Three vision goals call for unification The (Elizabethtown) News-Enterprise

Consolidation and unification serve as a recurring theme in ideas posed by a vision research project designed to focus Hardin County’s growth.

Article originally posted by The (Elizabethtown) News-Enterprise directed to:http://www.thenewsenterprise.com/content/three-vision-goals-call-unification

 

Three vision goals call for unification

2010 Hardin County Vision Project

By Ben Sheroan

Friday, April 2, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Look for the following related articles:

§  Comprehensive list of Vision ideas

§  About the process

§  A look at the benchmark counties

§  Work already under way on some Vision objectives

§  Editorial: Public input will shape Vision

By BEN SHEROAN

bsheroan@thenewsenterprise.com

Consolidation and unification serve as a recurring theme in ideas posed by a vision research project designed to focus Hardin County’s growth.

The analysis released last week recommends a community dialog and consideration of merged school districts, a single countywide government, and creation of an umbrella organization to direct industrial recruitment, retail growth, tourism and all related development issues.

Judge-Executive Harry Berry, who joined consultant Luke Schmidt in media presentations of the research results, said a degree of “friction” can be anticipated for any proposed change.

“If we had 100 percent agreement on any of these things, they would have been done already,” Berry said.

SCHOOL DISTRICTS

Reaction to the federally funded research preceded its formal release Thursday. Gary French, superintendent of Elizabethtown Independent Schools, called to register an objection to the public school merger recommendation before the summary of strategic goals was issued.

French said he applauded the visioning process in which he participated with 69 other community leaders and “stakeholders,” but he objected to the recommendation about creating a single public school district.

“That does not represent the voice of our school district, the direction of our school board or our district,” he said.

Under state law, an independent district must trigger any pursuit of merger consideration. French said the district is financially sound and meeting its educational goals.

A cooperative agreement between the Elizabethtown and Hardin County districts prevents county Superintendent Nannette Johnston from discussing consolidation, she said. But developing cooperative relationships and dialog could produce mutual benefits and better service to students, she said.

“The bottom line is we need to do what’s best for kids,” Johnston said.

She mentioned the Vision project’s goal of an area technology center and its career development emphasis as one place where cooperation could enhance offerings of both districts.

Establishment of such a technology center could introduce local students to career experience and college credit while still in high school, said Al Rider, president of the North Central Education Foundation.

The nonprofit organization, which helped develop legislation that led to Kentucky’s community college system a half-century ago, works with public and private colleges and area school districts and is associated with One Knox and Wired65 on missions related to education and training needs.

Rider calls for “continued collaboration and partnership” among EIS, Hardin County Schools and the West Point district as a more critical outcome than a full merger, which could be snagged by politics, tradition or regulatory issues.

“I’m more interested in working together to help each other out and complement each other,” Rider said.

The regional representative of the Kentucky Education Association said there have been no discussions of the project’s proposal by local teachers’ groups. Linda Lynch, who formerly taught for HCS, said local associations comprised of teachers from the districts would develop any stance that might be taken.   GOVERNMENT

Radcliff Mayor Sheila Enyart said potential savings and efficiencies of a consolidated county government require significant research. As an example, she cited projected benefits of the merger of Louisville and Jefferson County that have not been realized.

“It sounds like a really good idea on the surface but a lot more needs to be looked at,” she said.

Charlie Bryant, who has served 25 years as Elizabethtown city government’s executive assistant, said  development is bringing cooperation and a move toward unified service.

“As the area grows and becomes more of a larger community there are individual boundaries … that become more formalities than practicalities,” he said. “I think it’s just natural that it will go that way.”

Bryant mentioned cooperative bonds between police and fire departments and interconnection of public water systems over the past 15 years that are signals of what he considers a natural progression.

Enyart said results of the 70 surveys of community leaders and follow-up discussions developed strategic goals but a sense of equity, fairness and trust must be built as the process progresses.

“It’s easy to say yes to an idea but not so easy when delivering the product,” she said.

Steering committees to develop action plans and research the goals are being formed. Jo Emary, executive director of the Radcliff-Hardin County Chamber of Commerce, was quick to volunteer at one of the private brainstorming sessions held for survey participants.

“We have to guard against boundaries and guard against paranoia as this process moves forward,” she said.

Public officials and community leaders must “risk a bit of ourselves” in seeking better solutions for all of Hardin County, said Emary, who is one of three candidates for the Radcliff mayor’s office.   DEVELOPMENT ISSUES

Cooperation between Hardin County’s four chambers of commerce has been mentioned as a possible forerunner of the Vision project’s recommendation of a “powerhouse entity” to drive all aspects of community development. The Heartland Chambers Alliance is a confederation of the chambers pulling together on projects, including welcome home events for Vietnam-era veterans this fall.

Those efforts were mentioned by some in the visioning process as a forerunner for the recommended “powerhouse entity” to direct all business, retail, industrial and tourism recruitment ideas.

Brad Richardson, executive director of the North Hardin Economic Development Authority, has first-hand experience with a united approach to problem solving across the region. He also heads One Knox.

“I think it works better than a fragmented approach,” Richardson said.

One Knox was developed by local governmental leaders to prepare for growth opportunities and related stresses coming to the area thanks to the Army’s realignment plan. The cooperative relationships developed with post leadership and effectiveness in achieving funding requested from the governor and General Assembly were cited as examples of community-focused problem solving.

“Through the good work of One Knox, people have seen the value of speaking with one voice,” consultant Schmidt said.

Richardson mentioned personal experience with Louisville’s various development efforts and an improvement seen with creation of Greater Louisville Inc., which now serves as an umbrella organization for various business and job development objectives. He cited similar successes seen in Bowling Green, Paducah, Owensboro and northern Kentucky.

“Several models exist,” Richardson said. “This is not something new.”

As proposed, tourism promotion would be vested in the overall development authority’s responsibilities. Directors of the tourism bureaus based in Radcliff and Elizabethtown declined to comment on the concept Friday pending review of the idea with their respective board members.

Ben Sheroan can be reached at (270) 505-1764