Civics 101: Fifth-grader addresses commission over slanted sign

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – By the signs of it, 10-year-old Oscar Bomgardner possesses a keen eye for detail. And when a particular sign caught the Johnson City fifth-grader’s eye, he took matters into his own hands.

“I noticed it when I was looking at State of Franklin,” Oscar told WJHL Tuesday in reference to the “Johnson City Center” sign. So when his Boy Scout troop attended the Oct. 3 Johnson City Commission meeting, Oscar headed purposefully to the mic during the public comment period.

“The Johnson City Center sign looks a little bit crooked,” Oscar told commissioners.

Johnson City Commissioner John Hunter explained on Tuesday that youth organizations visit commission meetings regularly to see government in action. This was the first time he can remember a youngster stepping forward to speak.

“To be at that age and to come before the city commission on his own, that was impressive,” Hunter said. For his part, Oscar owned up to being “really nervous.”

Oscar Bomgardner takes the level to the Johnson City Center sign. Verdict? A fraction crooked.

At the meeting, Mayor Jenny Brock said the sign, which sits in front of the new Hobby Lobby and Home Goods stores, might look crooked because it has some slope beneath it. “But I’ll look at it the next time I’m out there,” Brock said. “Good observation.”

“And maybe we can put more land under it so it doesn’t look crooked,” Oscar replied.

The eyeball test didn’t fully satisfy Oscar, though. On Tuesday, he and his dad, Tim, headed to the location — where, just barely, his suspicions were confirmed.

“I thought it was going to be lower on this (left) side, but actually it is a fraction lower on that side,” he said.

Hunter hopes more young people — and older ones for that matter — will follow Oscar’s lead. “He’s paying attention to what’s going on in the city, which means he cares, and at a young age that’s a great thing to see.”

The property owner is responsible for the sign, but Oscar told us Tuesday he’d still like to see some work done. “The ground that isn’t over there (beneath the sign’s right side), it makes it look like this side is lower, so they need to put some ground under it.”

Oscar Bomgardner addresses commissioners Oct. 3.

Oscar’s civic involvement isn’t ending with Tuesday’s activity. As he left the podium Oct. 3, City Manager Pete Peterson called him back. “What would you and your friends like to see us do to make Johnson City a better place to live and play?” Peterson asked. “Anything you can think of. This is a blank piece of paper and you can say anything you want to.”

“I don’t really know,” Oscar answered. Peterson then asked him to get with his friends and think about it. “You and I can maybe get together some time later and sit down and talk about what your friends and people your age would like to see different about Johnson City?”

Oscar agreed, and by Tuesday he had this to tell WJHL: “My teacher, Mrs. Murphy, put that video on … and she decided that we should write letters to Mr. Peterson about it.”

Perhaps City Manager Peterson should have his people call Oscar’s people so they can sync their calendars.

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