Included in the Brown County Matters Facebook page banner is the reference to the Brown County Leader Network (BCLN). This program was developed through a grant from the State (5k) and a matching grant from the county (5k) as part of the Hometown Collaborative Initiative (HCI).
Disclaimer. Independent Voters of Brown County IN is my personal website and reflects my opinions and perspectives and not necessarily that of the BCLN, its volunteers or my fellow Admins at Brown County Matters.
We were the first group in the history of the HCI program that selected “Leadership” as opposed to Economy and Placemaking, for a capstone project. Consequently, it is taking a little more time to work through the learning curve. We developed a website and a proof-of-concept project. Covid slowed our momentum, and we are reengaging starting in January. We recently applied for support from the IU’s Student Agile Response Teams (START). These teams are are designed “to leverage the vast skills, passion, and time of our students to more efficiently and effectively support our community” Copy of the BCLN application.
Community based quality improvement initiatives are not new and not common. THE BCLN is unique in that it can support individual as well as group improvement efforts in any area – government, secular, non-secular, non-profit, and private sector.
Improving the Quality of County Government
In America, by law, “We the People” are top management. Elected and appointed officials along with county employees, are accountable for serving the interest of all citizens. Citizens are responsible for electing and supporting leaders with the expectation that changes will result in outcomes where everyone benefits or at least, are not any worse off in the long term. This expectation requires the identification of priorities, goals, objectives and plans. An annual report on the “State of the County” would include assessing results from the prior year (s) accomplishments and identifying the areas needing further improvement.
- Need for new and updated to plans? The County Comprehensive Plan needs to be updated to better reflect the needs of residents as to what they want and do not want in terms of development and investments of tax dollars.
- Capital Improvement Plan and Budget. The county does not plan or budget for infrastructure related costs. This is one of the more critical plans needed to identify the funded and unfunded requirements associated with infrastructure investments to include maintenance, repair and replacements.
- Economic Development Strategic Plan. The county spent approximately $45K on this plan. The plan was approved for “payment” but not reviewed for content.
The design of our system of government, envisioned a limited role for government and more responsibility on citizens. Improving any system requires a shared vision for what “more perfect or better” looks like, the feedback needed to assess progress, a method for leading change, and then determining if or when the change results in an improvement.
The Missing Piece? The American system of government enables citizens through the Constitution and Bill of Rights to work together in pursuit of a more perfect Union and community. However, we’ve lacked a shared method for determining when a needed change via policies, laws, and regulations result in systemic improvements in the short and long term. This has contributed to the polarity and divisiveness within the country and county where the interests of the few can takes precedence over options that can result in outcomes where everyone can benefit, or at least, are not any worse off in the long-term.
- An example of suboptimization is on the oversight and management of the revenue from the innkeepers tax. Elected officials have historically taken a hands-off approach as to expenditures and the effects on the quality of life on all residents. Preventing overtourism that negatively impacts the County is the responsibility of the county elected officials.
- What is Brown “County’s” Economic Engine? Spoiler Alert: It is NOT tourism. This fact alone warrants providing residents the opportunity to provide input on what they believe to be the best investments of the revenue from the innkeepers tax. For example, historical preservation may be among the priorities.
The BCLN provides materials to support continuous improvement. It includes information on conducting assessments, decision-making, strategic planning, and project management. An example (cycle 1) and proof-of-concept is provided by the Jackson Township Trustees Office.
In reference to Benjamin Franklin’s quote on the importance of planning, the strategic planning outline introduces a systemic approach through the awareness of the effects of change on all stakeholders in the near, mid, and long-term.
In terms of “needs”, the Constitution identifies the appropriate scope of change. Indiana State code identifies the missions and functions that are to be provided by County Government, Boards, and Commissions. In Brown County, the condition of roads and bridges is considered a priority by the citizenry. Additional needs are and can be addressed by the non-profit and private sectors.
Community-wide quality improvement initiatives are not new and are not common. THE BCLN is unique in that it supports individual as well as group/organization improvement efforts.
Application Opportunities within County Government
Transparency and Accountability. Investment in the new Brown County website allows all the departments to update their own pages. At a minimum, each respective page should identify the respective mission and functions as required by statute. In addition, it should also include at least a one-page plan that identifies priorities, goals, and objectives for the year. Minutes, agendas, and audio recordings from meetings should be immediately (within 24 hours?) be made available to the public. An annual “state” of the department, commission, or board, should also be posted on the respective pages. These annual reports can be consolidated by the Commissioners and Council and included into their respective annual reports.
Top Management within County Govt. Commissioners are the county executives that execute a plan supported by the citizenry. I am not aware that the County has a documented plan. And, any political party platform can be devoid of any specifics. People tend to vote for a label, and/or a name as opposed to electing individuals that have the capability and desire to develop a plan with citizen input and then executing it successfully. A seat of the pants approach does not produce the best results.
- Utilizing ad-hoc groups to propose and develop major changes and using their work as the sole justification for approval is an example of government at its worst. Typically, “solutions” can support a special interest with no clear identification as to the scope and extent of the respective problem.
Commission Meetings. All meetings start with a Prayer. The Christian worldview includes the belief that actions motivated by love result in more needs being met, resulting in less harm to people when their needs are not being met. Given limited resources (tax dollars), priorities as to spending become critical:
- What are the needs and priorities of citizens? What is being done to meet these needs? What harm is being caused when these needs are not being met?
Including “Prayer” as an integral part of a government meeting establishes the expectation for a higher standard of performance including being prepared to defend the practice.
- Justifications: In addition to the book – The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, that was also turned into a movie, I would recommend a book (short, and concise) by Mark Mittelberg, The Reason Why: Faith Makes Sense. For the atheist that wants to see the proof – the evidence that Christianity is true, I would recommend the following from J. Warner Wallace – a former atheist and homicide detective:
- In the area of Quality Leadership, I recommend the book by W. Edwards Deming – The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education. Deming was a devout Christian that supported a secular approach to improvement. His contributions were recognized by Fortune magazine as being among the 20 that have shaped the modern world of business and by U.S. News and World Report as one of nine turning points in history.
Barriers and Challenges. Any perceived change to the culture, status quo, comfort zone, “the way we’ve always done it”, is most always perceived as a threat from those that are benefitting from the current system. And, few people enjoy getting out of their respective comfort zone unless the perceived benefits are greater than the perceived risks. Further, many may accept the belief that the devil you know may be better than the devil you do not know – this is especially true in the area of straight-ticket voting.
Leadership. Within a group, the role of Leadership has always been to support a needed shift from the old status quo to the new. From the political aspect, 2022 is an election year. It provides an opportunity to elect or re-elect individuals with the desire and capability to support the types of changes that lead to outcomes where everyone benefits, or at least, are not any worse off in the long-term. Meeting this challenge requires leaders with a vision, a plan, and a method.