In This Issue:
Facing a 9.3 percent local unemployment rate and the prospects of a sluggish economic recovery, a 20 percent increase in bankruptcies in the last four years, and average annual wages that are nearly 30 percent less than the national average…
It’s not surprising that economic development was selected as a topic for our second “We the People” Town Meeting.
And considering that the percentage of adults in Daviess County with a baccalaureate degree is less than national and state averages, that there are 17 Kentucky counties with a higher education attainment level than Daviess County, and that a majority of local high school graduates are not ready for college or careers…
It made sense to expand our 2010 town meeting to include challenges in education as well.
In this era when technology has leveled the global playing field, when our competitiveness hinges on knowledge and innovation, an effective economic development strategy is generally aligned with an effective education strategy.
This is not to suggest that there are not achievements to celebrate. We have award-winning schools and programs – from Head Start to high school theater. More than 9,100 students are enrolled at local colleges and universities. More courses and degree programs are offered than ever. Many communities have challenges much greater than ours.
Justice Louis Brandeis said, “The most important office in a democracy is the office of citizen.” In a healthy democracy, the public is informed, engaged and empowered to assume their role as active citizens. They delegate authority to elected representatives, but their voice is valued and their views are taken into consideration as laws and policies and budgets and programs and priorities are established for the common good.
On October 23, 300 residents of Owensboro-Daviess County devoted an entire Saturday to an exercise in citizenship. They listened, they learned, they agreed and disagreed, they remained civil and respectful, and they shared their perspectives.
Once again, our foundation partnered with AmericaSpeaks, a Washington DC-based organization that has pioneered large scale electronic town meetings, at times involving multiple locations simultaneously linked by satellite.
The town meeting was unique in several ways:
Since our first town meeting three years ago, the “We the People” database of supporters and volunteers has grown to more than 1,400 citizens.
A diligent effort was made to attract participants who reflected the demographic profile of Owensboro-Daviess County.
We did well in attracting the comparable percentage of:
We fell short of our goal in terms of attracting:
Participants were significantly better educated than the population: 52 percent had a college degree or more, compared with 19 percent of our county population.
About a third of our recent participants took part in our 2007 event.
Officials and policymakers place a special value on these meetings for several reasons:
So what happened during our 2010 town meeting? What were the results and recommendations?
Participants were asked to think boldly and imagine possibilities over the next 10 years.
In economic development, participants envisioned a thriving economy with dependable jobs, living wages and a high quality of life; an economy that capitalizes on growth industries: technology, life sciences, health care, and special opportunities such as distribution. Participants expressed strong support for existing employers and programs to help launch new businesses, such as the new business accelerator on Allen Street. They have high hopes for downtown.
In education, participants envisioned a community with high educational expectations and superior opportunities for every age: early childhood, K-12, vocational and higher education. They recognized the importance of talented and dedicated teachers, caring and involved parents and a community with more college graduates.
Town meeting participants not only crafted a vision, they developed goals and practical action steps. Here are the top six:
1. Educate for the real world…with applications in agriculture, technology, health care and the arts.
To reach that goal, what has to happen?
3. Promote green industries…be a national leader and create more jobs.
To reach that goal, what has to happen?
4. Improve educational attainment
To reach that goal, what has to happen?
5. Attract and retain the best teachers…those who are passionate and talented.
To reach that goal, what has to happen?
6. Make quality preschool available to all children
To reach that goal, what has to happen?
These goals and action steps were developed by the 300 participants in the “We the People” Town Meeting on October 23rd. The recommendations came forth from more than 30 table discussions in which hundreds of ideas were suggested.
Some comments and recommendations that did not bubble up frequently are intriguing as well. Here is a sampling:
In economic development, participants said:
In education, participants offered these ideas and comments:
Lots of great ideas from people from all walks of life. Of course, some of these suggestions would require additional resources. But many may not. These ideas underscore the interest in these issues and the creativity that can come forth from the people.
In a time when there appears to be public disapproval of an expanded government role, there didn’t seem to be much reluctance to support incentives for business development or more state money for education.
There was strong interest in green technologies, driven not only by environmental and health concerns, but by economic opportunities with solar, wind, geothermal, etc.
