Westerville Mayor Craig Treneff wants to reach more residents.

Instead of taking to social media or city-wide mailers, he's thinking smaller.

This week begins the first of Treneff's "neighborhood chats," a series of meetings with residents that Treneff has been hoping to begin since he transitioned from chairman of Westerville City Council to mayor this year.

While a tumultuous first three months of the year delayed his outreach, Treneff said he's excited to get working on making the job of mayor a little less ceremonial.

"When I became mayor, I wanted to try to find a way to use the office of mayor in a way to engage the community, perhaps more broadly than a council member could do," he said.

"The one thing I've learned in four months or so of being mayor is that people react to that title a whole lot more than they do to the chair of council, which I've had for the last four years," he said.

Starting with a meeting with residents of the Annehurst area April 4, Treneff said he hopes to reach out to get a sense of residents' concerns.

"In my mind, the primary goal is more about listening," he said. "It's inbound information to me and to members of council and the administration, more than pushing info out. I envisioned it from the beginning as more of a listening tour."

Part of that goal is to not bore residents with slides and presentations, and instead skip to conversations.

"The idea is to turn it into a two-way discussion as early as I can in the evening," he said.

City spokeswoman Christa Dickey said she hopes the meetings can become an alternative to email or social media.

She said city staff has identified about a dozen areas to target, aiming to get each neighborhood involved.

"We're making an effort to kind of make sure that every neighborhood is touched," she said. "So we've taken all the neighborhoods in Westerville and put them into a district mapping so that we are, to the greatest extent possible, making sure he touches every neighborhood at least once during his two-year term as mayor."

Treneff said he's trying to replicate something he's found while campaigning -- often, comments are different when knocking on doors or walking around a neighborhood.

"Usually letters or people coming to council are more about an obvious problem -- there's something in the neighborhood or city that's bothering them, and there's usually more than one person," he said. "I'm kind of looking for that comment that we might not have anticipated, like when I would knock on a door."

He said he's not doing much planning, and will mostly be seeing where the conversation takes him.

"I'm going to have to develop this as it goes because no one has attempted it yet," he said. "So it's going to be kind of an open discussion format. We'll see how it works."

Treneff's first meeting was scheduled for the Annehurst Elementary School gymnasium. He said schools are likely destinations for the meetings, but does not have a second meeting scheduled yet.

For more information, visit www.Westerville.org.

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