Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Engage Gwinnett

Much of Gwinnett’s future lies in the hands of 42 people who are involved in the citizen-led initiative called Engage Gwinnett: Citi­zens Committee for the Future of Gwinnett County where they will spend approximately six months looking at the community’s needs for current and future government services and proposing funding strategies to pay for those services over the next five years. The Engage Gwinnett Citizens Committee, which includes representatives of 30 stakeholder groups and 10 self-selected citizen leaders, will prepare budget recommendations to be presented to the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners in early spring 2010. Co-chaired by busi­ness leaders McKenna Long & Aldridge’s Michael Levengood and Cisco’s Bill McCargo, Engage Gwinnett could be one of the most im­portant initiatives Gwinnett has ever undertaken.

According to McCargo and Levengood, the county is in good hands. “As I observed the process at the first public forum, I was very impressed with the level of discourse among the attendees,” said Le­vengood. “They were respectful of their neighbors and they listened to each other.”

Commenting on the committee and the first public forum held on September 9, McCargo said that he was excited about the diver­sity of people who attended as well as those who were selected to serve on the committee. “The people who were selected by their peers to serve on the committee are strong leaders who are engaged in the community in a variety of ways.”

Now that the committee has been formed, the task at hand, ex­plained McCargo, is to decide what services the county should pro­vide and at what level.

“Engage Gwinnett is an opportunity to inform county citizens about how the county budget works, including revenues and mandat­ed expenses, and get their views on how government should prioritize county services and spend tax dollars,” said McCargo. “Our objectives are to serve as a collaborative group targeting both broad-based and specific constituency groups and audiences to offer a means to help citizens understand complex problems and engage those who normally don’t become involved in policy debates. The constitu­ency or stakeholder groups were identified as a ‘broad stroke’ attempt to ensure that the committee was a general reflection of our community. Now that we have the publicly self-selected members, we feel good about beginning our educational and citizen-led public involvement process.”

Part of the mission of Gwinnett County is to “deliver supe­rior services in partnership with our community” and included in its vision is a “commitment to partnering with others in our community who share a dedication to making life better for our citizens.” The Engage Gwinnett process will be an effective tool in accomplishing those objec­tives.

“We believe that Engage Gwinnett will prove over the next several months to be an impressive piece of democracy,” stated Levengood. “The com­munity input we gained from the first public forum - what our citizens think about how Engage Gwinnett should go about doing its work and assuring the public that its recommendations are reasonable and fair - was invalu­able. To observe citizens groups select their committee represen­tatives was truly inspiring and gave me even more confidence that Gwinnett citizens do have a sense of shared responsibility in planning for the future.”

Praising the efforts of Gwinnett County’s leadership and staff, McCargo commented that “Gwinnett County is an ex­ceptionally well-run county government. You don’t get a triple AAA bond rating by accident. It is something to appreciate when a job is done well.”

“Engage Gwinnett is an attempt find out what we can do now to maintain our world-class quality of life in Gwinnett while providing Gwinnett County’s leadership and staff with the opportunity to succeed with our limited resources,” contin­ued McCargo.

Levengood added that the staff at Gwinnett County has done a great job under difficult circumstances. “Engage Gwin­nett will serve to provide recommendations of what services the citizens want that can be provided under these circumstances.”

For those who are not serving on the committee, McCargo encouraged those interested to attend the committee meetings which will be open to the public and will be held at Gwinnett Center. In order to provide Gwinnett residents with the oppor­tunity to follow the process at their own convenience, materials and presentations given to the committee will be made available to the public on the Web at and on TVgwinnett, the County’s government access cable channel. The Engage Gwinnett Web site also feature Facebook and Twitter links as other ways to follow the process.

The general public will have opportunities to provide input online during certain times throughout the process. Engage Gwinnett will also host several more public meetings during the next six months to give the community an opportunity to review preliminary committee findings and offer feedback.

“We have asked the stakeholders and the citizens serving on the committee to keep an open mind and to listen to each other and to our citizens so that Gwinnett can achieve its full potential,” said Levengood. “In addition, we are determined to do the best job we can to reach out to public.”

“I look forward to listening to the committee members’ thoughts, dreams, and aspirations for Gwinnett County. I am especially looking forward to learning from them,” con­cluded Levengood.

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