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Tuesday, Apr. 28, 2015

Looking for a Sign at City Hall

Posted Thursday, May 26, 2011, at 8:44 AM

Once, years ago, when I was visiting my parents, I went inside to buy an "Arkansas, The Natural State" T-shirt.

There has long been a small, green state highway sign outside the building that says "Tourist Information."

Later, after my parents bought a house in town, I knew it housed the Water Company, since that is where I dropped payments off.

I had probably lived here for six months, however, before I realized the nice brown brick building on Highway 9 (Main Street), just north of the square, is actually Salem City Hall.

When I started covering Salem City Council meetings for the newspaper, I thought of asking why there was no sign identifying the building as "City Hall."

I decided not to raise the subject, because city officials were just getting to know me and I didn't want to come off as one of those new-to-town troublemakers.

That's why I nearly jumped up and cheered when, at a recent council meeting, Public Works Director Bill Worsham said he wanted to mention something, when Mayor Gary Clayton asked if there was any other business before adjournment.

Worsham said he had recently been asked by several people, mostly newcomers to town, where city hall was.

Maybe we need a sign outside city hall, Warsham suggested.

Clerk-Treasurer Pam Bryant quickly responded, "Just tell them it's next to the fire department."

"There's no sign there either!" I blurted out.

That was an embarrassing moment for me, since I believe reporters should be seen but not heard when official meetings are going on.

Mayor Clayton explained that a "City Hall" sign was in the original plans when the building was built in the 70s, but money ran short and the sign was never made.

The Mayor said he would check into what it would take to get a sign put up.

I realize, in the big scheme of things, a "City Hall" sign is not that big of a deal and it is likely to be put on the back burner and forgotten.

But I hope it isn't.

In my travels, I have noticed that Highland, Hardy, Ash Flat, Mammoth Spring, Thayer and other cities and towns I've come across have "City Hall" signs, if they have a city hall.

Salem should be proud to proclaim where its city hall is located, since the facility is much nicer that most in the area.

But there's another, more important reason to have a City Hall sign.

City Hall is the seat of Salem government. It is where city business and citizen problems are discussed and where the tax dollars citizens contribute to run the government get spent.

That means, city hall should be an identifiable, welcoming place.

It is true, citizens rarely show up to a council meeting, unless they have something to complain about.

But the least government can do is display a sign to say, "We are here and your ideas, complaints and involvement are welcome."

Salemites might be thinking about now, "Well, everyone knows where city hall is."

But, as Bill Worsham pointed out, those who haven't lived here forever may not.

While outsiders are sometimes viewed with suspicion by locals, newcomers who are here should be welcomed and more should be desired.

County Judge Charles Willett told me he was glad Fulton County and Salem held their own, population-wise, in the 2010 Census (Salem added 44 residents over the past ten years).

But he added, we should be doing more to try to attract younger families with children, because a big percentage of our population is senior citizens and retirees.

In other words, to insure a good future for Salem and Fulton County, we are going to need new blood in the community, as well as find ways to keep more of our youth here as they reach adulthood.

A Salem City Hall sign will say, "We've been here since 1839 and have been an official city since 1902, and we intend to stay in operation. If you're new to town, we welcome your input."

While they are at it, city fathers (and mothers) may want to also put a nice "Salem Volunteer Fire Department" sign, next door.

Salem should be proud that it has one of the best fire departments around, and has the only hazardous materials unit in the county.

Volunteer firefighters are a proud and dedicated bunch. Salem is the only department I can think of that does not have a sign up to identify their headquarters.

After 40 years, maybe its time to stop hiding our lights under a bushel.

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I used to call this blog "Stranger In Town" but time goes by quickly. After a year in these parts, I realize people will still say, 'he's from off' but I now proudly claim I am a "Stranger No More"! After a lifetime in living in big cities, small town life has produced surprises, good and bad but, after more than a year, I love it (most of the time!). I promise to keep on writing about stuff that interests me and things I think of to complain about. I hope you will continue to check in occasionally to read and comment.