Hinesville leaders received a shot in the arm in May from a comprehensive community study that brought to light several issues related to quality of life in the city. The study was conducted by the Fanning Institute at the University of Georgia at the city’s request and relied on substantial input from citizens.
The Fanning Institute study was commissioned in 2008 to help the city address challenges created by a growing population, due in part to increasing troop numbers, and to prepare for a visioning and strategic planning process. The Liberty County Commission also recently voted to conduct its own service study with the institute’s help.
“We didn’t come to make anybody mad. We came to open your eyes,” Fanning’s Skip Teaster told council members when he presented the study at a council meeting in July. Though Teaster lauded the city for providing an “excellent” quality of life, the citizens’ committee responses recorded in the study revealed the average resident may not see his or her community in as favorable a light.
Phase I of the study was designed to identify key issues affecting the city. In this phase, members of the citizens’ committee met in June 2009 with Fanning staff and shared opinions on Fort Stewart-city relations, youth and family interests, business development and support; and visual appeal of the city.
Fort Stewart-Hinesville relations
Communication was the biggest issue; committee members suggested realtors, city organizations and other community leaders join Hinesville city officials in more effectively sharing the positive aspects of Hinesville with post leadership.
Additionally, Fort Stewart’s enhanced security and lack of publicity regarding events open to the public limit access to amenities and events that could be utilized by the civilian population. Joint events targeting families of deployed soldiers, and the sharing of services, were suggested.
Youth and family interests
The major issue expressed here was the lack of recreational opportunities for Hinesville youth. Quite simply, there’s not enough for young people to do, citizens said. Their impression of the city leaders’ approach to addressing this issue was divided between “not sensitive to the needs of youth” and “sensitive but doesn’t involve them in planning.” Interviewees specifically mentioned the desire for a skating rink and bowling alley.
The collective view is that few organizations sponsor opportunities on a regular basis, and generally adults make decisions about what to offer without youth input as a guide. It was mentioned that Young Adult Liberty Leaders (YALL) could be tapped to help involve youth in decision making, but to date they had not been invited to planning sessions.
Incidentally, the mayor in 2008 expressed a desire to include input from young people in the study, but Fanning staff reported that school administrators would not meet to discuss how a partnership could be formed to collect opinions from the student population.
Business development and support
Citizens on the committee expressed dissatisfaction with the city’s business ordinances, which they said deterred potential businesses from opening up in Hinesville. Entrepreneurs and business owners say the ordinances make it hard to get started, and the difficulties scare off potential employers. Additionally, youth tend to leave the area to find work because too few job opportunities exist in Hinesville, and the local workforce needs training to qualify for jobs on post.
Citizens were provided with disposable cameras and comment sheets and asked by Fanning staff to photograph areas of the city they felt represented the best and worst sights. Specific eyesores recorded include the old Labor Building downtown, a laundromat and body shop on Highway 196 — Memorial Drive and E.G. Miles Parkway received a great deal of attention as places where “eyesores” exist.
Essentially, dilapidated buildings and empty lots need to be cleaned up or removed, committee members said, and empty stores need to be filled with new business. Visually preferable areas would include well-kept, landscaped areas, new development and places that add perceived economic or social benefits.
Fanning findings and recommendations
Among the findings, most stressed was the city’s communication problems. Leaders seem to be “overly protective” of their turf and share very little with people outside their circles. Public-private partnerships do not to appear to exist, and poor media relations have had an adverse effect on attracting commerce.
To improve the city’s own communications strategy, Fanning staff recommended all projects and programs in the future involve Hinesville’s public relations and marketing director to inform citizens, particularly as priorities are developed, funding is received and projects begin.
Secondarily, the city was advised to further refine its economic improvement strategy in several ways: focus on developing the commercial retail sector, encourage more competitive pricing of downtown office space, and determine current workforce capabilities in order to conduct a thorough target industry analysis.
The study recommended Liberty County and its municipalities implement a strategy similar to one employed by Fort Stewart — an implementation plan for achievement and success with specific assignments and reporting requirements, and to partner, cooperate, communicate and collaborate during all phases of implementing any community process with those who are funding the initiatives.
Editor’s note: This story is the first in a two-part series on a study addressing area quality-of-life issues. In part two of this series, the Coastal Courier will ask city and county leaders how they plan to address the quality of life concerns voiced by residents in Hinesville and neighboring communities.