Participants were not ready to give up on manufacturing, but they also appeared to understand that fundamental global and economic changes are upon us.
The report warrants further study and interpretation. But something should be stressed: These are community goals. We expect many of the participants to stay involved, but it will take a community response to effectively address these challenges.
Dozens of institutions and organizations are already involved in efforts to improve economic development and education, so there may not be a need to establish new groups. However, citizens can challenge officials to embrace these goals and consider these actions. Certainly citizens who invested time and energy at the town meeting will be pushing for action.
That’s not to say that town meeting participants don’t also have responsibilities of their own. At the conclusion of the meeting, participants made their own public service pledge. Some made verbal commitments, and all were asked to fill out a post card that will be mailed to their home to remind them of what they pledged to do.
Participation in an event like this is inherently valuable. For some, the experience can be transformative. The “We the People” Town Meeting is another demonstration of how civic engagement is working its way into the fabric of our community.
Citizens expect to have an opportunity to have a voice in major decisions before they are made, and community leaders are gaining an appreciation for the collective, common sense wisdom of the people.
This brings to mind a story of an English scientist who visited a livestock fair in 1906. Visitors were asked to guess the weight of an ox after it had been slaughtered and dressed. There were 787 visitors. Not one guessed the correct weight of 1,198 pounds, but the average of all the guesses came to 1,197. The collective wisdom of the people.
Thomas Jefferson said that if we think people are not enlightened enough to exercise control of the ultimate powers of society, the remedy is not to take power from them, but to inform their judgment with education.
Where will participatory democracy be in five years, ten years with laptops and iPads and Facebook and who knows what in our future? Someone in Costa Rica watched our town meeting on a webcast. Scores of people tweeted through the meeting. Volunteer table facilitators traveled from other states at their own expense to assist us with the town meeting.
Word is getting around about what we are doing in Owensboro-Daviess County. There was an observer here from New Hampshire. The state education secretary drove down from Frankfort to observe our town meeting. Several statewide groups have contacted us; they’re interested in organizing comparable town meetings in cities across Kentucky to examine state budget challenges.
High tech seems to be where things are going, but high touch – that is, sitting across the table and engaging in face-to-face dialogue – may have more value than ever. It helps officials understand the views of their informed constituents. It helps us gain empathy for one another. It helps us build a sense of community. It helps us ignite a spark of citizenship that can last a lifetime.
Despite the extensive construction underway in downtown Owensboro, the implementation of the master plan is in its infancy. The downtown plan consists of more than $100 million in public sector investments intended to stimulate even more private sector investments. A convention center and hotel, the redevelopment of the Executive Inn property, street improvements, expanded parks and plazas, mixed-use projects and more are in store. Each will involve a set of decisions – decisions that warrant open and transparent information sharing and public dialogue.
To this point, some decisions regarding downtown have been characterized by openness and transparency; others have not. When officials have not engaged the community effectively, citizens have become increasingly confused and suspicious. It is time to learn from these experiences and restructure the downtown decision making process so that citizens can be kept informed, have their questions answered, and be allowed to have a meaningful role in this ambitious array of community projects.
Riverfront improvements. When the $40 million federal government earmark for the Owensboro riverfront was announced by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell more than 10 years ago, there was a conscious effort to engage the public in the riverfront plan. PRIDE, a community group that promotes aesthetic improvements, held the first public workshop, designed and moderated by Henry Sanoff Ph.D., Professor of Architecture at North Carolina State University and author of the book, Community Participation Methods in Design and Planning.
The design firm EDSA incorporated the results from this workshop in its design process and held additional meetings with students, stakeholders and interested citizens.
The people’s vision. The 600 participants in the 2007 “We the People” Town Meeting challenged community leaders to “transform” downtown Owensboro. To a great extent, the town meeting was the impetus for the adoption of the downtown master plan, including the public sector investment that was central to it.
The master planning process was administered by Gateway Consulting, a Texas firm that has pioneered the “placemaking” planning concept. Jennifer Wright, project manager of the We the People Town Meeting and Shelly Nichols, project manager of We the People Town Meeting implementation, developed and managed the public participation dimension of this planning process.
The plan involved hundreds of citizens.They reacted to plans and designs in focus group and stakeholder meetings, community workshops, and other public meetings. There appeared to be widespread community support for the plan.
