People Drinking Coffee? People Doing… Citizenship? While both may be true, the initials stand for the Progressive Development Committee, the group of citizens that cluster in the front of 45 South Café on Wednesday mornings at 8:15 a.m. "It's kind like a live newsletter of what is happening in the community," says Chuck Paul, the current chairman of the PDC.
Since the group formed in 2002, the accomplishments the members tick off are many: leading the debate on liquor-by-the-drink in downtown restaurants, fighting for a new community center in a historic church, helping change the city government to a "city manager" system. Pierre Levy, a former chairman, says that one remarkable thing about the group is the number of members who have moved into the council or into other city positions.
By all accounts, the shape of the PDC has shifted since the group started meeting eight years ago. The group used to be smaller, less structured--and the gloves came off a lot more. Charlie Riehm, a Norcross City Councilmember, remembers how much the PDC was galvanized by the politics of the day—politics that they were largely unhappy with. "We really had a 'good old boy' form of government," said Reihm. "There were more rabbit holes than you care to know about."
Terry Robinson invited some citizens to a presentation about downtown revitalization, which Riehm remembers as the start of the PDC in his mind.
Terry Bowie said he remembers the early days, when meetings were held at the Masonic Lodge. "It used to be an incubator of progressive ideas," said Bowie. "We really debated the merits of different issues." He said downtown restaurants were struggling back in 2002 but that a year after the liquor-by-the-drink law passed, the manager at the tavern said her revenue had more than doubled. "We helped bring about a lot of good change," he said.
"There were some very major expenditures on the table," said Levy, who describes the plan for the community center as a "$7- or 8-million albatross." He said the arguments about that issue, and many others, were strong, but that the group usually came to see some common ground.
Chuck Paul says that in the five years that he has been meeting with the PDC, the city council has started to line up with what the citizens are thinking. "The focus [of the PDC meetings] has really shifted to something else," says Paul.
Now, the meeting takes more of an informational format, with representatives from real estate, finance, the Gwinnett Convention and Visitor's Bureau, Norcross High School, the city government, the Gwinnett Village CID and others sharing news and information. Controversial topics, of course, still pop up and debate will take the floor quickly.
In a recent meeting, citizens have brought the idea of a "silent train crossing" to the table, the recognition of Norcross High as a "Best High School in America" came up, as did the new transit grant awarded to area CIDs and county.
The meeting is registered as a Special Called Meeting and notes are taken and posted.
People who attend PDC meetings say the city council meetings aren't set up in a way that fosters discussion. The PDC gives them an outlet, a way to give direct feedback and have open dialogue that they wouldn't have otherwise.
On a recent Wednesday, Riehm took note of feedback on the city website. "I come now because I get ideas," he said.