Barbara Harrington

Staff Writer

Work has begun toward creating a road map for the community for the future.

A town meeting was held on August 28 at the city hall auditorium to get this process for Vision 2020 going. About 40 people attended the meeting, which was held to give Aberdeen’s citizens a chance to project what kind of community they want Aberdeen to become.

Kathy Lusby, Community Development manager for the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce, said this meeting ties into one of the four goals set by the chamber this year.

“This is just the chamber’s way of trying to involve the community in having a part in what we’re working on,” she said.

A Steering Committee met in July to initiate the project. Mike Clayborne of the CREATE Foundation met with the committee and told the members a town meeting was the next step. Clayborne also facilitated the town meeting.

Clayborne said CREATE covers 16 counties in northeast Mississippi and that one of the main parts of its mission is to improve quality of life for residents in the area.

“Things like this work toward that,” he said. “I was born and lived about 30 years in Monroe County. I have a special place in my heart for Monroe County and I want it to do as well as it can.”

Clayborne then hit the highlights of a report CREATE did for the State of the Region earlier this year, looking at demographics and economic and social trends.

“It’s important that we know where we are,” he said. “It’s hard to get a road map of where we want to be if we don’t know where we’re starting from. The concept of going through a process like this is based on the supposition that as much as we love our community and think it is a wonderful place to live, it could be better.”

He said it is important to get a diverse group from the community together so the input will consist of lots of different viewpoints on what needs working on in the community, and on the opportunities and challenges the community faces, to determine where the community is and where they want it to be down the road, and decide collectively what most needs attention.

“It’s also important that the Steering Committee be a diverse group that looks like the community,” Clayborne said.

He said the Steering Committee would take the thoughts put forth at the August 28 meeting and draft a statement for people to look at during a future town meeting, to say what they like or don’t like.

“That’s where you start talking about things to work on to achieve the vision of what kind of community you want to live in,” Clayborne said. “When those priorities are developed, the next thing is to form task forces to work on them. Hopefully, all of you will sign up to work on the task force of the item you think is important, and recruit others for the task force.”

Once areas to work on are identified, Clayborne said experts can be brought in to address these issues. Each group should recommend what it thinks needs to be done, he said, then follow through on those recommendations. He said another meeting should be held in a few months to see what progress has been made by the task forces on those issues. Other issues could replace any that have been completed. Clayborne said there is no real cost in the process itself, but any cost comes in meeting some of the group’s recommendations.

A member of the audience asked if CREATE would help with funding. Clayborne said that is a possibility, through grants the organization has available, and that it can also recommend other sources for funding.

Another audience member suggested Vision 2020 is “more or less brainwashing.”

“You’re telling me things that are news to me,” Clayborne said. “What you decide, what it leads to is up to you. If you want to make your community a better place to live in, I don’t know a better way than getting citizens together, to see what’s on their minds. As far as what happens down the road, it’s up to you, the City of Aberdeen, the county. There’s no hidden agenda here.”

Wellman Works said, “I don’t think there is a person in this room who wouldn’t like to see improvement in Aberdeen. The only way we are going to prosper longterm is to improve our economy. I don’t see people from business here. When I work with a task force I like to see someone excited about change.”

Russell Jackson said one thing wrong in this community is people talking “bad about Aberdeen.”

“If the school is weak,” he said, “it’s because part of the population is not sending their children to school here. No industries or other things are going to come if its own people don’t want to be here.”

Clayborne gave statistics about Monroe County from the State of the Region report, citing the need for more and better paying jobs, a higher graduation rate for high school students, and a reduction in pregnancy cases among single teens.

“I know we need to have more jobs that pay more for our people,” Clayborne said. “One answer is education. There is a direct parallel between education of the people in an area and its per capita income.

“If you have less than 60 percent of people with a high school education, it’s hard to bring in better jobs.”

Someone from the audience said this is part of a United Nations effort in creating a “new way of governing ourselves.” He also mentioned jobs taken through NAFTA.

“Do we just sit around and hope we strike oil,” Clayborne said, “or do we come together as a community to try to address this. If you have a better way, I’m sure people want to hear it. If we don’t want to do something, we should just walk out and let’s forget it.”

Cecil Belle, who was instrumental in initiating Vision 2020 in Aberdeen, said, “I want to be proactive. I don’t see a whole lot of coming together in this community. When industry is looking we don’t have average citizens involved. I wanted to have a meeting to give everyone the opportunity to make a difference.

“I’m excited about it. We need to do something for our town. I don’t want it to die.”

Clayborne then asked for suggestions from the audience about what they would like Aberdeen to be in 2020, which he wrote on a flip chart.

The first comment was made by Jim Edwards, who said he would like to see Aberdeen as a “model community for race relations.”

Other things that were mentioned included population growth, a decrease in property taxes, a decrease in government to the constitutional level, small business growth, continuing education, more restaurants, improved hospital services, strong support for the school, work to repeal NAFTA.

Sharon Works said she would like to see Aberdeen do something to attract people here for the weekend.

“We chose this town,” she said, “to live here. It’s a very unique place. When we lived in Texas, people liked to go to smaller towns on the weekends to shop and eat, but Aberdeen has to be open then.”

The Steering Committee, which consists of Cecil Belle, Susan Evans, Judy Jones, Kathy Lusby, Ronda Riley, Glen Houston, Willie Deans, Hozay Hausley, Nona Herndon, Diane Harris, Barbara Harrington, Sara Lepicier, Flora Outlaw, Preston Belle, Ann Tackett, Fernando Davis, Jeremy Belle, and Ralph Byars will meet soon to go over the list made at the town meeting and draft a statement for Aberdeen’s vision, then schedule another town meeting for the community to give input on that draft and form task forces to work on any recommendations made.

Anyone interested in making a suggestion about Aberdeen’s future can contact Lusby before the next Steering Committee meeting, which is set for 5 p.m. on September 22. Another town meeting is scheduled for September 29 at 7 p.m. at city hall.

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