Mayor-elect Jim Kenney deserves high marks for holding five town hall meetings on the future of the city before being sworn into office, and additional points for seeming genuinely interested in what people had to say. Of course, that makes sense. Philadelphians are experts on what they like and dislike. Just walk into a local pub, church hall, or recreation center and you're likely to get an earful. Kenney simply created a more formal setting for discourse.
It's good for mayors, whether newly elected or long-time officeholders, to hear from more than other elected officials or some self-appointed community leader. The next step for Kenney will be to use the ideas and complaints he heard in the town halls to fashion sensible policies for his administration.
Fiercely proud residents of some of Philadelphia's most challenged neighborhoods know exactly what should be done to make their communities better. At one meeting, a woman noted how a vacant home being used as a drug house was killing her block. "Had L&I come out and boarded up the house, this would've never happened," she said. Another person suggested a citywide contest for the cleanest neighborhood, with the winner getting a tax break.
Someone wanted the state to take over the airport. Of course, that proposal should be tempered with the knowledge that the state took over the city's public schools more than 14 years ago and still doesn't fund them fairly. Advocates for the deaf and for immigrants asked that more interpreters be available at city offices. Another resident complained about the Philadelphia Housing Authority, whose commissioners are appointed by the mayor.
Kenney should consider repeating neighborhood meetings like these throughout his tenure as mayor. It will give him a chance to get into communities without being part of some staged event arranged by a special interest group. And being able to express their concerns and ideas will give residents a bigger stake in the city's future.
One caution: Kenney should avoid looking across the river for advice from Gov. Christie on how to hold a town hall. Christies' events rather quickly became taxpayer-supported campaign stops, replete with rock music blaring when the Republican presidential candidate makes his overly dramatic entrances.