Mayor organizes new opportunities to spark community engagement

Mayor Chas Jones wants to spark engagement within the community through a series of organized conversations on specific topics along with more intimate virtual meetups on just about anything that relates to Philomath.

Coming this Thursday, Jan. 28, at 6 p.m., Jones has arranged for several panelists to participate in “Philomath Chats.” The inaugural event will feature a discussion on affordable housing and homelessness.

“The idea behind ‘Philomath Chats’ is really just to provide a series of learning opportunities and discussions between the community, myself, other city leaders and knowledgeable experts on topics that I hope will range from information about social issues to science topics to informational exchange,” Jones said.

In addition, Jones will launch his “Let’s Talk Philomath” series of meetings at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 2 as another way to connect with the community.

“I did that as a councilor a couple of times and found it very rewarding and I think the public really enjoyed the experience and the opportunity,” Jones said. “I wanted to allow that to occur on a much more regular basis.”

“Philomath Chats” is a city-sponsored event described as a “discussion between local and regional experts, community leaders and Philomath residents on difficult topics for all of Oregon’s communities.”

According to information on the city’s website, the Jan. 28 topic was arranged in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s work on housing and equity and in recognition of January as Poverty in America Awareness Month.

Citizens who choose to participate or observe the event should not expect a formal presentation from the panelists, but more of an informal get-together.

“This is really going to be a few folks sitting around a virtual table having a conversation about the topic and learning from one another,” Jones said. “We will have some self-introductions … I’m planning to offer a few questions to get the conversation started.”

From there, Jones would like to see the discussion take off with panelists and community members interacting.

“I’m hoping the panelists will ask questions of each other and the public will weigh in and offer some questions,” Jones said, “and also city councilors and city staff can offer questions if they have them.”

Panelists include Karen Rockwell (Benton County Habitat for Humanity executive director), Julie Arena (Benton County HOPE Advisory Board program coordinator), Shonn Leno (Grand Ronde tribal housing director), Sami Jo Difuntorum (Siletz tribe’s executive director of housing) and Harriet Hughes (local affordable housing property owner).

This event will be hosted on Zoom. The city website states that information on participating within that platform will be posted. Check this link for the latest information. “Philomath Chats” will also be live-streamed on the city’s Facebook page, which can be accessed by anyone and does require an account.

“We’re going to have the chat boxes open on both platforms and we’ll have someone helping to look at comments on Facebook coming in and sharing that with me or the group,” Jones said.

The “Let’s Talk Philomath” event that debuts Feb. 2 will be offered each month, Jones said. He likened it to a “Coffee with the Mayor” type of gathering and hopes to replicate that feel in the virtual world as long as pandemic restrictions discourage in-person meetups.

“We’ll be doing that virtually for now and hopefully at some point we’ll be able to mix it up a little bit and do some other types of gatherings,” he said.

Jones offered examples of future meetup possibilities as ‘Let’s Go For a Walk with the Mayor” or “Let’s Go Look at the Stars with the Mayor” — ideas along those lines.

“Just different opportunities for people to interact with me and share their thoughts,” he said.

Jones felt it was important to keep the “Let’s Talk Philomath” events as a more personal experience.

“This is me hosting this event and I purposely am trying to distinguish it from a city event,” he said. “I also wanted to mimic the ‘Coffee with the Mayor’ style of interaction as much as possible.”

In other words, it would not be live-streamed on Facebook.

“I wanted people to feel that their thoughts and ideas and comments would be between myself and them as a group or whoever — that they wouldn’t be recorded and streamed across the internet live,” he said.

Jones chose to use Google Hangouts as the platform for his “Let’s Talk Philomath” events. To access it, go to tinyurl.com/MayorJones.

The mayor posted information and links on this Facebook page.

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