Street Talk: Muskegon makes listening a top priority

A pandemic with stay-at-home orders, online classrooms, virtual public meetings, cancelled community events, shuttered businesses and unprecedented election-year discord has left a relationship void between Muskegon citizens and their elected officials.

To help bridge the void that has grown in 2020, the Muskegon City Commission and key city hall staff members have embarked on more than a dozen listening sessions with key stakeholders who are integral to city priorities and commission goals. In the final two months of the year, city commissioners have been teamed with a member of the city staff to conduct listening sessions that will provide a pulse of the community and offer an opportunity to answer constituent questions.

“This is an opportunity for city commissioners to ‘reset’ any prior relationships with our friends and neighbors that might have been strained or disrupted from the pandemic, the social unrest and the gnawing uncertainty that we face as individuals and a community,” said Muskegon Mayor Stephen Gawron.

The commission-staff teams will reach out to a variety of groups in hopes of having an hour or two conversation with no more than a dozen people. These are designed to be focus groups preparing city leadership for a critical goal setting session in late January, an annual process that was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 public health restrictions on public meetings.

“Information gathered at the listening sessions will be used to inform the city leaders of significant goals and needed action plans moving forward,” Muskegon Development Services Director LeighAnn Mikesell said. “These meetings are being designed to create honest conversation where we can hear from stakeholders and establish a spirit of collaboration and partnership.”

The conversations are intentionally being kept small and not part of a public meeting so that city commissioners and key city staff can hear honestly from many citizens who may not be comfortable speaking at public meetings nor publicly sharing opinions and reflections on what could be difficult topics. The city also has opened a public, online survey for which citizen opinions are sought.

“The city will better understand the breadth and depth of the challenges, opportunities, hopes and concerns of our citizens,” Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson said of the listening sessions that are being conducted in accordance with current public health precautions.

Higher calling

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently appointed a local leader to the Michigan Community Service Commission.

Kids’ Food Basket President and CEO Bridget Clark Whitney has been appointed to the commission as the state’s representative with expertise in the educational, training and developmental needs of youth, particularly disadvantaged youth.

Clark Whitney’s term commenced on Nov. 20 and will expire on Oct. 1, 2023. She is succeeding Judith Watson-Olson, whose term expired Oct. 1.

Clark Whitney joins eight other individuals from throughout the state who will represent in areas such as business, public safety, environment and Native American tribes.

“I am beyond honored to be appointed by Gov. Whitmer to serve on the Michigan Community Service Commission,” Clark Whitney said. “For over 18 years, I have dedicated my life to ensuring that under-resourced children, who live in families that battle the barriers of poverty and food insecurity every day in West Michigan, are nourished with good, healthy food. At Kids’ Food Basket we believe access to healthy food should be a right and not a privilege, so I am humbled to represent youth at a state level and work diligently to bring Michigan one step closer to eliminating childhood hunger.”

The Michigan Community Service Commission strives to build a culture of service by providing vision and resources to strengthen communities through volunteerism. The commission develops a three-year comprehensive national and community service plan for the state that is updated annually; oversees and submits the state’s applications to the Corporation for National and Community Service and other public and private funding sources; establishes policies and procedures for the use of federal funds; and develops initiatives to promote community service in coordination with existing programs.

These appointments are not subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.

Food first

According to Feeding America, one in seven Michiganders struggles with hunger and those numbers continue to grow as the pandemic rages on. While so many industries have been impacted by COVID-19, Michigan’s recreational cannabis industry grew with sales reaching nearly $440 million this year.

As the year comes to a close, C3 Industries, a cannabis producer and retailer based in Ann Arbor, has made a commitment to share its wealth with the four communities where it operates dispensaries to help address hunger.

In Grand Rapids, where C3 opened a High Profile Boutique Cannabis dispensary in October, the company made a financial donation of $1,000 to The Green Apple food pantry to help the nonprofit provide additional food assistance and gifts to more than 2,000 families this holiday season.

“Food is a basic need and far too many in this community are hungry because they cannot buy enough food,” said Jason Schepers, store manager of the High Profile cannabis dispensary in Ann Arbor. “2020 has created excessive economic challenges for many and we want to help The Green Apple provide food assistance to the community where we work and live.

“We opened our High Profile Boutique Cannabis dispensary in Grand Rapids in October, and from the beginning, the community has supported us,” Schepers added. “This is our opportunity to give back. We hope others in the Grand Rapids area will join us and do the same.”

In addition to The Green Apple, C3 Industries also donated to food assistance programs in Ann Arbor, Grant and Buchanan.

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