GUEST OPINION: Success is a choice

By TIM CLARK, guest columnist

The recent community conversation on the status of the Salt Creek Trail reinforces that using ad-hoc teams to identify and manage projects independent of a county strategy and comprehensive planning can be problematic.

The Salt Creek Trail has not been the only county project that has risks that can be eliminated or mitigated through improvements in the planning process.

Without better planning, we will continue to take a reactive “whack-a-mole” approach as issues bubble to the surface.

Current projects include the following:

  • The Salt Creek Trail Project, now 15 years in duration, has been delayed due to objections from affected property owners and elected officials opposed to the use of eminent domain by the state of Indiana.
  • The Bean Blossom wastewater project, now 20 years in duration, was delayed due to lack of alignment and common support of county government leaders and offices.
  • The proposed Maple Leaf music venue is expected to be approved by the end of November. The following entities have accepted responsibility and accountability for all project results: county council, commissioners, convention and visitors commission. The commissioners accepted the League of Women Voters’ request to hold a public meeting to address any questions or concerns that citizens may have with the project.
  • County courthouse compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a critical project to accommodate citizens with challenges, but approved and funded solutions have yet to be identified. Improving security is another important requirement.

Project results, be they good or bad, are determined by processes (habits, approaches) that are used in leading and managing the respective project.

An improved process for identifying and managing projects can prevent problems and provide project leaders with the needed support from the community. Successful projects that meet the expectations of the citizens make a positive contribution to our culture and quality of life.

As a certified quality auditor, now semi-retired, I have conducted and supported performance and process reviews in a wide variety of areas and industries. The scope of projects ranged from improving math skills and management issues in elementary and high schools, to assessing compliance of government agencies with financial management controls required by federal and state statutes, to improving national defense-related strategies.

Process reviews consist of assessing an organization’s processes (habits, approaches) and their respective capabilities in meeting the needs and expectations of the customer and other stakeholders. Findings often supported the adage that “If you always do what you always did, on average, you will usually get what you always got” — 99.73 percent of the time.

In considering needed changes, the overwhelming preference — despite the risks and quality of the outcome — is often to maintain the status quo.

To break the gravitational pull of the old habits, there must be a sense of urgency that change is required to produce the desired result.

Regarding urgency, many rural counties throughout the country, including Brown County, face projected declines in population that contribute to a declining tax base. This decline may require frequent and recurring tax increases and cuts in services unless the situation can be improved.

Indiana counties are funded primarily by property and income tax. New residential and business developments that are supported by the citizenry and will result in increases in the tax base can help mitigate the projected economic decline.

Attracting investors for residential and business developments requires the formulation and updating of a comprehensive (master) plan that reinforces the community vision and values, and includes the immediate and long-range reports and plans necessary to implement the desires of the community.

Elements of master planning could include strategies and plans in the following areas: broadband (Internet), trail systems, wastewater treatment, affordable housing, land use, thoroughfares, tourism and capital improvements.

With a master plan, community leaders can market the plan to private investors and companies can then use the plan to assess their risks and return on investment to seriously evaluate expansion and growth in Brown County.

To help develop support for the right projects, developments requiring taxpayer funding or other support must be guided by the policies and goals specified in the county comprehensive plan.

The current, 14-page comprehensive plan was approved in 2012 and provides general guidance concerning the future of Brown County. Larger counties in Indiana can have more detailed plans that exceed 200 pages. Additional information on this approach is provided by The Indiana Citizens Planners Guide. Another useful guide for developing effective project management plans and schedules is available from the Project Management Institute.

An immediate and incremental change to supplement the county comprehensive plan with the plans from current projects represents a proven strategy.

This change to the status quo will help support elected leaders to maintain required project oversight, engages the citizenry, and ensures the community that actions align with the vision for the county.

This change can take us a step forward in building a master plan that will convince potential new residents and investors that Brown County remains a desirable place to live, work, play and invest!

Tim Clark is a resident of Brown County.