Black Belt Mayors gather for monthly meeting

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 7, 2005

LIVINGSTON-Black Belt Mayors once again gathered for their monthly meeting at Bell Conference Center on the campus of the University of West Alabama to gain input from Dr. Robert H. McKenzie of the Kettering Foundation on how to address the problems their communities face.

McKenzie had several suggestion beginning with open lines of communication. He said it was important to get input from all areas of a city to unite the people toward a common goal.

“You have to look at how to gain the capacity to engage a common problem,” McKenzie said. “The main kinds of problems we are concerned with are the problems we describe as Type II problems. Those are the types of problems it takes several people to fix.”

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McKenzie stressed it was also important for communities to have vision. However, he said if vision does not include decision making processes they are just dreams.

McKenzie said part of the decision making process should include inclusion of representatives from all parts of a city. He said it was also important to keep people focused and working together.

“If you are not careful you will not get cohesion,” McKenzie said. “You will get several different people fighting for their priorities. If you are not careful you can easily paint yourself in a corner.”

The group agreed there were no perfect solutions to the problems they faced, but also agreed to find the best possible solution they needed community input.

McKenzie said a great way to look at ways to improve their community was to think of why they enjoy where they live. McKenzie told the group to ask themselves what they held most valuable about where they lived.

Answers for the group consistently centered on the people they served. Audrey Haskins, Constituent Services Representative for the office of Congressman Artur Davis said she has enjoyed her time in Demopolis and the Black Belt because of the citizens.

“The one thing I have always valued is the people,” Haskins said. “They are genuine. I have never felt a sense of community like I have there and I lived in two foreign countries. I think that is one of the reasons I have stayed there.”

Livingston Mayor tom Tartt agreed people made small towns in the Black Belt great. He said the people and rich traditions have made Livingston a wonderful place to live.

“I think to me a lot of it would be history,” Tartt said. “To me, Livingston represents a place where it is all right to live and grow up in a small town. You know all of your neighbors and you speak to each other.”

Tartt said he would like to see economic growth and preservation of the small town atmosphere at the same time.

“To me, this way of life is more important than being able to eat at six different restaurants or going to the mall three times a day,” Tartt said. “That way of life appeals to me. I also get a lot of satisfaction in protecting that and trying to bring us into the 21 century. It is al about keeping it simple, but making it better too.”

McKenzie said it could take compromises to maintain the simple life and bring more jobs. He said in many cases it was a matter of asking how much of what people loved they could give up for the greater good. He said sometimes there was a certain level of hunting and fishing that would be sacrificed for traffic and development in order to bring more jobs.

McKenzie again said the solutions to these problems were not easy to find, but they were easier to approach with open communication.

“You have to approach the problems as to what concerns them (the citizens),” McKenzie said. “Then you have to build a solution piece by piece.”