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Members of the Council Chat with Residents

James Wright | 1/23/2013, 11:57 a.m.

Rather than relying on the convenience of social media, elected officials are opting to interact with their constituents face-to-face about issues going on in their communities.

D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At large), who held a chat session in Ward 8 at the Big Chair Bar & Grill in Southeast on Jan. 17 with a number of residents, agrees personal contact is vital.

"I know that everyone cannot trek over to the John A. Wilson Building," said Grosso, 42. "I got this idea of meeting people out in the community from [former U.S. Rep.] Gabby Giffords, who did this a lot when she was in office."

Grosso talked to residents that day about issues that included education, the District's changing housing market and how it affects seniors and others who are homeowners and economic development in the ward. The conversations that took place on those issues and others pleased him.

"I did inform [D.C. Council member] Marion Barry that I would be here but he told me that no one would show up," Grosso said.

However, Henry Gregory did show up, and thought that the Grosso session was productive.

"It was very informative and I am glad that he is on the council," said Gregory, 40. "He brings a new energy to the council and I think his ideas are thoughtful and optimistic."

Each member of the D.C. Council and the mayor have staff who address concerns and problems that residents may be experiencing with the D.C. government through constituent services' offices. D.C. Council members rarely get involved in solving individual constituent problems.

Nevertheless, some D.C. Council members have chat sessions, with staff members on hand.

"We have a 'Chat with Cheh' every three weeks," said D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, 62. "Members of my staff and myself set up at a Safeway or a Starbucks and we put the meeting place and time on our website so that people can know when and where to come. I am there and you don't need an appointment to see me or my staff."

D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) does essentially the same thing that Cheh does.

"We have 'Office Hours in the Ward.'" said Bowser, 40. "Four times a year, we set up a table and have one-to-one meetings with constituents. I am there with the staff."

Bowser said that the chat sessions are 5-10 minutes and "we follow-up immediately on the problem."

"I do this at different places in the ward," she said. "I have had these meetings at Peaches Kitchen, My Little Bistro and Marino Brothers and they have gone well."

Cheh said that the chat sessions keep her abreast of what is going on in the ward.

"They are good because I get to stay in touch with my constituents and stay on top of things instead of dealing with people through email," she said.

Bowser and Cheh aren't the only council members who hold chat sessions with constituents but the others tend to do so infrequently. Some council members hold community meetings while others communicate with residents through e-newsletters and social media.

Myrna Jolly, a resident of Northeast, said that informal chat sessions are a good idea.

"It will help them do a better job," Jolly said. "It will also help them get re-elected."

There is speculation that Bowser is considering a run for mayor in 2014 and that Cheh, if re-elected in 2014, could be eyeing the D.C. Council chair position in the future.

However, for Grosso, who was sworn-in as a council member on Jan. 2, the chat sessions are a means of getting to know his constituents.

"It is important that I do outreach because I represent the whole city," he said. "I decided to go to Ward 8 because it is the best place to start and I would like to do this every Thursday if possible."