Dunwoody City Council members work hard to reach residents.
They’ve held town hall meetings during Food Truck Thursdays, they’ve invited folks to the library and solicited feedback through surveys on the city’s website.
On Dec. 3, several council members and the chief of police held a town hall at Dunwoody High School, where more than 200 students had a chance to tell city officials what they want.
“What’s right about Dunwoody’s Teen Town Hall is that the event traveled to the targeted audience,” Adrienne Duncan said. “You’re meeting your audience where they are, not inviting them to a location of the city’s choosing. Plan this more often, in more places, and you’ll get a wider view of different elements of the community.”
Student Riley Sitzman attended the Town Hall with his history class. He said his teachers didn’t tell him much about the Town Hall, but he’d seen a board in the gym about reworking Spaghetti Junction that looked familiar.
Sitzman said he hopes to stay in the Dunwoody area after high school, but he admitted he hadn’t thought much about the city’s future.
“I was thinking there could be a sidewalk here of this park needs to be touched up or something like that but the only park I use is Brook Run just to congregate with people and hang out,” Sitzman said.
He said before the Town Hall, he mostly talked with friends about issues in the community as opposed to city staff or elected officials.
“I talk about problems in government outside of school but not really in school,” he said.
Councilman Jim Riticher said the students’ questions impressed him and showed they thought critically about the community. Many students who have driver’s licenses pointed out problems the city plans to fix, Riticher said.
“I was looking at the boards where they were putting dots on problems areas and I think there are some interesting insights as to where kids perceived problems,” Riticher said.
They identified problems the city is already aware of, which told Riticher “They’re paying attention,” he said. “For example, there was a dot at Peeler and North Peachtree and my comment on that was, ‘Yeah, that’s about to be under major construction partially to fix that dot.’”
“It’s interesting to see their perceptions of problems with the city and how they marry up with how the adults see similar problems,” he said.
One of sophomore Julie Hensley’s questions led to Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch explaining the legislative push for an independent school system.
“I asked when are we expanding and are we going to take over Vanderlyn [Elementary School] and have an actual high school campus,” Hensley said. “If you look at other high school campuses they are much larger, so I was asking if we are ever going to get a football stadium or are we ever going to get our own soccer fields and they [City Council members Deustch and Doug Thompson] said that’s not in the process right now, but before we can do that we have to form our own city school system.”
Dunwoody’s Chief of Police, Billy Grogan, took the opportunity of the Town Hall at the high school to teach teens about distracted driving. He and Officer Trey Nelson showed students a video that illustrated how quickly looking down could lead to disaster.
“Hopefully, we can get their attention and teach them about the dangers of distracted driving not only by texting but if you’re under 18 you’re not allowed to talk on the phone in the car,’ Grogan said.
The chief hopes to inspire students to “think twice” before they text and drive or do anything in the car that could distract them, such as eating.
“I totally understand what it’s like to be distracted,” Sitzman said. The presentation confirmed for him what he said he expected when he walked over to the station.
During the Town Hall, tables and easels asked students for feedback on parks, public safety and traffic and Council members walked around to answer questions and engage students.
Councilman John Heneghan brought “Free Hugs” stickers and gave them out along with hugs so that he could personally make a connection with each student.
“I’m here to answer questions and talk to teenagers, but at the same time we need to let them know that we care about them,” Heneghan said. “They are human beings and we need to interact with them—at least I feel I want to on a person-to-person basis. I want to look them in the eyes and say ‘Hey, we care.’
“And I thought the only way I could do that personally was to give away a hug and I thought that was an opportunity for me to serve my community and the citizens of Dunwoody and the students of Dunwoody High School, by giving a free hug. It’s a very simple gesture.”