Independent Voters of Brown County, IN

Current version available at:  Independent Voters of Brown County IN 

Preamble: The aim of the U.S. political system is to encourage and empower citizens to work together towards a more perfect union. This can be accomplished by taking action that results in outcomes where everyone benefits or at least, are not any worse off in the long-term. This requires that quality leaders identify the feedback that citizens will use to determine if a change is resulting in improvement.

Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” – Vince Lombardi

Purpose. The purpose of the Independent Voters of Brown County IN is to support candidates for political office and appointees to boards and commissioners that support basic governance principles and will work together towards a more perfect union and county.

“The duties of the office of a private citizen cannot under a republican form of government be neglected without serious injury to the public.” Louis Brandeis,

PLATFORM

A platform is a formal set of principal goals which are supported by a political party, citizen group (s), or individual candidate, to appeal to the general public for the ultimate purpose of garnering the general public’s support and votes about complicated topics or issues.

PRINCIPLES: Transparency, Fiscal Management, Planning, Assessment, Continuous Learning, Collaboration

1.0 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.

1.1 Will or has the candidate demonstrated support for transparency? If so, how?

2.0 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 to be available via the county website that would include all budgets, current and historical, and graphs showing spending and revenue over time.

2.1 Will or has the candidate demonstrated support for fiscal management? If so, how?

To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude. — Thomas Jefferson

3.0 PLANNING BEFORE DOING. The development and maintenance of a County Comprehensive Plan, County Economic Development Strategic Plan and County Strategic Plan is critical to clearly 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, milestones, priorities, and resources.

3.1 Will or has the candidate demonstrated support for planning and assessing results? If so, how?

‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!’ – Benjamin Franklin

Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. Dwight D. Eisenhower

4.0 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 work), Opportunities (goals and objectives) and Threats (challenges). It would also include support for similar assessments conducted by all interested stakeholder groups within the County that want to share their vision, accomplishments, stories, challenges, and needs. Information learned from these assessments would then be used to update the county strategic plan.

4.1 Will or has the candidate demonstrated support for an annual state of the county assessment? If so, how?

The U.S. State of the Union address is an annual speech presented by the President of the United States that fulfills rules in Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution. The address provides an assessment on the condition of the nation and allows an opportunity for the President to identify priorities and actions by identifying a legislative agenda (for which he needs the cooperation of Congress).

5.0 CONTINUOUS LEARNING. Continuous learning refers to the ability to continually develop and improve 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 new and revised policies, projects and ordinances) results in improvement. It also includes building on lessons learned from the annual State of the County assessments.

5.1 Will or has the candidate demonstrated support for continuous learning? If so, how?

Successes and Failures Abraham Lincoln

6.0 COLLABORATION.  A collaborative approach to problem-solving and decision making involves all affected stakeholder in working together in problem resolution and decision making.

6.1 Will or has the candidate demonstrated support for collaboration? If so, how?

“Creativity, collaboration and compromise were necessary in political life in order to achieve such great things,” — Gerard Gawalt, guest curator of “Creating the United States,” a new exhibition at the Library of Congress.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

The Communities of Excellence Framework identifies objective criteria that can be applied for assessing the quality of community and economic development within the Couty.  The framework includes an assessment that can be scored on a zero to 1,000 point scale.  A community or an organization for that matter, that concludes that things are “good enough” would likely score in the 150-250 point range. A community that shares a common vision and a collaborative approach to problem-solving and decision making would likely score over 600 points.  This level of performance would take several years to achieve.

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Future of Brown County IN – Part 1

The following post was published in a Guest Column in the Brown County Democrat on Dec 27, 2017 titled:  The role of process in the future of Brown County

The Maple Leaf Music Venue and Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) project and the process used to fast-track approval may represent a turning point for the future of the county. This article is a first in a series that will provide a perspective on our current reality and offer additional options that may contribute to Brown County remaining a desirable place, to live, work, play and visit.

  • To summarize, key points and issues associated with MLPAC include the following:
  • In the April 2017, owners of hotels and inns, who are also appointed to the Convention and Visitors Commission (CVC) and Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) decide to use the revenue collected from the innkeeper’s tax to invest in an asset that will promote tourism. The Innkeeper’s Tax is a pass-through tax paid by the party renting the overnight accommodations.
  • CVC members are appointed by the county commissioners and council. The CVB is a non-profit organization established to manage tourism related promotion on behalf of the CVC.
  • CVC/CVB members decided on a performing arts center and also determined the size, location, scope, cost (12.5 million), and overall governance plan for the facility. Given that this investment is expected to result in overnight stays, their businesses will directly benefit from the investment, and the asset values of their establishments will likely increase.
  • Initially, county citizens were told that revenue from the innkeepers tax would be used to pay the principal and interest on the mortgage for the venue. Any profits were to be used for community and county infrastructure priorities.  The final terms of the deal are that profits would be used to make the mortgage payment and the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax would only be used if profits were not sufficient to make the payment.  This arrangement provides more revenue to fund the expansion of tourism.
  • A common perception in the county that was reinforced by the president of the county council, may be that the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax is “their (CVC) money.” This inaccurate perception may have contributed to a lack of transparency over the years regarding the management and expenditure of these funds.  This revenue, per statute, is a county asset. Commissioners and Council (elected by citizens) appoint CVC members who are subordinate to the citizens and their elected officials.
  • The approval of a 12.5 million dollar loan using the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax as collateral was approved by the commissioners on Nov 15 and the county council on Nov 20. The commissioners approved another resolution approving the project on Dec 20. In case of default, the venue would become the property of the bank, and per the county council president and the county financial consultant, county taxpayers would not be obligated to assume the liability.
  • No public meetings expressly focused on this important project were scheduled by the commissioners or council before their meetings to approve the project. The League of Women Voters of Brown County offered to facilitate a public meeting to address citizen questions, concerns, and issues regarding the project. Members of the CVC, the CVB and the informal team working on the Maple Leaf project declined to participate, as did several key elected officials.
  • The editor of the only newspaper in the county – The Brown County Democrat, did recuse herself from being the primary reporter because of a conflict of interest — her husband serves on the CVC. The Democrat welcomed opposing opinions in Guest Columns and Letters to the Editor.

A government best practice for determining the optimum investment options for revenue from the innkeeper’s tax would be identified in a Comprehensive Plan or an annex to the plan that includes a strategy for tourism.  Such a plan has yet to be developed. A good “plan” includes expected outcomes, actions and milestones, and required resources.

To provide the needed objectivity regarding the feasibility of this project, it was initially suggested by the county attorneys that the County Redevelopment Commission (RDC) become involved which would have helped ensure a thorough review on the feasibility of the project.

The plan by the RDC was to involve all affected government offices to include holding several public meetings to solicit input and feedback from the citizenry.  The process would have included identifying, quantifying and acknowledging opportunity costs and the risks associated with the project  The outcome may have been the same but the public may have had more assurance that the government performed their due diligence.

Before the RDC could hold their first public meeting to discuss their plan, they were told by two of the three commissioners at their July meeting, that their involvement would no longer be needed.  Before the county council approved the project on Nov 20, a member of the council confirmed that they did not commit funding for an independent feasibility study of MLPAC.

Renowned inventor and visionary Buckminster Fuller remarked that “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” 

My next article in this series will include two objectives:  Identify likely effects of MLPAC and identify “a new model” of citizen engagement that can result in outcomes where everyone can benefit, or at least, will not be any worse off in the long term.

More Info:  Maple Leaf Project – For the Record