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Officials build action plan for top local issues

POSTED: May 2, 2011 7:00 a.m.

A mix of officials selected the three most important issues in their respective communities Wednesday during the first day of the countywide planning workshop on St. Simons Island.

The topics thoroughly were discussed and analyzed over the course of three days in small breakout groups and general sessions.

Three facilitators were on site from the Fanning Institute, a University of Georgia leadership development program, to keep the group on track throughout the workshop and to help officials keep their ideas organized.

Prizes also were given out to those in attendance, including $20 gift cards to restaurants and donated items from the mayor of Allenhurst. A grand prize of a three-day, two-night stay at the Sea Palms Resort also was raffled off.

After each group discussed the top three issues of concern, a speaker from each table was designated to announce the topics that were written on a board by the facilitators. The facilitators then worked on identifying the common threads among the several issues discussed, including the 2010 Census, transportation, youth issues and economic development to be further analyzed the following day.

"This is a guide to help us pick the overall concept that you want to spend your time on. You’re not limited to what’s on this sheet," UGA Fanning Institute facilitator Langford Holbrook told participants.

As a result, seven topics were organized and then voted on during a general session Thursday morning to narrow down the choices to the three most important topics. The topics to choose from included the Census recount, poverty, transportation, health and safety, youth, quality of life and economy. Large Post-it note pages were posted to the ballroom wall and each participant used red sticker dots to indicate their top three discussion issues.

The selection was narrowed down to focusing on poverty and economy, youth and effective communication among entities in disseminating information to the public.

After the vote, participants split into three groups to work with facilitators on each topic for an hour to get a consensus of what various departments’ concerns were. The three issues further were defined and officials proposed solutions.

While discussing youth programs and problems with the youth population, the groups found that there is a need for more jobs and internships, and programs already in existence need to be utilized again.

"We want our youth to be productive, not reproductive," Liberty County Health Department Administrator Deidre Howell said.

Officials also remarked that the board of education lacked representation at the planning session; one board member attended the three-day workshop.

Solution examples included expanding on the youth leadership already established in the community, such as Young Adult Liberty Leaders, to keep students interacting in positive ways. Positive coaching, guidance, mentoring and expanded recreational activities also were discussed along with parenting classes to give parents advice on how to raise children.

For effective communication, officials discussed ways to incorporate a comprehensive plan and a central location from which to distribute information to residents throughout the county in a timely manner.

Options for a centralized communication medium included an idea for a local cable station, similar to Marne TV, which would allow residents to tune in for updated information about events and meetings. Newsletters, community event calendars and emergency-communication systems also were identified as possible solutions.

Although social media, information "table tents," the newspaper and other mediums are used on a regular basis, Liberty County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Leah Poole said there are only so many ways an entity can try to reach out to the public.

"There are some people you’ll never be able to reach," Poole said.

In a separate session, Poole’s statement resonated with several officials, including Mayor Jim Thomas, Hinesville Downtown Development Authority Director Vicki Davis and others.

"You’ve got to reach people where they are. Hinesville is like a little U.N.," Thomas said of the diversity of the population. "It’s a really tough nut to crack. It’s a whole communication process."

Economy and poverty issues of concern included a lack of retail centers in the area and businesses not giving those who are living in poverty a chance to work. Officials focused on a "living wage" that would allow the head of a household to provide a stable income for the family unit.

Solutions suggested included learning about the true poverty population in Hinesville and marketing correct information on websites that may attract potential business investors.

"I think we did some really good work yesterday," Holbrook said to the group Friday morning. "We want you to comment; we want you to get a final say."

Holbrook then assigned groups to further examine the issues and discuss who would be responsible, a time frame, a budget — where funding could come from — and the partners who would be involved in the project.

These assignments were assigned — but are not limited to — the following entities:

Economy/poverty:

The following entities will work on retail attraction, communicating proper information to potential businesses and providing workforce training.

• Liberty County Development Authority

• Hinesville Downtown Development Authority

• Liberty County Chamber of Commerce

To provide workforce education:

• Liberty County Board of Education

• The Liberty Campus of Savannah Technical College

Communication:

The following entities will work on developing a "clearinghouse" to disseminate information, campaign for important issues, such as the career academy, and develop a local television channel to provide information on local events.

• Liberty County Development Authority

• Liberty County Chamber of Commerce

• Coastal Courier

• Residents who stay updated on local events

• Local government entities

Youth:

The following entities will work on the formation of a youth alliance to strengthen youth leaders, strengthen the school-system relationship with local government and survey youth and parents to determine the needs within the county.

• The Liberty Campus of Savannah Technical College

• Liberty County Board of Education

• Liberty County Health Department

In a few weeks, the Fanning Institute facilitators who attended the workshop will send the participants a list of all the information and issues discussed during the three-day event. A more detailed report of the issues and entities responsible for each item also will be prepared and sent out in the next month.

A midyear session to see how the projects are coming along will be scheduled for sometime in October in Liberty County, Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards said.

 

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