Savannah alderman hosts city’s first ‘virtual’ town hall meeting

SAVANNAH, Ga. – It’s one small step for District 1 and one giant leap for Savannah kind.

On Tuesday, Alderman Van Johnson hosted the city’s first ‘virtual town hall’ in an effort to include more people in the democratic process in what he called, “a new frontier.”

At 7:30 p.m. Johnson launched a Facebook Live open the public on his professional page.

“Mobilize and leverage technology again to make it easier for us to get in contact and make it easier our constituents,” Johnson said.

During the hour and twenty-minute broadcast, Johnson discussed various issues where he initiated the conversation or answered questions or comments from viewers.

“Joann says we should have never demerged the police department,” Johnson read from a viewer. “Um, I agree. We should not have demerged the police department.”

In total more than 165 viewers were watching in real-time during the live feed. People were able to swipe and project their emotional reactions to Johnson’s discussions using the Facebook Emotions button.

During Johnson’s discussion on the city’s proposed budget for 2018 and potential lay offs for city employees, several people commented on a proposed fire fee to help offset a potential 12.9 million dollar deficit.

“I am not opposed to the fire fee,” Johnson said. “What I am opposed to is how it was rolled out. Here we are essentially two months before the end of the year telling our residents, well, we are going to do this.”

Johnson believes there are other options to help fund the fire department through the use of an enterprise fund. He told viewers he will continue to work to offer alternative solutions, including at the upcoming City Council Budget Retreat quickly approach November 30 and December 1. The retreat begins at 8:30 a.m. and is open to the public at the Savannah Morning News building, 1375 Chatham Parkway.

Johnson also took several minutes to address other issues, including adjusting legal consequences for simple drug possession, especially marijuana.

“If a person is arrested on their first time of simple possession then its fine of 150 dollars, no jail time. The second time would be 300 dollars. The third time and beyond that would be up to the mercy of the courts but in particular 20 percent of those funds would go towards rehabilitation,” Johnson said.

He also addressed public safety in Savannah saying more police officers won’t fix crime in the city.

“The criminals of today were in Pampers yesterday. The criminals of tomorrow are in Pampers today. We need folks in our community to get their children in check,” Johnson said.

Johnson took a question from WSAV asking about programming for children in the upcoming budget. Johnson said he will continue to fight for the survival of programs like Savannah Impact in order to invest in the city’s next generation.

Johnson said the Facebook Live aspect doesn’t take away from face-to-face meetings with his district, but wants to continue to use the feature for future use.

To view the entire town hall, click here.

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