In what he called an "effort to provide an exchange between city officials and District citizens," D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntory held the first of eight planned ward town meetings last week.
Fauntroy had sent 25,000 invitations to Ward 2 residents "to meet with their congressman and voice their concerns." About 200 persons showed up for the meeting, which was at the Commerce Department Auditorium.
Housing, transportation, taxation and unemployment were among the problems discussed.
A Southwest woman complained about how long it takes her to reach her Capitol Hill job by public transportation; a District cab driver was concerned that his aging mother was displaced from her home; a Northwest shopkeeper was upset because, he said, he is paying more taxes than George Washington University, and several persons voiced frustrations because staff persons at the department of human resources had been rude when they called.
Flanked by two city councilmen, Marion Barry and John Wilson, and DHR director Albert Russo, Fauntroy spent four hours directing constituents' questions to his invited guests.
For the most part, the four officials responded in generalities about their support of speeding up Metro completion and lower utilities bills, the need to bring more revenue into the District, rent control and improved medical facilities.
Ward two was selected for the first town meeting because it took in the downtown area, many federal workers and the White House, according to a Fauntroy staff aide. Volunteer precinct workers canvassed the ward to find out what problems and questions to expect, Fauntroy said.
"I've learned things here tonight that I had no idea existed," said Fauntroy in a brief interview after the meeting last week. "I'm so busy on the Hill that I don't get the opportunity to hear what's on people's minds."
He also said that he thought the crowd turnout was good.
Aside from about 10 to 15 ward residents who succeeded in bringing their personal problems to the attention of the panel of officials and staff, many described the meeting as "just a lot of talk."
"All I've heard up there tonight is a lot of bureaucratic rhetoric. I haven't heard one concrete thing that they're going to do as a result of this meeting," remarked District cab driver Charles Richardson.
The town meetings are one method used by Fauntroy to deal with problems of constituents. His District office at 441 G St. NW has 11 staff members who see about 100 constituents a week and receive 400 phone calls and 200 pieces of mail. In addition to his Northwest office, Fauntroy has seven staff members in an office in the Rayburn Building, who deal primarily with legislative matters.
In the seven years Fauntroy has been the city's nonvoting delegate to Congress, his staff members have become social workers, job finders, agency mediators, furniture movers, police buffers, transportation providers and trash removers.
"The pressure increases tremendously because we're a local office," said Pat Mullan, chief case worker. "Since we do get an unusual number of people calling with problems, we try to keep somewhat aware of what is urgent. A family who has been displaced because their home burned down last night becames a lot more pressing than someone who hasn't had their trash picked up."
"It's not a particularly rewarding job," said staff liaison Wayne King. "But it's satisfying knowing that you might be helping groups of people solve their collective problems."
John Platter, an investigator for the Department of Transportation who lives in Southwest, attended the meeting and said it was not a typical town meeting. "This is ridiculous," he said.
"These pooliticans are all here trying to push their own political lines and get re-elected, not solve problems. What are they going to do about the economic development problems here? How are they planning to bring money into this city? The sad part is that most of the people here just sit back and accept everything they're saying as fact."
Dorothy Colquitt had her problem handed directly over to DHR director Russo.
"I suffered a stroke in 1969 and have been disabled since," said Colquitt, 62. "I don't understand why I can't get a Medicaid card for a year instead of for two or three months at a time. My card ran out last February and I haven't received another one since."
Russo took Colquitt's name and said he would personally look into her case. "I know he's going to help me," she said. "Walter Fauntroy is great. My problem will be solved."
Carrie Johnson of Church Street NW said she came because her neighbors, an elderly couple, had been evicted from their home in the middle of the winter for no apparent reason. They had nowhere to go, she said, and there wasn't anyone who would help them.
"I hear the same thing at all these meetings over and over again and nothing ever happens," Johnson said. "Someone should come up with the answers. Why can't he do something to help these poor people instead of just talking about it?"
"I think a meeting like this is valuable for an office like his (Fauntroy) to get an idea of what people are concerned about," said Richard Green, management analyst for the Treasury Department. "He can lose touch if all he gets is input from his own office."
Fauntroy's next town meeting is scheduled for May 25 at Mott Elementary School.