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

Planning for project success is a choice

The following is a copy of a Guest Column that was expected to be published Nov 15, 2017, in the Brown County Democrat prior to any vote by the Commissioners (Nov 15) and Council Meeting (Nov 20) approving the Maple Leaf Music Venue project. Due to space constraints, the article was published in the Nov 23, 2017, edition which may have been better timing.
The purpose of the column was to reinforce the need for a collaborative approach when considering development projects that can have long-term impacts on the community.

The recent community conversation on the status of the Salt Creek Trail reinforces that using ad-hoc teams to identify and manage projects independent of a county strategy and comprehensive planning can be problematic.

Salt Creek Trail has not been the only County project that has risks that can be eliminated or mitigated through improvements in the planning process.  Without better planning, we will continue to take a reactive “whack a mole” approach as issues bubble to the surface. Current projects include the following:

  • Salt Creek Trail Project, now 15 years in duration, has been delayed due to objections from affected property owners and elected officials opposed to the use of eminent domain by the State of Indiana.
  • Proposed Maple Leaf Music Venue.  This project is expected to be approved by the end of November. The following entities have accepted responsibility and accountability for all project results:  Council, Commissioners, Convention Visitors Commission.  Commissioners accepted the League of Women Voters request to hold a public meeting to address any questions or concerns that citizens may have with the project.
  • County Courthouse Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  This is a critical project to accommodate citizens with challenges, but approved and funded solutions have yet to be identified. Improving security is another important requirement.

Project results – be they good or bad, are determined by processes (habits, approaches) that are used in leading and managing the respective project. An improved process for identifying and managing projects can prevent problems and provide project leaders with the needed support from the community.  Successful projects that meet the expectations of the citizens make a positive contribution to our culture and quality of life.

As a certified quality auditor – now semi-retired, I have conducted and supported performance and process reviews in a wide variety of areas and industries. The scope of projects ranged from improving math skills and management issues in elementary and high schools to assessing compliance of government agencies with financial management controls required by federal and state statutes to improving national defense-related strategies.

Process reviews consist of assessing an organization’s processes (habits, approaches) and their respective capabilities in meeting the needs and expectations of the customer and other stakeholders.  Findings often supported the adage that “If you always do what you always did, on average, you will usually get what you always got” — 99.73% of the time.

In considering needed changes, the overwhelming preference – despite the risks and quality of the outcome, is often to maintain the status quo.  To break the gravitational pull of the old habits, there must be a sense of urgency that change is required to produce the desired result.

Regarding urgency, many rural counties throughout the country including Brown County, face projected declines in the population that contribute to a declining tax base. This decline may require frequent and recurring tax increases and cuts in services unless the situation can be improved.  Indiana counties are funded primarily by property and income tax. New residential and business developments that are supported by the citizenry and will result in increases in the tax base can help mitigate the projected economic decline.

Attracting investors for residential and business developments requires the formulation and updating of a comprehensive (master) plan that reinforces the community vision and values, and includes the immediate and long-range reports and plans necessary to implement the desires of the community. Elements of master planning could include strategies and plans in the following areas:  Broadband (Internet), Trail Systems, Wastewater Treatment, Residential Housing, Land Use, Thoroughfares, Tourism, and Capital Improvements.

With a master plan, community leaders can market the plan to private investors and companies can then use the plan to assess their risks and return on investment to seriously evaluate expansion and growth in Brown County.

To help develop support for the right projects, developments requiring taxpayer funding or other support must be guided by the policies and goals specified in the county comprehensive plan. The current 14-page comprehensive plan was approved in 2012 and provides general guidance concerning the future of Brown County.  Larger counties in Indiana can have more detailed plans that exceed 200 pages. Additional information on this approach is provided by The Indiana Citizens Planners Guide.  Another useful guide for developing effective project management plans and schedules is available from the Project Management Institute.

An immediate and incremental change to supplement the county comprehensive plan with the plans from current projects represents a proven strategy. This change to the status quo will help support elected leaders to maintain required project oversight, engages the citizenry, and ensures the community that actions align with the vision for the county. This change can take us a step forward in building a master plan that will convince potential new residents and investors that Brown County remains a desirable place to live, work, play and invest!

Tim Clark
Brown County

Tourism and Economic Sustainability

I serve on the County Redevelopment Commission (RDC).  The following is a copy of a Guest Column published by the Brown County Democrat on  Sept  20, 2017. The purpose of the letter was to reinforce the need for a collaborative approach when considering development projects that can have long-term impacts on the community.

