Check your front door. You may have an invitation to the next Gainesville City Council meeting.
Council member George Wangemann makes it a habit each week to visit about 50 houses and hand deliver envelopes to residents around the city. He visits more than 100 houses for each council meeting, and a handful of people have come to see the elected officials in action.
"The people in our neighborhood are accustomed to going to the meetings, but his invitation reminded us that we should do our civic duty and pay attention to what's going on," said Rosemary Dodd, a Gainesville resident who showed up at the Sept. 21 meeting with several of her neighbors. "A lot of people went that morning. We've gone before when we had concerns about our neighborhood. But it was interesting to go when we didn't have anything on the agenda."
Once a week, Wangemann parks in a neighborhood and carries about 50 envelopes in hand as he walks door to door and knocks. For those who answer, he just might hand out a small gift. On Tuesday he gave away a few pumpkin scented candles for the fall season.
"The more people who participate in government, the better off we will be," Wangemann said Tuesday as he walked along Lakeshore Circle and Westlake Drive. "Our best asset is an informed citizenry, and there's no reason our citizens can't put in extra time to be informed."
Wangemann began handing out invitations at the beginning of August, an endeavor he took on when he was frustrated about the focus on national politics rather than local politics.
"National politics is important, don't get me wrong, but the local government seemed to be ignored. Yet when you talk to people about what affects them more, it's the local government and local taxes," he said. "The local officials are also closest to the people and much more likely to listen. We can't hide. People know where I live, and I have to face my constituency.
Walking door to door isn't a problem for Wangemann, who has visited many doorsteps during campaigning or church missionary work. After playing a role on City Council for 24 years, he also knows the different areas of Gainesville well and feels comfortable approaching residents.
"I prefer to deal with people face to face, and you can talk to people about their concerns. Differences are much easier to work out in person, and you get to know your constituents better," he said. "Plus, I get the benefits of exercise and walking. You certainly get to know the hills around Gainesville, especially up the steep driveways."
Wangemann hands out the invitations early in the evening, around 5 p.m. when some residents are home for work but before family dinners start. According to his notes, four residents who received his invitations came to the Aug. 3 meeting, five to the Aug. 17 meeting, six to the Sept. 7 meeting and 12 to the Sept. 21 meeting.
"I've always been interested in the city government, and I wanted to bring up a question about the vacation policy for city employees with sick leave and holidays. They need to review that policy," said Gainesville resident Martin Ellard who attended a recent council meeting. "We have a good City Council, and I do appreciate George Wangemann personally coming to my house and hand delivering a letter. It's nice to know he cares enough to do that."
On Tuesday, Wangemann stuck several envelopes in doors where no one was home. He also met various personalities at the door - some talkative, some hesitant and others holding back barking dogs.
"I've never had a door slammed in my face. Once people find out why you're there, they're OK," he said. "It's really fun to do if you get a lot of people at home. Last week, when it was hot outside, people would invite me inside for a drink, and we talked for a while about their concerns."
Wangemann talked to residents about the new trash pickup plan and taxes with some residents Tuesday. Since the beginning of August, he's handed out more than 600 invitations and plans to keep going - even during upcoming cold weather.
"I really appreciate the personal touch," said Anita Sherby, a Lakeshore Circle resident who talked to Wangemann about the weather and watching the council meetings on Channel 18. "You can't do this in big cities."