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Decatur Diary | April 16, 2010

Round Tables Begin as Record Crowd of 600+ Attends Kick-Off

The packed-house gathering on April 15 was in the ballroom of the Holiday Inn. But you could probably hear the Sehwe Village Percussion group’s African drums a mile away. It was the perfect celebratory launch for the 2010 community Round Tables that will set the stage for the City’s strategic planning for the next decade.

What’s the big deal? An enduring legacy.

“A city worth leaving to your children and to your children’s children and on to the next generation,” said Jon Abercrombie, a Decatur resident whose Common Focus firm facilitates community consensus-building efforts throughout the U.S.

Abercrombie devised and led the Round Tables that led to the last 10-year Strategic Plan for Decatur. That was in 1998. Back then, there were enough disagreements about how to move forward that Decatur could boast it was the city “where our greatest asset is conflict,” said Abercrombie.

That wasn’t a bad way to pitch a community discussion. Drawn, at least in part, by their frustration over a number of contentious issues, nearly five hundred residents signed up for the 1998 Round Tables. The result of their efforts was the Strategic Plan, a to-do list for City officials and volunteers. In the years since, over 80 percent of the initiatives on that list have become reality. Decatur, said City Commissioner Kecia Cunningham, became “the four square miles that could.”

One effect of that success has been growing satisfaction among citizens that elected officials, together with city staff, are delivering on their promises. In fact, Decatur’s mayor and city commissioners have pledged equal follow-through this time around.

But do happy citizens make for involved citizens? You’d expect that general satisfaction, plus spring fever after a long winter, would dampen enthusiasm for getting together to do it all again in 2010. But something else seemed to be motivating folks this time around. As the Kick-Off approached, registrations surged well beyond our old record, exceeding 600 by the time the April 15 presentation began. Person after person told us they were ready to build on the success and didn’t want to miss the chance to contribute.

As always, said Abercrombie, the challenge “is making the table big enough for everybody to sit around.” The record sign-up, including a good 50 walk-ins, forced an on-the-spot realignment of groups at the Kick-Off. Groups were subdivided in order to make sure that when they meet over the next two months all participants can easily get to know one another and all can share their stories, their concerns, and their hopes.

If you’re kicking yourself for not joining the fun, there’s still time. We’ll be taking registrations for the Round Tables through April 23. But remember, you have to commit to three meetings between now and early-June. There are daytime and evening meetings scheduled across four days of the week to accommodate just about everybody’s schedules.

Sign up, then be sure to check back to these web pages often as we update each stage of the process. And feel free to chime in any time with comments and ideas of your own, all of which will be added to the collected information that comes out of the Round Tables.

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