Economic impact studies of tourism in Indiana and Brown County reinforce the benefits of sustaining a tourism industry. However, tourism, by itself, has not and cannot provide a sustainable economic future for Brown County.  Further, too much tourism can have detrimental effects on the attributes that have attracted pioneers, artists, residents, and visitors to Brown County since 1836.

The Brown County Community Readiness Initiatives, a survey and economic assessment conducted by the Ball State Economic and Research Institute concluded that Brown County’s greatest potential for economic growth is not tourism but as a bedroom community. This option is defined as attracting individuals and families that live in Brown County but can work at home or commute to the higher paying jobs outside the county.

This is not a new phenomenon.  Past economic studies have identified that the majority of citizens in Brown County commute outside the county for employment.  This strategy is among the best strategies for having positive impacts on all five of our Community Vitality Indicators (CVIs) that include:  assessed property value, per capita income, population, school enrollment and educational attainment rates.

The study also reinforced the importance of quality of place that includes good schools and amenities where people want to live.  Identifying and maintaining these attributes must be identified in the county comprehensive plan.

A May 2017 assessment by graduate students of Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) reinforced the conclusions from the Ball State Study to include the importance of expanding the tax base to support the diversification of the business industries residing in the county.

The following chart includes data obtained from the U.S. Government Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The tourism industry is represented in the supersector identified as Leisure and Hospitality.  Comparing 2005 data with 2016 data identifies that the number of the establishments have stayed the same, jobs have decreased and wages are the lowest of the categories. Perhaps most important, the number of establishment in most categories have decreased with increases in the number of jobs in just a few areas.

U.S. Government Bureau of Labor Statistics
Brown County

In the 2014 Strategic Plan for Economic and Community Prosperity in SouthWest Central Indiana,  the Hospitality and Tourism Sector was identified as having 181 establishments in the region employing 3,506 employees with the lowest average wage ($24,477) of all the sectors.

To address the challenges within our region and with funding provided by Lilly Endowment, the Regional Opportunity Initiative (ROI) was established to: “Advance economic and community prosperity in an 11-county area that encompasses Brown, Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Greene, Lawrence, Martin, Monroe, Orange, Owen and Washington counties.”

To prepare our students for successful careers, the Brown County Schools recently competed for and was awarded a grant from ROI to prepare our students to be qualified for the higher paying jobs.  This can lead to a business climate and a workforce that will help attract new businesses to Brown County.

A Way Ahead

The Brown County Redevelopment (RDC) commission was tasked to identify county wide strategies that would result in improvement in the CVIs.  Strategies will also need to consider courses of action if the tax base continues to decline.

The key priorities for the county include a focus on options that would provide the funding to support the capital improvements required to improve and expand the core infrastructure within the county. This infrastructure includes roads, water, sewer, broadband, police, fire and emergency services which would support the expansion of residential development and contribute to positive trends in the county CVIs.

The critical priority for the county includes broadband. Access to the internet is now considered a vital utility that is critical for leveraging the educational opportunities for our students as well as attracting businesses and new residents.

In support of this aim, the RDC has provided a proposal to the Area Plan Commission (APC) to work collaboratively in developing a comprehensive plan and economic strategy that will produce results where we will all benefit or at least, will not be any worse off.

Commissioners and Council and all their appointed commission and board members need to unite towards a common vision, plan, and strategy that has the support of the citizenry. The trend nationally has been one of polarization by wealth and political affiliation.  The challenges and opportunities facing Brown Countians cannot be successfully addressed with a divided community. The citizens of Brown County should expect the collaboration and action that will lead to a sustainable economic future.

Tim Clark
Brown County Redevelopment Commission

More info:

Survey Information:  2016 Community Readiness Initiative (CRI), Nashville, Brown County Ball State University

More Info ROI GrantGetting ready for the real world: New administrator’s job focuses on teaching workplace skills early

 

 

Maple Leaf: Not in the plan

I serve on the County Redevelopment Commission (RDC).  The following is a copy of a Letter to the Editor of the Brown County Democrat. The purpose of the letter was to reinforce the need for a collaborative approach when considering development projects that can have long-term impacts on the community.

