Thursday, August 4, 2005

Strategic planners will regroup in fall

Staff Writer

Some members of the Marshall County Strategic Planning Committee say they will rethink and reprioritize goals this fall. Interest and attendance at planning meetings has fallen off the last three months, according to Jack Russell, facilitator.

He asked for help in identifying weaknesses in the strategic planning process, including any of his own.

Those present at the July meeting last week expressed dismay at the lack of consistency in attendance and activity of some committees.

With big goals not yet accomplished, the group said working at accomplishing small goals may be advisable at this stage.

Bill Renick, director of the Industrial Development Authority, met with strategic planners for the first time and was unfamiliar with the goals set by the committees.

He said keeping goals simple and quantifiable would be a good idea for now.

To make goals measurable and verifiable the health and safety committee, for example, could set a goal to add three new deputies to the force.

During an off-the-record, open and honest group discussion of disappointments that more progress has not been made in achieving goals set last year, Russell presented an illustration to show how goals get set down on paper but not put into action.

Russell was asked about his experience with strategic planning committees in other counties and what he believes the main obstacle is to getting more elected officials and citizens to stay involved in the process.

“You are asking, why is it counties can’t get their act together?” Russell said.

He believes it is a matter of trust.

“One of the great things about LeadershipPlenty is that people come together, get to know each other and become friends,” he said. “I think I did not do enough to foster relationship building.”

LeadershipPlenty is a course designed to teach leadership to citizens in communities across the USA. The course is designed by the Pew Partnership.

Russell said trust is built by honest and open communications. Moving from planning to action is impeded when people do not trust each other, he said.

“People are too cautious about conflict,” he said. “They won’t really say what’s on their mind.”

Lack of commitment occurs when people in a group disagree about the plan but won’t speak out. No commitment is a result of fear of conflict, he said.

“So, you can get some goals through consensus because people who disagree won’t air their lack of support for the idea,” he said. “Don’t end a discussion just to reach consensus.

“One of the worst things that happens with strategic planning is making goals on consensus.”

Russell said members try to avoid accountability or sometimes domination of the group by one or a few individuals happens when people are afraid of conflicting ideas.

“People won’t speak out if they expect personal risks,” he said.

Byhalia’s Dot Childress agreed.

“In order for a community to get anything done, you have to have people who are willing to stand up for what they think and do what they think is right,” she said.

“We’ve got to be open on these things and confront people on these issues,” Russell said.

Steve Gresham discussed winning and losing. He said he had not attended meetings regularly - that his attitude might not be in the right place.

“The person on the losing side has to be someone who can lose and not take it personally,” he said.

Russell said problems also arise when there is inattention to results.

“Some people don’t care what the results are as long as they have on paper the goals they wanted,” he said. “It’s an ego thing. They got what they wanted and don’t care whether goals are met as long as things are going in the direction they want them to go.”

Some members said they believed more people would show up for planning meetings if there was more detail on the agenda mailouts.

Someone asked what should be on the agenda at the September meeting.

Del Stover suggested that September meeting be used to refocus.

“We could go back and look at these goals and reprioritize them,” he said.

Sarah Sawyer suggested that a lot more could be accomplished if board members (elected boards, appointed boards and civic boards) were active and involved in planning meetings and goal directed activities.

“What is the biggest need for Marshall County from an outsider’s perspective - the one thing that could make the biggest difference?” Gresham asked.

Russell answered that a 5 to 10 year Master Plan for Marshall County would be the best step.

“It all goes back to the elected officials who are going to decide,” said Gresham.

He said elected officials should be more involved and take more responsibility for the strategic plan.

Sawyer pointed to the goals accomplished by introducing the first class of LeadershipPlenty this year and the recent graduation of over 25 enrollees.

There was a lot of enthusiasm built during the graduation tour of the county, she said.

“It was amazing - an eye opener - to see all the opportunities the county has,” she said.

Ken Robinson agreed.

“I ride around with my wife and it is astounding at the natural resources we have,” he said. “Things have been here all our lives and we never knew they were here.”

Russell said the fall meetings should focus on how the resources in the county can be used to meet the goals of the strategic plan.

Lisa Stevens, with North East Mississippi Planning and Development District, who worked with the LeadershipPlenty class, said members of the first class should be invited to help carry out goals set by planning committees.“The people who just went through LeadershipPlenty are pumped up and want to do something good,” she said.

“Yes,” Sawyer said. “They took those goals and voted. They said we can’t take on all these goals so they chose to work on Kenny Dickerson’s project - to cleanup and improve the image of Marshall County.

“One of their goals is to keep leadership going and work to organize the next class. They wouldn’t have been that group if we had not built it from the ground up.”

She added that the strategic planners should not be too concerned about the level of participation of elected officials - that is those who show only sporadic interest.

“We can’t get bogged down in what elected officials will do, whether they participate or show up,” she said.

But Sawyer said setting a tone can be helpful to the group and others.

“Setting an example is the best way to get people involved,” she said. “We can set the tone because we cannot make people “care” about things that we see as priority.”

She said education can build awareness and help improve participation in projects that address strategic objectives.

“This is where the media comes in but people have to be open to learning,” she said. “Also, the techniques in leadership training can overflow into the goal and objectives process. I think Jack said this best.

“One thing I need to realize is that I can only take “baby steps” to get a project done. I think Bill Renick agreed with us in this regard. I was proud of him for being there. People have to be in attendance before they can make a difference.”

Renick is the newly appointed director of the Marshall County Industrial Development Authority.Marshall County Strategic Planning is sponsored by the Marshall County Board of Supervisors. County administrator Larry Hall and Lisa Stevens are in charge of scheduling the meetings and communications. The Appalachian Regional Commission is providing Russell as a facilitator.

