The News-Enterprise Editorial Focuses On the Need for Communication

Editorial: Communication is key for Hardin County United

This editorial first appeared in The News-Enterprise on November 23, 2010.  The full, online version can be found here:

Hardin County United’s informal organization of volunteers was born earlier this year in response to a research report called the Vision Project. The group’s initial mission was exploring the project’s 24 strategic goals that surfaced from interviews and meetings with community leaders.

A subgroup called the governance committee has been meeting monthly to discuss, research and explore ideas about how best to operate the public’s business. The idea of consolidating city and county government came up in Vision Project brainstorming but committee members did not begin with a conclusion in mind.

Led by Circuit Judge Ken Howard as chairman, the committee focused on what’s become known as the Mayflower concept. Basically, it asks if the 100,000 or so residents of Hardin County suddenly arrived here and found no government in place, like America’s early Mayflower settlers, how would we organize government?

No conclusions have been drawn nor recommendations made. But a bit of controversy flared when it was announced that the research timetable would be advanced with professional help from research to be completed by L.B. Schmidt and Associates.

That’s the same firm hired to conduct the Vision Project through a Department of Defense grant that surfaced during the Fort Knox BRAC transition. Another source of federal money located by the Lincoln Trail Area Development District is paying for the new work. A former Elizabethtown resident, Luke Schmidt has continued to provide service to Hardin County United since its inception. In essence, the move simply found a way to pay him for his efforts.

The announcement was made in a statement released less than a day before the full Hardin County United board was scheduled to meet. Surprised by the news, some participants felt their input perhaps was unimportant to a process directed by a few. It made Hardin County United seem a little less unified.

Also, leaders of local cities were less than enthusiastic in their response to news of research that could lead to erasing some traditional boundaries.

But the greatest objections have been voiced by representatives of Heartland Chambers Alliance, an affiliation of four local Chambers of Commerce that have been working together on projects for nearly two years and have their own unification effort in the works. Some chamber officials fear that having government consolidation conversations in headlines could derail their delicate process of approaching members about a vote in support of change.

At the basic level, the Hardin County United decision to hire L.B. Schmidt and Associates did not change the organization’s objectives. Studying the value of consolidation was a mission from the start. Providing a degree of professional research and documented details will assist the committee in formulating suggestions. But those ideas still would face stark public scrutiny and no city-county merger can take place without a formal charter and referendum at the polls.

In conclusion, what we have are conflicts in timing that could have benefitted from communication and consultation. Funny how even when dealing with dramatic new concepts of governance, the same basic issues that tend to plague government have surfaced.

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