At 'speed-repping,' citizens engage their representatives on 'more personal' level
PITTSFIELD — Berkshire residents got the rare opportunity Friday to get up close and personal with their local and state government representatives at the Berkshire Athenaeum first ever "speed-repping" event.
From 2 to 4 p.m. individuals spent five minutes of one-on-one time sharing concerns and ideas on topics like transportation, potholes and how to retain young people, with Mayor Linda Tyer, state Sen. Adam Hinds, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, City Council President Peter Marchetti, Pittsfield Director of Administrative Services Roberta McCulloch-Dews, and School Committee member Dennis Powell.
"Libraries are the center of civic engagement," said Outreach Librarian Alex Geller, who's been organizing the event since January. "We're just so happy to have representatives that were not only willing, but excited to meet with their constituents in a transparent manner."
Geller got the idea for "speed-repping" through an "urban library" community online. A library in Memphis had pitched the idea and Geller decided to bring it to the Berkshires.
The event gave people an opportunity to meet with several of their representatives at the same time, but also to meet other residents with similar ideas and work together, Geller said.
On Friday, individuals signed up for time slots with the representatives of their choice and were able to chat with them, undisturbed.
Farley-Bouvier said that she heard from a senior citizen who lives downtown and relies on the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority.
The issue of transportation is particularly timely, Farley-Bouvier said, because she is currently advocating for an increased transportation budget at the statehouse.
One penny of every sales tax dollar collected in the Berkshires goes directly to the MBTA in Boston, which equals more than $30 million leaving the Berkshires each year, Farley-Bouvier said.
Most of Farley-Bouvier's constituents have never taken the T, she said.
The woman's comments reinforced the need for an increased transportation budget in the Berkshires, she said.
Transportation is also a way to retain young people in the county, which was also a concern of residents Friday, she said.
At least one resident expressed concern that the city might focus more on recruiting young professionals, but were less interested in other young people in the community.
Powell said that in addition to transportation, in order to maintain a population of young residents, they need to have a lively social scene.
"Young people want more than jobs," he said.
But the afternoon wasn't just about residents airing grievances, some came with fresh ideas for their representatives.
Tyer said she met with a woman who was passionate about recycling and suggested that it may have been "word choice" that deterred people from the city's plan to bring "toters" to the city.
Other regions in the country used phrases like "roller baby" to describe the city-issued 45-gallon tote for trash bins and a 96-gallon tote recycling. The woman also suggested that a blog about what can and can't be recycled could also assist in raising the recycling habits in the city, Tyer said.
Edward Hughes, of Pittsfield, has lived in the city since the 1950s and frequently engages with his representatives either at their office, at city hearings, or when he bumps into them in the community.
On Friday, he took the opportunity to chat with them all at once on a wide range of topics from Spectrum cable to marijuana legalization.
"I didn't come with only one thing in mind," he said. "I was more comfortable. This is more personal that when you see them on the street."
While individuals have the opportunity to drop in and see their government officials at their office, Hinds said events like these may save constituents an entire day of hopping from building to building.
McCulloch-Dews said Friday's event was representative of an average day at the mayor's office, where staff members find themselves addressing a wide array of issues each day.
Not only does her office try to address each individuals concerns, but staff also tries to identify opportunities for residents to become involved in community groups with similar missions, she said.
"We have to adapt on the fly. ... You're always changing hats," McCulloch-Dews said. "It's good. It makes you feel engaged and you're hearing what people really care about."
Geller intends to continue to host "speed-repping" at least annually, and expand it to include representatives from the police and fire departments.
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.
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