The future of the Executive Inn property. When the Executive Inn property was acquired, several hundred citizens participated in a special “We the People” community workshop to bring into focus a community vision for that property.
Currently volunteers serve on several committees connected with the downtown plan:
Downtown Development Commission (DDC) The DDC is essentially a sounding board that receives occasional updates from Downtown Development Director, Fred Reeves. In June 2007, prior to the hiring of the Gateway firm, the DDC developed a report and recommendations that were helpful in the placemaking master planning process.
Downtown Events Center Steering Committee Volunteers with experience in construction, tourism and entertainment serve on this committee. They supervised site selection, the architectural Request for Qualifications (RFQ) process and the recommendation of an architect for the events center project. They also supervised a market study and site analysis conducted by CityVisions, a Louisville consulting firm.
This committee will continue to supervise the largest of the planned downtown projects.
Owensboro-Daviess County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) The IDA is the legal mechanism used in the financing of the events center and other public sector projects. The IDA will be used until the events center is developed and transferred to the city.
Owensboro Historic Preservation Board This group, staffed by architect Nathan Nunley, administers the Downtown Design Guidelines including façade restoration, signage and other design issues.
Cultural Organizations Review Panel A study group directed to develop recommendations to stabilize and sustain local cultural organizations.
Public opinion started to shift
Until a master plan was developed, cost estimates could not have been prepared. Once a plan was adopted with a price tag, officials could examine various financing options. Anytime a tax increase is suggested, there is inevitable opposition.
However, this opposition could have been softened had a cost-benefit analysis been prepared and distributed widely throughout the community.
Citizens were not given an opportunity to participate in a meaningful way in:
Recently officials have challenged the need to follow ENTRAN’s recommendations. This has confused and agitated the public even more.
However, the committee could have allowed the public to review and comment on the proposals, or at least the finalists. Local taxpayers are paying for the new events center; they should have a voice in the selection of the firm that will be determining the design of one of the most important public buildings in our community.
Citizens with leadership roles in the downtown master plan
Overall advisory group used as a sounding board. Fred Reeves, Downtown Development Director, reports to the group routinely.
Appointed by: Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., city and the old Downtown Owensboro, Inc.
Oversees the planning, design, construction and operations planning for the events/convention center.
Has final authority over the convention center project under an interlocal agreement to be drawn up between Daviess County Fiscal Court, the Owensboro City Commission and the Industrial Development Authority, whose members are appointed by the two governing bodies. Downtown Events Center Steering Committee reports to this body.
Appointed by: Three members appointed by the Mayor and three appointed by the County Judge Executive
Administers the Downtown Design Guidelines connected with façade treatments, signage and more. Works with Nathan Nunley, city architect.
Ad hoc study group directed to study several cultural and arts agencies and make recommendations to advance the sustainability of various community arts and cultural organizations and facilities.
Appointed by: Owensboro City Commission
EDSA (design firm)
Fred Reeves, Downtown Development Director
Given its size and scope, it is time to re-affirm that citizens should be the driving force in the implementation of the downtown master plan:
Moreover, the following steps would enhance public participation and confidence in the implementation of the downtown master plan:
Downtown Development Commission (DDC)*
Downtown Events Center Committee*
Cultural Organizations Review Panel* → Arts Committee
Traffic and Parking Committee
Historic Preservation Board* → Design Committee
Business Development Committee
Financial Reporting Committee
Public Information Committee
Such a committee structure would require administrative attention to convene meetings, prepare agendas, etc. Each committee will need a responsible chair, co-chair and recording secretary. An extra effort should be made to attract committee members whose skills and interests complement the work of the committee. It should be stressed to prospective committee members that they are expected to commit to attendance and to making this a top civic priority.
Committee meetings should be held at locations and times that are convenient for the general public. Forums, workshops or other tools to engage the community need to occur as well. All meetings and events should be promoted widely and be open to the public.
It may make sense to combine some of these committees, but the current structure does not allow ample opportunities for the public to monitor the projects and participate as is warranted.
Considering the financial pressures facing governments at all levels and the financial pressures facing taxpayers in our community as a result of the lingering national recession, it is more important than ever for the citizens of Owensboro-Daviess County to understand how their money is being spent on the downtown master plan and the benefits from that investment.
