ATWATER -- In an effort to improve transparency and connect with residents, the city hosted its first "Atwater Expo" Thursday at the Atwater Community Center.
The event is another way community members can learn about the city without having to go to council meetings, said Councilman Jeff Rivero.
"The goal is to try and make the city as transparent as possible so that people feel comfortable coming down and talking to our city heads or whoever they need to," he said. "It'll take less amount of time to find out more, it's more of a one-stop shop."
Rivero helped organize the event along with City Manager Greg Wellman, who got all the department heads together.
Rivero encouraged other council members in attendance to greet visitors at the door to improve familiarity.
"I grew up in the city of Atwater -- most everybody knew everybody," he said. "Now that the town's getting bigger we've gotten away from that, so I'm trying to bring it back to where more people know more of what's going on and who's doing it."
Up for re-election in November, Rivero thinks the Atwater Expo's "kicked-back atmosphere" is another way to show residents what city officials are accomplishing.
"I've gone to at least 2,500 doors already for the election and most people are extremely happy because they see momentum going forward, they see things getting done," he said. "This is more of a one-on-one way to communicate with people."
All city departments were represented at the event, said Assistant City Manager Stan Feathers. Many other organizations were also represented, including United Way and Merced County Medical Reserve Corps.
A section of the community center was set aside as an arts and crafts area for kids.
This is the first Atwater Expo, but it may become an annual event if the community responds well to it, he said.
"These things evolve over the years," Feathers said. "We'll work and see how to improve it."
The gathering of information isn't only limited to visitors at the event, which was put together on a "shoestring budget," he added. The Atwater Expo is also a good forum for city officials to learn from residents.
"It's a great opportunity to get ideas from residents," Feathers said. "Feedback is critical."
Most city tables had a "feedback survey" that allowed people to rate the performance of city departments, let them know what they're doing well and what can be improved on.
Planning Commission Chairman Bob Miller and Commissioner Fred Warchol were at the event to represent their faction of city government.
Both thought the event allowed the public to network with city officials in a more comfortable environment.
"This is an opportunity for the public to interact with some of the people who have a big impact on their lives," Warchol said. "It can be intimidating to publicly ask questions at council meetings."
And if learning about how city government operates wasn't sufficient, the complimentary hot dogs and refreshments were enough to keep visitors satisfied.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.