Since its inception in 2015, the Dexter Forum has been, as what one attendee calls, “a refreshing way to find out what’s going on around here.”
The Forum, which meets at 8:30 a.m. in the Dexter Wellness Center conference room on the first and third Saturday’s of each month, is an independent, non-partisan informal gathering of area residents for the purpose of discussing a variety of topics and share information and ideas.
The Dexter Forum is the collaborative effort of long-time residents John Hansen and Karl Fink who also moderate the relaxed gathering twice a month. The agenda is decided by those who show up that particular morning and it usually surrounds questions people have about what’s going on. Subjects range widely from state and county concerns such as elections and roads to local matters such roundabout construction and the Michigan Meteor.
Each topic on the agenda is usually introduced with John saying something like, “OK. Who can tell us about ____________?”
“The amazing thing has been that in three years, we haven’t been stumped yet,” John says of the questions and discussion. “Somebody always knows something. We haven’t left yet without more insight than when we came.”
The format is enjoyable for many. Retired educator for Dexter Schools, Richard Weaver, has been attending the Forum since its early days and had this to say: “I began attending the Dexter Forum a few months after it started. John Hansen commented about it so I thought I would go. I like the concept of intelligent discussion for providing information rather than ‘intense promotion’ of a position.”
Each session is meant to be lively, fun, positive and uplifting, and that seems to be achieved each session. No criticizing allowed and attendees are quick to put the kibosh on negative remarks. Discussion is maybe 10 or 15 minutes at the most. The meetings end promptly at 9:30 a.m. but discussions often continue on afterwards. As John Hansen told the group a few weeks ago, “We design these meetings with the hope that you leave here feeling better than when you came.”
Once in awhile a politician shows up. In an election year, a lot of politicians show. Those running for local government, school board, or a state position are allowed to present their case while standing on a two-inch high platform painted to represent a stump.
There’s always seems to be a ripple of excitement when a candidate gives their “stump speech” which echoes politicians way back in the day traveling from town to town speaking to gathers while perched atop a crate, chair, or stump. Weaver says, “The concept of the ‘stump’ is great…. to give a chance for prospective candidates to present their ideas…and to be asked questions after their 5 minute presentation.” Speeches are (mercifully) limited with the real Q & A happening one on one afterwards.
The purpose of the forum is not to advocate or endorse one particular viewpoint or solution over another, but to hear all points of view – to listen, and learn. The welcoming and good-natured atmosphere gets people to open up. It’s a safe place for honest and frank conversations.
“But it’s a civil conversation,” notes Karl in a July 2016 Ann Arbor Observer Article. “That’s the way we wanted it to be. Just like when John and I have a conversation – we have a civil conversation and we listen to each other. Maybe every once in a while I can get John to change his mind. It hasn’t happened yet,” he laughs. “But we listen to each other.”
Karl leans conservative and John leans liberal, but neither would appreciate being labeled as such. One of the lighter moments both have enjoyed over the years have when some folks noted the group was “too liberal” while others have seen it as being “too conservative.” It’s neither. It’s refreshingly apolitical.
Karl and John have been Dexter area residents since 1974 and both have been heavily involved in public service. Karl Fink served as a judge for 18 years and as a Webster Township trustee for 10. He has been practicing law for more than fifty years and currently works out of the Ann Arbor based Fink & Fink in a family tradition of legal advocates.
John Hansen served many years as Superintendent of Dexter Community Schools. After than, he was elected to the Michigan legislature and since leaving has filled a number of interim positions – Superintendent for Schools in Willow Run, Brighton, and Adrian; Scio Township Manager; City Manager for Chelsea and Ypsilanti; Regional Director for the March of Dimes; and President of the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce.
Karl explains that the idea for the Dexter Forum was conceived several years ago when “John and I were both aware of a similar concept in Ypsilanti, the Fletcher Forum.” This was a community forum created thirty years ago by the late Peter Fletcher, a prominent Michigan Republican and longtime local businessman. “At the Fletcher Forum,” says Karl, “People of different political viewpoints meet every Saturday. John brought up the subject of starting something similar in Dexter.”
The Dexter Forum held its first meeting on February 21, 2015. Since then, Karl says it’s not uncommon to have a newcomer arrive and say something like, “I’ve heard this is the place to come to find out what’s going on.” And speaking of newcomers, Karl has asked the group several times now, “How many here have grown up in Dexter?” Each time the answer has been three. “It reflects very well on Dexter as a place that people move to,” he observes.
The Forum is officially sponsored by the 5 Healthy Towns Foundation, owner of Dexter Wellness Center where the Forum meets. The conference room is donated and the Forum has no expenses.
The Dexter Forum is free and open to all. If you would like meeting reminders and/or John’s summary notes for each meeting, you can send a request to John at RepHansen@aol.com. And as John says, “You will get meeting reminders, meeting notes and nothing else.”
So if you’re worn out by what seems to be constant bickering as the only dialogue between two opposing sides, if you would like to experience folks of opposing views getting along and actually enjoying one another’s company, if you like to laugh, like to think, join Hansen, Fink, et al as they wend their way through the issues at hand.
Hope to see you there.