Listening to voices in the community is key for civic leaders.
The city of Sugar Land recently embarked on a new frontier of community engagement it hopes will become more prevalent.
Sugar Land City Councilman Naushad Kermally, Assistant City Manager Chris Stuebing and Police Chief Eric Robbins hosted a virtual town hall meeting Sept. 23, using a live stream on Facebook to update citizens on crime trends, upcoming events and the Nov. 5 bond election. The trio also took part in a live question-and-answer session after their presentations.
Kermally, the council member for District 2, said the event had been in the works for several months, with city officials brainstorming ways to better reach the citizens of Sugar Land.
“People live busy lives, and having a town hall in the evening is tough for people to make with all the other commitments they have. There have been times in the past when we have more staff than citizens at these events,” Kermally said. “These days, most people are glued to their phones. It’s an easier way for them to sit home and continue to do what they need to do and still be able to participate. We were very happy with the results.”
Questions posed to Kermally, Robbins and Stuebing included inquiries about crime statistics, the upcoming general obligation bond, property tax increases, flooding and drainage in areas such as Telfair and even how the city is accounting for climate change in infrastructure planning.
“Thank you for organizing this virtual town hall. What a great idea,” Sugar Land resident Kristi Nix wrote in a comment during the event.
At one point, Kermally said roughly 50 people were streaming the meeting live on the city’s Facebook page, which he said is better attendance than many town halls.
As of Monday, a video of the virtual town hall had about 1,400 views.
“We were able to tackle the questions immediately,” Kermally said. “These are questions you’re not exactly prepared for, but we had the answers for them.”
Early feedback from members of District 2 has largely been positive.
“Thank you Chief Robbins, Council member Kermally and Chris Stuebing. This was a great step moving forward in providing information that relates to District 2,” Sugar Land resident Elizabeth Abraham wrote on the Facebook live stream.
Kermally said there are no additional virtual town hall meetings planned, noting that some of his constituents have said they still prefer face-to-face interaction.
But he also believes the Sept. 23 event was – and should be – just the beginning of a wave of the future coming to Sugar Land.
“I think we need to do more of these to get more engagement,” he said. “People may not have watched the entire thing, but they were able to watch what was important to them. It allows people to pick and choose when to tune in. I think we hit the nail on the head, and it works.”