Letter: ‘Zoning for Maple Leaf: Not in the plan’

The Brown County Comprehensive Plan states that the purpose of the plan “is to provide guidance on decision making regarding Brown County land use, public service and zoning that enhances the quality of life for the residents based on the county’s natural beauty and rural atmosphere.”

The comprehensive plan further states that “the desire to preserve” is the major element in guiding the comprehensive plan for the county, and states: “People continue to come to Brown County to visit and live. We must plan to ensure that the residents’ reasons for choosing Brown County as a place to live are protected and preserved.”

The Area Plan Commission approved the zoning for the assisted living facility and the senior apartments. The zoning request for an adjacent property from agriculture to commercial to accommodate an entertainment venue is incompatible with the planning principles stated in the comprehensive plan, and the commitment made to the senior residents and neighboring property owners in the area.

Further, given the intent for Mr. Snyder to sell a section of his farmland for commercial purposes, it’s possible that he may choose to sell more land in the future. Now may be a good time to update the comprehensive plan to identify community expectations for the types of development for Snyder farm that the community will want to support. The update to the plan should also include a tourism-related policy and strategy.

The “voice of county residents” is captured in the comprehensive plan that guides any zoning related changes.

Although the proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center has not been formally approved by the commissioners and council, advocates of the project will be requesting a zoning change at the APC on Tuesday, Aug. 22 at 6 p.m.

This request should be denied.

The APC should consider beginning the process of involving the community in making any needed updates to the county comprehensive plan.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any commission or board.

Tim Clark, Brown County

Failing to Plan: Planning to Fail

I serve on the County Redevelopment Commission (RDC).  The following is a copy of a Letter to the Editor of the Brown County Democrat. The purpose of the letter was to reinforce the need for a collaborative approach when considering development projects that can have long-term impacts on the community.

Maple Leaf Proposal: Let’s Not Fail to Plan
By Tim Clark

At the June 20, 2017, presentation to a crowd of approximately 100 people on the proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) at the Brown County Playhouse, Commissioner Diana Biddle stated:

“We have planned ourselves to death: Strategic planning, strategic planning, strategic planning.”   “It is time for strategic doing,”  

Although this statement received a round of applause, and may accurately reflect the perception held by many in the community, there can be more to the story.

The Purdue University, Center for Regional Development has described “strategic doing” as including “engaging the community in building a prosperous, sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.” This future must be identified in a comprehensive plan and strategy. The last revision to the county comprehensive plans was in 2011, and the county does not have a published strategic plan.

Regarding the proposed MLPAC, the community at large has not had the opportunity at official public meetings to provide input on the best investment options for the revenue collected from the inn keepers tax nor were they involved in providing feedback on the size, scope, and location of a venue.

Further, citizens have not been provided with sufficient details on the nature of the $10.2 million dollar debt including information about the right, if any, to remonstrate. Although principal and interest on the debt can be paid with revenues from the inn keepers tax, taxpayers are likely at risk for the total debt.

Despite this lack of community engagement, advocates for the proposed MLPAC are on the Area Plan Commission agenda on August 22 and intend to request a zoning change for the Snyder Farm site.

An initial outline of the “proposed” MLPAC review and approval process was developed by the county attorneys – Barnes and Thornburg.  The Brown County Redevelopment Commission (RDC) initiated a review on the proposed MLPAC in the context of a county wide perspective. This review included an outline of an initial action plan that involves collaboration among all affected government offices to ensure the due diligence expected from taxpayers.

At the July 13, 2017, RDC meeting, Commissioner Biddle stated that the initial process that was outlined by Barnes and Thornburg was changed to the extent that project reviews and approval no longer required the involvement of the RDC.   An updated outline and timeline has yet to be shared with the public.

The RDC is pursuing federal grants to fund updates to the county comprehensive plan and to fund development of an economic development strategic plan.  These plans along with a five-year budgeting capability would include the key elements of a county strategic plan –likely the first ever such plan in the history of Brown County government. Because of the long lead time involved with government grants, self-funding the development of these plans may be an immediate and needed course of action.

To support the aim of “engaging the community in building a prosperous, sustainable future for ourselves and future generations,” either the RDC or another objective third party should be asked to take the lead in facilitating the review and approval process. This will help ensure community support for the proposed MLPAC and its alignment with the existing or updated county comprehensive plan.

For those where planning may be an abhorrent concept, Benjamin Franklin is credited with the axiom that: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Let’s not plan to fail.

Disclaimer:  The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any commission or board.