GUEST OPINION: Working toward ‘a more perfect union’

By TIM CLARK, guest columnist

As individuals, we may not have too much direct influence over what happens politically at the national level of government.

At the county level, our efforts can certainly be directed to local issues. We can choose to determine the quality of government that we want and need.

Regarding economic and community development, any change should result in outcomes where everyone gains, or at least, will not be any worse off in the long-term.

In my first guest column on this topic, “The role of process in county’s future,” I identified that the process used to fast-track the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) might represent a turning point for the future of the county.

In the follow-up column, “Coming together is a beginning,” I identified possible outcomes from the fast-track process regarding scenarios that included “status quo plus,” “transformative” and “collaborative planning.”

The feedback I received on the columns suggested additional scenarios that included identifying the best case and a worse case. Best case is that MLPAC exceeds all expectations. A worse case is that the venue does not meet expectations, requiring a decision as to the disposition of an underperforming venue.

Also in the “Coming together is a beginning” column, I introduced the following six principles that independent voters — regardless of political party affiliation — can use as criteria for selecting the best candidates for office in 2018 and beyond.

Will the respective candidate support one or more of these principles, and if so, how will this support be demonstrated?

1. Transparency. Transparency is government’s obligation to share information with citizens that is needed to make informed decisions and hold officials accountable for the conduct of the people’s business.

2. Fiscal management. Elected, appointed and management officials must be able to plan the work-units budget and manage income and expenditure through the responsible implementation of policies, practices and decisions to achieve unit objectives effectively and efficiently. This includes access to financial information that is made available on the county website. This information would include budgets — current and historical — financial plans, and graphs showing spending and revenue over time.

3. Planning before doing. The development and maintenance of a county comprehensive plan, county economic development strategic plan and county strategic plan is critical to identify what Brown Countians want, do not want, and will support regarding tourism, community and economic development. A county strategic plan includes vision, goals, objectives, plan of action and milestones, priorities and resources.

4. State of the county annual assessment and report. An annual state of the county assessment and report would include the following: strengths (accomplishments), weaknesses (areas that need improvement), opportunities (goals, objectives, action plans) and threats (challenges). This report would also include support for similar assessments conducted by all interested stakeholder groups (including non-profits) within Brown County that want to share their vision, accomplishments, stories, challenges and needs. Information learned from these assessments could then be used to update the county strategic plan.

5. Continuous learning. Continuous learning refers to the ability to continually develop and improve the skills and knowledge to perform effectively and adapt to change. This includes adopting evidence- (facts and data) based approaches to help determine when a change (such as a new policy, ordinance, project) results in improvement. It also includes building on lessons learned from the annual state of the county assessments.

6. Collaboration. A collaborative approach to problem-solving and decision-making involves all affected stakeholders, working together in problem resolution and decision-making. Brown County was selected to participate in Indiana’s Hometown Collaborative Initiative (HCI), which does introduce a new approach for collaboration and leadership development.

In support of Brown County’s HCI initiative, I invite you to share your opinions by taking a survey and attending the community forum. The survey is available online at indianahci.org/browncounty. Results will be shared at a community forum on March 7 that will be held at the intermediate school cafeteria from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Participants at the meeting will have the opportunity to identify priorities for improvement.

The aim of the U.S. Constitution is to establish a system of government that would provide citizens with the capability needed in reducing variation from the ideal of “a more perfect union.” A key role of our elected and appointed county government representatives is to facilitate comprehensive and economic planning. An overall county strategy that includes expectations and expected results is the responsibility of all citizens.

Change is a constant. We always have the choice to accept that “whatever happens, happens,” or to take action that will make a positive contribution that will benefit the entire community.

To test a strategy for improvement, and to keep Brown Countians updated on progress, a website, “Independent Voters of Brown County IN” (all one word) and a Facebook page have been established.

I welcome your suggestions on how we can work together in making progress toward achieving the ideal of a more perfect county.

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.