* established committees
Open the process. Even if public meetings are not mandated, set a higher standard and establish a policy that all meetings connected with your organization are to be open.
If we are serious about valuing public participation, then we need to make an effort to hold meetings at convenient times and locations for most people.
Make sure that there has been an assessment of the impact of a project, decision or policy on those individuals and organizations that could be directly affected by it.
It’s one thing to ask citizens to develop a vision; it’s something else for them to wrestle with the cost and tradeoffs. The public needs to understand the options, costs, consequences, the shades of gray involved in difficult decisions.
Every major community project should have a citizens committee connected to it to work in liaison with and advise officials and policymakers. When it comes to major decisions, public dialogue and deliberation should also be routine procedure.
When there are complications – for example:
…When the environmental problems associated with the state building property made it problematic to demolish the building – we should shoot straight with the public.
…If there are legitimate reasons why traffic doesn’t have to be changed on Second Street despite an earlier recommendation that it was essential to make the street more pedestrian friendly, take time to explain that to the public.
Citizens can tell when officials are really interested in what they have to say. Take time to listen to people – people from all walks of life – before the decision is made.
When citizens raise legitimate questions and concerns, they deserve an honest response. So often these citizens are inappropriately branded as uninformed, biased, or troublemakers.
Have the courage to make unpopular decisions, to be thick-skinned and stand up for what you believe is right. But also be willing to change your mind after you’ve heard all the facts and understood various perspectives.
Serving the public interest is more important than doing favors for friends, family, or other private or personal interests. Protecting the public interest is more important than protecting and sustaining an organization.
Imagine newspapers, plastic, cardboard, glass and aluminum cans stacked 18 feet high (about two stories) covering the football field at Owensboro High School’s Rash Stadium. That amount of recyclable materials could be diverted from the Daviess County Landfill annually – if we had curbside recycling in Owensboro-Daviess County, according to Steve Janson of Resource Recycling.
This estimate is based on the volume generated from Bowling Green and Warren County. That community’s curbside program collects 4.6 million pounds of recyclable materials each year.
The interest in expanded recycling was the top recommendation from more than 600 participants in the 2007 “We the People” AmericaSpeaks town meeting. Subsequently, a group of town meeting participants formed the Environmental Impact Council (EIC) that researched the issue further and concluded that our community needs a curbside recycling program.
Currently there is one recycling drop-off station in the city (West Seventh Street) and none in the county.
Many other Kentucky cities have curbside recycling programs, including: Henderson, Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green and Frankfort.
Costs range from zero in Louisville (where there is no designated fee associated with the service, covered through property taxes) to $4.50 per month in Lexington. The average cost is approximately $5.00 per month. The service costs $2.15 per month in Bowling Green with weekly pick-up.
Owensboro City Manager Bill Parrish projects that it would cost approximately a million dollars per year for the City to provide a curbside service. According to Parrish, the current $12 per month sanitation fee would need to be increased to $16 per month. That assumes that the City would not draw from its $10 million sanitation reserve fund to offset all or part of the monthly fees.
EIC advocates have encouraged city and/or county governments to request proposals from prospective private vendors. Specifications would need to be prepared so that proposals can be compared fairly and accurately.
Local governments participate in the “Cool Cities” and “Cool Counties” programs whereby they pledge to adopt environmentally sensitive policies. Establishing curbside recycling is compatible with those program goals.
The private sector is responding to the need in a limited way. B & J Sanitation offers bi-weekly curbside recycling services to customers on their sanitation routes for $4.00 per month and for $10.00 per month to those outside their routes.
There appears to be widespread appeal for curbside recycling. The hesitation centers around the potential added costs and the potential need to make it mandatory.
The public has expressed support for not only expanded recycling, but a curbside service. During the lingering downturn in the economy, any additional fee would not be popular.
Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne | email@example.com
City Commissioner Roger Stacy | firstname.lastname@example.org (Jan. 2011)
City Commissioner Pam Smith-Wright | email@example.com (Jan. 2011)
City Commissioner David Johnson | firstname.lastname@example.org
City Commissioner Jeff Sandford | email@example.com (Jan. 2011)
Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly | firstname.lastname@example.org (Jan. 2011)
County Commissioner Charlie Castlen | email@example.com (Jan. 2011)
County Commissioner Jim Lambert | firstname.lastname@example.org
County Commissioner George Wathen | email@example.com (Jan. 2011)
Environmental Impact Council | firstname.lastname@example.org
Sierra Club | Aloma Dew email@example.com | Ben Taylor firstname.lastname@example.org
Ben Hawes Park has had a mercurial past. Originally a 298 acre city park acquired in 1962, by 1964 it featured Owensboro-Daviess County’s first 18-hole and Par-3 public golf courses. Hawes Park also featured a playground, softball field, tennis court, hiking trail and an archery range.
In 1974, in one of his final acts as Governor of Kentucky, Owensboro native Wendell Ford announced that Ben Hawes Park would be incorporated into the state parks system and enhanced with a lodge, camping facilities, horseback trails, cabins and other features that typified other state parks. Moreover, additional property acquisition was in the plan, and Hawes Park was to be the first state park located on the Ohio River.
When Julian Carroll assumed the position of governor following Ford’s election to the U.S. Senate, Ford’s ambitious plans were put on hold – indefinitely.
Through the years, the state parks department made improvements, but Hawes Park never measured up to the expectations of the community.
Through various governors, state parks and tourism leaders, Hawes Park struggled to identify its niche. A wave pool was suggested. A coal mine replica. Fleeting ideas that failed to gain momentum.
In 1990, a citizen task force and the University of Kentucky recommended another plan. Their proposal was well-conceived, ambitious yet attainable over time. The plan included:
The plan was well-received but, with limited state funding, the plan was not implemented.
In 2001, the Owensboro-Daviess County Tourist Commission proposed another development plan for Hawes Park that included many of the previous features, plus a coal mine museum, lodge, mountain bike trails, and more.
Subsequently, a gift from Sara McNulty was the impetus for the state’s acquisition of additional acreage to expand Hawes Park. Hiking trails have been added on that property.
In 2010, state government agreed to sell the state office building in downtown Owensboro in exchange for the City of Owensboro taking ownership of Hawes Park.
As an organization that promotes civic involvement, we express our sincere thanks to all those who offered their service to our community by running for elected office.
Compared with state and national elections, the recent local campaigns were civil and substantive. Congratulations… and thanks to all.
Owensboro City Commissioner
Daviess County Attorney
Daviess County Clerk
Daviess County Commissioner
Daviess County Surveyor
Daviess County School Board
District Court Judge
Justice of the Peace
Daviess County Judge Executive
Owensboro School Board
Property Valuation Administrator
Daviess County Sheriff
Soil and Water Conservation District
State Senator District 8
Ron Logsdon, a dear friend and avid supporter of our work at the Public Life Foundation, died Saturday, December 18, 2010.
Ron was the ultimate gentlemen, a man of faith, a diligent scholar, a tireless advocate for the poor and marginalized, and a remarkably effective administrator.
Over 39 years, Ron developed Audubon Area Community Services (AACS) from a four-county agency with a million dollar budget and a staff of 65 to a $50 million organization and a staff of 900 serving 34 counties in 2001.
Under Ron’s leadership, AACS administered an array of facilities and services: from Head Start to transportation, low-income housing to substance abuse, child care management and licensing to Stephen Covey personal growth training, a new downtown parking garage to a planned nonprofit resource center, and much more.
Ron had a knack for seizing opportunities and finding a way to make good things happen.
He had a keen interest in public dialogue and deliberation, participating in task forces with the Kettering Foundation, the board of directors of Community Conversations, and as a “Theme Team” member in the 2007 and 2010 “We the People” AmericaSpeaks 21st Century Town Meetings.
He was a graduate of Leadership Owensboro and Leadership Kentucky, an active leader in the Blue Ridge Institute for Southern Community Service Executives, president of the Southeastern Association of Community Action Agencies, an officer in the Investigators Club, a monthly host of the foreign film club, a respected genealogist (including his authorship of the Hager family history prepared for a community tribute to the Hager family in 2009).
Ron touched so many lives and made a remarkable contribution in his 67 years.
He will be remembered, but he cannot be replaced.