A group of Conversation Corps participants talk about city issues at Genuine Joe Coffeehouse. A group of Conversation Corps participants talk about city issues at Genuine Joe Coffeehouse.[/caption]

A new program aims to garner public input on issues such as city budget priorities, transportation and affordability. Conversation Corps holds its first round of meetings in May at locations throughout the city.

Julie Smith, program manager at nonprofit Leadership Austin, which is facilitating the program, said the conversations are meant to appeal to more than just the residents who are already involved in city dealings.

“[We wanted] to reach out to more than just the usual suspects,” she said.

The discussions in May will focus on budget priorities. Participants will be asked to rank how much tax money should be spent on city concerns, such as infrastructure, parks, water and planning; Capital Metro concerns, such as service hours, bus frequency and improving the fare payment system; and Austin ISD concerns, such as teacher compensation, technology and special education.

A trained facilitator will use the rankings as a starting point for discussion, Smith said. During the hour-long event, participants can share their opinions and respond to one another, she said.

Smith said after the conversation is over, the facilitator meets with Leadership Austin to form a report, which is then delivered to the Conversation Corps Steering Committee whose members are also key decision makers in the city of Austin, Capital Metro and Austin ISD.

Conversation Corps is still in its infancy, Smith said. The program launched in January, after Leadership Austin helped the three participating agencies bring the community engagement idea to life, she said. A pilot round of conversations was held in March; May is the program’s first round of conversations with a specific topic in mind, she said.

“We’d love to see the number of these conversations grow,” Smith said.

Residents who cannot attend any of the conversations are invited to email input to Smith at [email protected]

“We do want people to share their thoughts, even if they can’t make it to the conversation,” she said.

The following Conversation Corps dates are scheduled in Northwest Austin:

• May 17 at 4 p.m., La Madeleine Country French Café, 9828 Great Hills Trail
• May 18 at 2 p.m., North Village Library, 2505 Steck Ave.
• May 19 at 7 p.m., Anderson Mill Community Center, 11500 El Salido Parkway
• May 20 at noon, Lakewood Clubhouse, 7317 Lakewood Drive

Future topics include MobilityATX in June, affordability in July and community engagement in August. For more locations and information visit www.atxtalks.org.