Communication issues addressed at town hall meeting
Mayor Kevin Johnson opened Monday night’s town hall meeting with a speech on his upbringing in Oak Park. The attendants quickly shifted the mood of the meeting with a flood of questions on issues in Sacramento, and many ethnic communities showed concern for lack of support and communication in the past.
Johnson said that early on in his term he made the mistake of thinking that there was only one Asian/Pacific Islanders community (API) in Sacramento, when there are in fact more than 40 communities. Because of this, he said he didn’t attend many of the API meetings held last year. He told attendees that this is something he wants to change.
“When I was talking to the API community, I said that I’m willing to go to any event that you want me to go to… I thought I would have to go to two or three events a year to fulfill my obligation,” Johnson said. “After the first year, I did not realize I was not fulfilling my obligation.”
So far, Johnson said he believes his biggest accomplishment within the API community was “marrying into the family” when he married Michelle Rhee, a public figure in American education.
He encouraged the API community to be open with him.
“Anytime I can be helpful,” Johnson said, “you gotta let me know. I’m willing to fight and stand with you if it’s important to the community.”
The majority of those attending the meeting were different members from different groups of the many API communities. Most seats were filled and many hands filled the air when the time came to ask questions.
Sukh C. Singh, general secretary of Indus Valley American Chamber of Commerce, brought up how two deaths in his community were handled by Johnson.
He said that the Sikh community turned to Johnson for support when two of their own were randomly shot and killed last year, but that they received no support whatsoever.
“We did not see any active part made by the mayor of Sacramento,” Singh said. “In this kind of situation, (our community) really needs a word of confirmation that we have a representative who cares for us.”
Singh ended his statement with an apology, saying he didn’t intend to criticize.
“Don’t apologize,” Johnson said. “I want to be held accountable.”
Johnson said he did show support on this issue, and apologized for the fact that “his people” did not get back to Singh. However, this was not the only show of disappointment from present communities on his support in such cases, and Johnson said he would do better to show it this year and defend the rights of people in Sacramento.
“If we get all of our ethnic groups participating,” Johnson said, “we’ll have a stronger Sacramento.”
Another important issue brought up by many was education. According to Johnson, only 37 percent of third graders in Sacramento can read at grade level. Through the new organization Stand Up, he said he and Rhee hope to learn what changes the community wants and find a way to get better teachers and make school relevant to students.
“Nothing is more important to me than educating our children,” Johnson said. “You can’t have a great city without great schools.”
More and more hands rose with questions for Johnson, but the meeting started to run past the allotted time. The meeting ended with hands still in the air and Johnson asked those in attendance to “be relentless” in emailing him and thanked them for coming.
No date has been set for the next town hall.