Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington hosted an open forum styled town hall meeting on Monday night due to the her office being flooded with phone calls and emails from residents asking her to listen to the voice of the people.

With no formal agenda set, residents brought out a variety of topics to be discussed that included littering, flood zones, community centers and community involvement. Prior to the meeting, residents were also encouraged to fill out an online survey expressing their biggest concerns.  Focusing on youth initiatives, Washington opened the floor by asking for ideas that could move the city forward in that specific area.

“We have some vacant lots,” Washington said.  “One of those lots that I’m looking at right now is the old Gabe Meyer lot.  I feel like that would make a wonderful spot for something for our youth — a youth center. We don’t have money for a huge building, but we might can put up an activity center there.”

Markeith Woods, an art teacher at James Matthews Elementary, suggested an arts program for the youth to enhance social skills and improve confidence.

“As an art teacher, the students in my classroom suffer from poor social skills, confidence and fear of trying something new,” Woods said.

“They don’t have that previous experience with doing things outside of the classroom that will carry-on into the classroom. The arts help build confidence and character and creates an experience for them to get engaged in a process and a dialogue that will allow them to open and express themselves and learn from that. I would say create opportunities in arts and that will generate a learning experience for the community and the youth.”

In response to the suggestion, Ryan Watley, CEO of Go Forward Pine Bluff, called Woods the missing link to an idea that has been in the works.

“As you all know, we’ve had this Delta Celebration Series of festivals and events, and we’ve been doing these things all year, and an arts festival is supposed to be a part of that,” Watley said.

“We were told it would take some time to plan an arts festival, and we’ve really been thinking of ways to get people to participate in an arts festival. But based on Mr. Woods’ comments and another conversation we had a while back, we can do an arts festival prize where different age groups from around the state can submit their artwork, and we can tie jazz and a wine festival to that.

“People will come for a full weekend to showcase their artwork on Friday and Saturday, and we can announce the winners on Sunday. That way we will get people in our hotel,s and we can also do literary works because that’s another conversation we’ve had … we want you to chair the committee.”

Questions were also raised from the public concerning littering throughout the city, flooding in certain parts of the city and road conditions. Washington urged residents to contact their respective council members for questions and concerns on specific issues.

She also asked that everyone continue to attend the town hall meetings so that ideas will flow and issues can be brought to the table and addressed.

December’s town hall meeting date has not been determined, but there will be a meeting on Monday, December 10, 2018 at 6:00pm at the Pine Bluff Convention Center with John Berrey, chairman of Quapaw Tribe, to discuss the coming casino in the city.