In the '90s classic "White Men Can't Jump," the professional basketball hustler played by Wesley Snipes explains the difference to Woody Harrelson's character between simply listening to Jimi Hendrix and hearing Jimi—which, in this context, means the kind of listening that elicits an almost emotional understanding of the music.
To Mayor Tony Yarber's credit, his administration has been proactive in terms of listening to the people of Jackson. After eight months in office, Yarber points to his office's listening tours, which travel around the city and give citizens an opportunity to air their grievances, as one of the top accomplishments of his first term as mayor.
In fact, Yarber recently announced a new round of listening tours to get even more input from residents.
What's more is that when people show up to city council meetings to discuss issues related to crime or infrastructure, the mayor makes it a point to connect those citizens to a member of his staff.
So it's clear to us—and we applaud him for it—that Mayor Yarber is listening to the people. Where there is an opportunity for improvement, as Snipes' Sidney Deane would argue, is really hearing what people are saying and feeling.
This week, Tom Ramsey, reality-television chef and owner of La Finestra, talked about trying to get the city's help with a proposal to expand his restaurant (see page 7). While city hall has listened to the idea—Ramsey has met with at least one representative of the economic-development office—the lack of follow-up and engagement raises doubts about whether the city is really feeling what the few but growing number of small businesses downtown are going through.
It would be easy to dismiss Ramsey's gripes as the musings of one grouchy restaurant owner, but the complaints ring true to us because we have heard them from other individuals and business owners. In fact, the common refrain is that while the city is happy to dispatch representatives or listen to citizens' problems, consistent follow-up and engagement are lacking.
Of course, our sympathies are with the mayor and other city officials who are charged with steering a mammoth ship that is quite literally leaking, addressing short- and long-term infrastructure and public-safety needs.
With those kinds of challenges, it's easy to see how checking in with businesses would slip off the city's to-do list.
The recent appointment of long-time city employee Beatrice Slaughter as the permanent director of the constituents-services department could go a long way to help. And if Jackson is serious about attracting and retaining both businesses and new residents, the city will need to build and maintain a real customer-service infrastructure that includes open communication and engagement.
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