GUEST OPINION: ‘Coming together is a beginning’

By TIM CLARK, guest columnist

In the first part of my series, “The role of process in county’s future,” I suggested that the process applied to fast-track approval of the $12.5 million investment in the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) might represent a turning point for the future of the county.

The objectives for this column are to identify likely effects from a tourism-centric focus on development and to introduce a new model of citizen engagement that can result in outcomes where everyone can benefit, or at least, will not be any worse off in the long-term.

The MLPAC was approved without consideration of the concurrent impact of the Big Woods Hard Truth Hills development. Analysis and projections as to the total costs and impacts of both developments (cultural, social as well as economic) were not discussed with the citizenry.

Actions have intended as well as unintended consequences. The process used to fast-track the MLPAC, if allowed to be repeated for future developments, can be “transformative” in a sense used in scenario 2 below. However, it can also “transform” our future by motivating and reinforcing the need for citizen engagement in determining the future of Brown County.

Future scenarios can include the following:

1. Status quo plus. The additional increase in year-round tourism from Big Woods/Hard Truth Hills (destination distillery) and the MLPAC are added to the tourism portfolio with some noticeable impacts on the culture of the county. This will include more events to promote entertainment, craft beer, wine and spirits tourism and additional traffic congestion. An increase in revenue from income and property taxes, the primary source of revenue for the county, might offset the increase in county infrastructure-related costs.

2. Transformative. The expectations for the MLPAC were identified as leading to an increase in year-round tourism that would result in an economic turnaround, more jobs, hotel(s) and restaurants. These changes could possibly include the transition of Snyder Farm as an extension of Salt Creek Plaza. The requirement to fill a 2,000-seat venue will likely lead to offering any entertainment option and attracting any demographic that will sell tickets and attract visitors. Shops in Nashville could transition to bars or other dining and entertainment options that will encourage visitors to stay longer and spend more money. Other areas along the State Road 46 corridor could transition to tourist-related businesses. A casino might fit into this scenario. Entertainment, craft beer, wine and spirits tourism becomes a major part of the Brown County “brand.” The cumulative effect of the changes may lead to Brown County being considered a nice place to visit but not to live.

3. Collaborative planning. Community conversations can help identify the best acceptable alternatives for tourism, community and economic development options. To quote Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Conversations can lead to strategies, strategies to plans, and good plans lead to results where everyone benefits — or at least accepts that a given initiative is beneficial overall. The collaborative approach can lead to the county being recognized as a “community of excellence,” which attracts more residents, businesses and families. An increase in families helps mitigate the decline in school enrollments and prevents school closures and consolidations.

In my Sept. 20, 2017, guest column, “A study of tourism and economic sustainability,” I referenced studies that identified that tourism by itself has not and cannot provide a sustainable economic future for Brown County. The 2017 county income survey identified a low to moderate income level of 53 percent. About 52.7 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

A new model for citizen engagement in Brown County would include a transformation where independent voters — regardless of political party affiliation — accept responsibility for identifying the future they want, demand and then support any needed changes.

Higher expectations lead to the identification and support of leaders who use facts and data to implement better processes for assessing when the changes result in improvement.

Supporting a transition to a more collaborative culture that considers the needs of all stakeholders requires change. Citizens can choose to communicate their expectations for higher levels of performance.

The following principles provide context for the higher standards: transparency, fiscal management, planning before doing, annual state-of-the-county assessment and report, continuous learning, and collaboration. These principles incorporate a holistic approach to change that will be discussed in more detail in the next article in the series.

The United States political system was designed to be continuously improved in pursuit of a more perfect union. Supporting this aim and working toward a more perfect county requires Brown Countians (we the people) to work collaboratively to identify expectations for the future, to include identifying the feedback that can be used to assess progress.

Tim Clark of Brown County is a quality improvement practitioner, educator and author who specializes in the public sector. He is a certified quality auditor and has master’s degrees in strategic studies and public administration. He has volunteered for the past year as a member of the Brown County Redevelopment Commission and has served on the Brown County Schools Strategic Planning Committee since 2016. He can be reached through the newspaper at newsroom@bcdemocrat.com.