happened.
Making decisions on “road safety” are among the many duties of every municipal government. That’s why we have Engineering, Public Works and Planning Departments within the administrative setup of the city – all with personnel who have degrees and experience in their respective areas – and none of them are elected officials. They are hardworking professionals who are very good at what they do.
Ms. Norris also made the statement, “Governments from federal down to the local level do business without citizen input because they can.” I would respectfully ask that Ms. Norris educate herself on the difference between Federal government and municipal government and not lump the two entities together. If an issue here in Opelika affects you – it affects me, the Council and our employees. We’re your neighbors and friends and live here just like you do. Apparently she doesn’t know my work schedule when she says “the boss” seldom comes around. I don’t consider myself the boss, but I am the CEO and spend an average of 65+ hours a week on my job.
Ms. Norris is also wrong about the City government doing business “without citizen input.” We receive input from citizens all of the time through City Council and Planning Commission meetings, phone calls, e-mails and letters. And whenever there is an issue that will affect a large group of folks, we arrange for public meetings where we invite the public to come make their specific concerns known. We’ve had one such meeting with the residents of Twin Lakes; we listened to their concerns and questions, and will have another meeting on May 2, to address some of the issues which were raised at the first meeting. And just so Ms. Norris and the public understand, not all of the residents were upset about the city closing Twin Lakes Dam roadway. Some of them were very much in favor of it.
I agree with Ms. Norris that some of our citizens do not keep themselves informed of the business conducted on their behalf at various City Council and Commission meetings, in spite of the fact that we do our best to keep the public informed about all such meetings through the local papers and radio stations, the city’s website www.opelika.org and through TV coverage. And, in spite of what Ms. Norris implied in her letter, there is no question we’re staying very accountable to our citizens. We give monthly reports on city finances; and everyone can see our Fiscal Year Budgets from FY 1995 to FY 2012 online.
We also have the City’s audited financial statements online for anyone to review. We cannot force people to stay informed – we can only encourage everyone to do so.
The City of Opelika is fortunate that we have an active City Council that educates itself on issues coming before them by asking questions and doing independent research on their own. They work with each other along with me and my department heads. I am proud of our Council and the progressive way we are working together, moving Opelika forward.
Finally, Ms. Norris and I are in complete agreement when she states “get involved. Call when you have concerns, and attend the public meetings”; because when a city’s government and its citizens work together, that community truly becomes a place where families and business prosper and grow for generations to come.
The Opelika City Council meets at 7 p.m. the first and third Tuesday of each month here at City Hall. I don’t recall Ms. Norris ever speaking during Citizens Communications at a Council meeting but, as a citizen of Opelika, she would be welcome.
Mayor Gary Fuller