Q: Where did you get the idea for your monthly Walk with the Mayor program?
A: Prior to taking office as mayor in 2002, one of the things I needed to do at my age was start losing some weight, so I was starting a walking regime. When I was elected, friends kidded me I wouldn’t have time to walk after I was elected, so I was basically starting something I wouldn’t finish. But the more I thought about it the more I liked the idea of having walks where people could join me and walk and talk with the mayor. I figured it could be fun and informative. I put it into practice and got the whole council to walk with me, too, plus most of the time city department heads and the police and fire chiefs join in.
Q: So this was an original idea? You didn’t get it from somewhere?
A: No, I’d never seen or heard of anything like it.
Q: Has it proven fun and informative?
A: What we’ve found is it’s an excellent communication tool and has allowed us to see parts of Perry we may not have noticed otherwise and hear from people we may not have heard from. We’ve walked through all parts of the city but there’s still no danger of us running out of places to walk. It’s one thing to drive through town but entirely different to walk it. You see more, get a better sense of the atmosphere.
Q: Have specific things come from the walks?
A: We’ve seen things and gotten information about things that have led to decisions and projects. We’ve seen homes people have pointed out that needed cleaning up, code violations, drainage problems we weren’t aware of. Traffic situations. There are a lot of those types of discussions on the walks. Our getting out has led to good things for the city.
Q: And is it fun?
A: I think so. We get quite a few compliments about the walks, and people seem to think they’re a good idea. They’re about a mile long and at a pace you don’t really get your heart rate going. They’re not too strenuous. We have carts with flashing lights on them with us from the police and fire departments keeping us safe along the roadway. The fire department brings water and the police help with traffic safety.
Q: It doesn’t sound like the best weight-loss regime, though.
A: No, it’s not. We keep the priority on communication rather than fitness. We want people to be able to join us. I have a separate walking regime for my own benefit. These community walks have become a priority to me and council members.
Q: Are you a fitness buff?
A: I’m not really, no. However, I’m trying to adhere to various doctors’ pleas to eat right and exercise. I struggle with it but I recognize the importance and I’m glad the walks help promote getting out and exercising. As I get older it’s easier to find the Lazy-Boy recliner than the walking shoes and I have time constraints like everybody else, but just like everybody else I’m ultimately in control of my time and it’s up to me to use it well.
Q: Practically, how do the walks work? How do people know about them?
A: They’re the fourth Tuesday of each month, weather permitting. We don’t walk in the rain. We usually don’t walk in December and often don’t walk in November due to the holidays, and we don’t walk in June because of a conflict with the Georgia Municipal Association’s annual meeting, which we go to. I announce the walks and locations at council meetings and it’s on the Perry website and calendar. We put up a big yellow and green sign at the walk’s starting point a couple of weeks beforehand. There’s only been one time nobody showed up, usually there’s at least 15, 20 or so with about half from city government. But you don’t have to walk to talk to us. Some people wait in their yard for us to pass by and take a minute to talk or show us something. When people find out where we’re walking we may get a call asking us to be sure to see something in particular along the way.
Q: How do you pick walks?
A: We have three electoral districts in Perry with two councilmen from each—I’m the only official elected citywide. We decided to rotate between the districts as a way to organize walks and see all the various areas.
Q: Does it get quiet along the walks?
A: It’s pretty constant conversation. It’s like a regular walk where you group up then string out. There are big conversations then there are sidebar conversations where just two or three are walking along talking.
Q: What would you say is the most significant thing to come from the walks?
A: I think several things. It never ceases to amaze me how much litter there is, especially along heavily traveled roads. We’ve seen areas that needed significant storm water drainage work that we weren’t aware of. We’ve seen dumping problems and been made aware of street lighting issues. Some have to do with switching to LED street lights. That’s good, but there’s a different way they cast light, more like a spotlight. Like I said, code enforcement issues are often brought to our attention. No one likes to rat out a neighbor, but sometimes someone gives me a nudge then tilts their head as if to say, “Have a look over here.” On the other hand, we get a lot of people bragging on their neighbors and talking highly of the city and things that are happening. And then there are times we see things that need work that people in the neighborhood have just gotten used to. And the walk conversation doesn’t have to just be about where we’re walking. It can be about other things.
Q: What’s been your biggest takeaway from the program overall?
A: One thing I like about it is—you know how you always hear about the silent majority? These walks are a great way to give the silent majority a voice. People who wouldn’t generally complain or come visit the council get a chance to be heard in a real neighborly way. That and the fact it gives us as public servants a better chance to be proactive about things. We can see up close what’s going on and then have experts check it out so we can make good determinations in advance of a real problem developing.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.