Making their voices heard; New Decatur Forward group aims to increase public participation in city decisions

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, January 12, 2019
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Packed House

PACKED HOUSE – Dozens of local residents and business owners filled the DIY Studio in Decatur for a lunch meeting Wednesday hosted by Decatur Forward. The group’s organizers explained the group’s mission and how citizens could get involved. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

A new grassroots group in Decatur is seeking to shake things up with the city’s leadership.

Decatur Forward held its first public meeting Wednesday at the DIY Studio-Decatur (the former glass factory), which drew around 50 guests. Those in attendance heard the group’s leadership – including local business owners Chris Fernihough, Cary Bohn and Mark Ary – explain its mission: to encourage positive growth through diversity, transparency and involvement.

Fernihough said the group wants the public more involved in helping the city prepare for growth over the next two decades.

“We’re not saying anything is wrong with anything. We’re just trying to find a way to get more public involvement,” he said.

Breaking down the mission statement, Fernihough said diversity refers to diversity of thought – more discussion and questions about items brought before the city council.

The transparency aspect means making sure the public is aware of those discussions and decisions.

Involvement, he said, includes helping and supporting city leaders. He also stressed that the group would offer positive encouragement rather than negative.

Bohn talked about his experience serving in city leadership positions, including six years on the city council. He said he stepped down because he felt he wasn’t making a difference.

“Decatur’s not broke, but there’s definite improvement that I think needs to be made,” he said.

He explained his own vision of the group’s mission, suggesting the city council meetings be live streamed, educating the public on how to run for the council and making sure the council and city staff is doing the will of the people they serve.

“Our charter is set up to where the city council is elected by the people, and the council sets the initiatives, and the city staff executes those initiatives. Quite honestly, I don’t feel like it runs that way,” he said, mentioning that he outlined his concerns in a September letter to the editor that ran in the Messenger.

Fernihough said he reached out to Bohn after reading the letter to offer support. From that conversation, Fernihough said he reached out to others, and Decatur Forward was born.

Although the group’s leadership assured those in attendance that it would not be a political organization, their first item of business is to find candidates to run for the three open city council seats in the upcoming May election. The ideal candidates, they said, would speak up and not be afraid to take a stance different from other council members.

The filing period opens Wednesday and runs through Feb. 15.

“We’re going to pick one person for each [seat] to support,” Ary said. ” …As a group, we are going to try to help campaign for said three people to help them get into position to help Decatur move forward.”

Although the group planned to support one candidate for each seat, he encouraged many people to run for the open positions so that the public had a choice.

During the question and answer part of the meeting, several people in attendance said they appreciated what the group is trying to accomplish.

“I applaud you for what you are doing to make this truly a diverse organization that will listen to everybody, because I am a super rebel,” resident Mary Boswell said. “But I tell you what, to be effective, I need something to push against a little bit. And that way the conversation is open – we’re honest and transparent.”

Resident Lori Reeves said that same diversity of thought needs to extend to the Decatur School Board as well.

“If we don’t have people on those seats ruffling feathers, they think they are doing a good job,” she said.

When asked what else people can do to support the group’s mission, Decatur Forward leaders encouraged the public to attend the meetings and to vote in May.

For information or to contact the group, visit Decatur Forward on Facebook.

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