Strategic Planning and getting the plan on the ground is done by voluntary participation. All citizens and elected officials are invited to take an active role in the development of strategic goals and for putting them into action.

The group meets monthly at the Marshall County Industrial Development Authority building in Holly Springs.

So far the planners have defined goals in five areas - business and industry, education, health and public safety, community development and zoning and taxes.

The goals set by each committee during strategic planning follow with information in brackets showing goals that have been partly or wholly met.

•Business and Industry Committee

Improve water and sewer and telecommunications to enhance commercial and industrial development. (A new sewer project is being laid down in Chickasaw Trails Area.)

Develop attractive and strategically located industrial parks. (Exel is a new warehousing distribution center under construction at Chickasaw).

Promote tourism based on natural resources in county. (The Tunica The Tunica Tour is being promoted. Walter Place added two cottages and a botanical garden to the tour this year. Strawberry Plains Audubon will hold the 6th Annual Hummingbird Festival in September. Attendance has increased every year with 5,000 tourists visiting the center last year. The Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance has visited Holly Springs twice gathering information for a new tour. The Blue and Gray Foundation’s Civil War Educational tour visited Holly Springs the last two years. A new Van Dorn’s Walking Trail was established in Holly Springs this year).

Establish workforce training center for information technology and health professions through Rust College and Northwest Community College.

Complete Chickasaw Trails Industrial Park. (Several other warehousing companies are pending at the Park. Money to build roads connecting the park to major highways is being secured. A sewer system is under constructioin and a half-million gallon storage tank is planned for the Park).

Initiate programs and strategies to help existing business and industry become more competitive through greater use of technology.

Develop a major shopping/retail complex in the Highway 302/309 area.

Survey what is needed to improve employment: human resources, day care, transportation, entrepreneurship, school-to-work opportunities and social services.

• Health and Safety Committee

Start environmental education and clean-up campaign. (A clean-up campaign was organized last year and this spring a leadership class took the campaign on as a project.)

Tap senior citizens as a resource of ideas and new initiatives. Increase presence of law enforcement, emergency and fire protection personnel in under-served areas.

Provide healthcare personnel (a nurse) in all schools. Start major education campaign for preventive healthcare.

Establish health and safety council to coordinate services across agencies and jurisdictions.

Update and improve zoning regulations to include health and community development concerns.

Recruit faith-based organizations to take part in health and environmental initiatives. (A faith-based Drug and Rehabilitation center for women [Teen Challenge] was denied a request for rezoning to convert the old Holly Springs nursing home facility to a rehabilitation center this year. The rezoning request was turned down because the facility is located in a residential area with high potential for development).

• Education Committee

Increase pre-school opportunities and expand head-start.

Provide an after-school mentoring and hands-on science and tutoring program to increase college bound numbers. (Strategic Planners are working on a grant proposal to fund a student mentoring and student leadership program. Northeast Mississippi Planning and Development District will write the proposal.)

Create entrepreneurial programs and opportunities for youth and adults.

Increase parental involvement in education with “Parent Aid Corp” and “Parents as Teachers” programs.

Establish teacher/parent/civic award programs with industry/business support.

Develop occupational and technology curriculum track and diploma.

Design school buildings for adult ed and basic skill training.

Study feasibility of adding a NWCC satellite campus in county. Increase professional development programs for teachers.

Develop a “School-to-Work program with support of public and private sector entities to modernize preparation for workforce. (The county’s first Educational Summit for high school students was held this year by a joint effort of the business and industry and education committees. Five hundred students, parents and leaders attended.)

Study feasibility of consolidation of school districts. Develop “Education First” public education campaign ad.

• Taxes and Zoning Committee.

Create wealth by increasing the tax base and decreasing the tax rate through the following methods and means: reduce cost of road construction; introduce a “buy local” campaign; develop county-wide housing strategy to increase the number of taxable residences and generate employment; promote residential growth to capture population spillover from Memphis; review zoning ordinances and regulations to find impediments to economic development; improve decision making locally through continuing education of elected officials; provide tax incentives to new business startups.

(Marshall County updated its Comprehensive Plan this year and added new zoning ordinances and subdivision regulations to promote both residential/commercial/business growth. A leadership class was offered to all elected officials (county and municipal government officials) this year. Elected officials from Byhalia, Potts Camp, Holly Springs and Marshall County enrolled in the class. Participation was opened to the business community when not enough elected officials could fit the classes into their schedule this spring. A second leadership class is on the planning board.)

• Community Development Committee

The main objective of this committee is to marshall resources so that residents and organizations can work together on civic projects and community development.

A specific goal is to establish a county-wide leadership program to train future leaders and provide professional development. (This committee held its first LeadershipPlenty class in the county this year and trained about 27 business leaders and elected officials.)

A secnd goal is to establish a council of governments (consisting of elected officials from Potts Camp, Holly Springs, Byhalia and Marshall County, and business and economic leaders) to share information and increase efficiency and coordination of activities and planning. (The council held about three meetings to see if there was interest in establishing a purpose, direction and plan for the council. The meetings were discontinued until further interest develops.)

A third goal was to establish a community foundation to receive and distribute funds for education, community development and social services. (The foundation has not been established but an account that can accept donations for specific projects undertaken by strategic planning committees has been set up at the Industrial Development Authority.)

A fourth specific goal of the Community Development Committee was to implement the Vision to Action plan. This committee consisting of executive directors of the Chambers of Commerce, Larry Hall and Janet Jolley helped other committees to organize and implement the LeadershipPlenty Class and the Jobs Summit.

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