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On Dec. 12, the Leadership Shelby Class of 2012-2013 spent the day discussing government in Shelby County.
With the recent elections and contentious talks of a “fiscal cliff,” the word "government" tends to conjure images of division within our society. Many of us are ready to turn the page, change the channel or scroll down the news feed to avoid another heated political discussion or debate.
Despite our varying viewpoints on issues, our class was able to avoid the urge to lump government in with politics so we could learn something valuable from each of our presenters. We spent our day with city and county officials and our state legislators. As one of my classmates put it, "I was impressed by how unified our local leaders are on our behalf."
City & county government
Our day started with a tour of the Family Activity Center and an overview of Shelby County Parks & Recreation, a system that is funded 31 percent by taxes and 69 percent by user fees and charges. The local parks system was established in 1970 as a joint board of city-county delegates. The main park is Clear Creek Park, the location of the FAC, but there are more than 10 other active park properties – totaling nearly 900 acres.
Next, Nathan Riggs led us in a lively round table discussion with county and city officials. We learned about the extensive training that our law enforcement officers receive to prepare for the 12,000 calls a year that they receive and how the high-tech protocols implemented by our EMS paramedics are being modeled around the state. Shelbyville Mayor Tom Hardesty stressed that he believes that public safety and protection is the prime goal of city government. He also encouraged residents who desire to serve on a committee in which they have an area of interest to contact his office. Just like the Marines, he said they "are looking for a few good men and women."
Ryan Libke with the Triple S Planning and Zoning Commission then helped us to understand the process that occurs when properties receive a zone change, such as the land under consideration for outlet malls off I-64 in Simpsonville. Simpsonville Mayor Steve Eden and City Administrator Dave Eaton shared how the number of residents in Simpsonville has grown by over 500% since 1994. They also expressed their commitment to working closely with Shelby County and Shelbyville officials to avoid duplication of services where possible.
Finally, Deputy County Judge-Executive Rusty Newton gave us an overview of services and departments within county government, which operates with 200 employees on an approximately $16.5 million annual budget.
With our business and family friendly environment, strategic location and low utility rates, our county population has grown and our economy has remained strong at a time when many around the state are suffering. County Clerk Sue Carole Perry led us in an enlightening discussion about the county tax structure and how recovery of delinquent taxes is important to our funding base.
Of course a "government" day would not be complete without a trip to our state capital in Frankfort. We participated in mock committee meetings and a session on the House floor – hosted by our state legislators, Rep. Brad Montell and Sen. Paul Hornback.
We drafted, presented and defended legislation among our peers. My group addressed early intervention for students caught using drugs and alcohol on school property. Other topics included the prohibition of unfunded mandates, prenatal counseling, pension reform and approved Department for Community Based Services providers. Rep. Montell reminded us to vote on the actual content of the bill versus the emotion and politics of the issue, which proved to be useful advice.
Both of our legislators expressed a strong urge to require more accountability in how taxpayer money is spent. Sen. Hornback stressed that the best way to strengthen our economy is to make Kentucky attractive to individuals and businesses.
We ended the day with a great honor. Each of us received a Kentucky Colonel Award, presented by Rep. Montell – a reminder that we are called to serve the commonwealth and our local community with "an unwavering commitment to faith, family, fellowman and country."
I certainly think our involvement in Leadership Shelby will prepare us for that high challenge.
This day would not have been possible without the efforts of our insightful day chairs Nathan Riggs, Montell, Hornback, Sheila Hardy of the Legislative Research Commission, Mary Hayes Smith and Fielding Ballard, our board of directors representatives.
Finally, thank you to Rosemary Riggs for the countless hours that she spends in preparation for our hands-on learning experience every month.
Rachel Webb, a member of the 2013 class of Leadership Shelby, lives in Shelbyville.