Leaders must invite residents to play

Published 10:52 pm Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Local leaders have raised their racket to serve the ball, now they just need someone on the opposite side of the net ready to hit it back.

A small committee composed of the mayor, a few supervisors, the city recreation director and a business owner met Tuesday to begin mapping out an Adams County recreation plan.

The meeting of the minds is long overdue, but is a wonderful first step.

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Like many such meetings, it’s the child of an argument.

Back in September, new Mayor Jake Middleton asked the Adams County Board of Supervisors for some financial help to fund a recreation complex.

But like the brother-in-law who invited himself to dinner to ask for a loan, it didn’t go well.

The county had a good excuse — they were already knee-deep in budget revisions, there wasn’t time to make changes.

The city can’t fund it alone, the mayor said.

The lines in the sand were drawn. The conversation over before it began.

But soon after, at a Chamber of Commerce sponsored breakfast, the issue came up again. With voters in the room and heads that had cooled with time, discussion seemed like the best option.

Both sides agreed that day to form a recreation committee — with the help of the chamber — and begin some talks.

More than a month later the meetings have begun.

Tuesday, the group decided their first priority is to pinpoint a location for a potential recreation complex.

That’s a fine first step.

But before the committee can lob that tennis ball into the air, they’d better take care of some business first.

The group is seeking to build a community recreation complex. The key word here is community.

A recreation complex — especially one that may need additional taxes to fund — will never fly without community support.

The best way to motivate a player is to put him in the game.

It’s time to make this a community project.

Committee members said Tuesday they intend to expand the recreation committee to include others. That’s a good idea, though it certainly doesn’t have to be overly large.

The inclusion of a few more key players would be best, but keep it manageable.

It’s not the size of the committee that matters — it’s how open the ears are.

The next meeting, and every meeting after that, should be open to the public and well-publicized beforehand.

The group needs to invite concerned citizens to participate, listen in and have a voice.

If the crowd gets too big or shows potential for rowdiness, develop a system for allowing people to talk. Limit their time, but don’t limit their voice.

The committee needs to serve, but the community has to be on the other side, ready and waiting to return the ball.

In tennis, a rally is a sequence of shots. It’s what makes the game interesting, keeps it moving and leads to a point.

The recreation committee needs the ideas and input the community has to offer.

The best experts on recreation are the parents who spend night and day at the ballpark. Those folks travel to other towns, see other complexes and use the facilities we have. They care deeply about their children and the children of others.

Give them the chance to participate. Invite them to the meetings. We have nothing to hide here, only ideas to explore.

Let the people play, and you will win the match.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.