Listening Party sparks ideas for future improvement

LISTENING PARTY  —  Front to back, Jamey Byrnes of Gary and Leo’s IGA, District 10 Superintendent of Schools Craig Barringer and Representative Rob Cook HD-27, listen to a conference call on Thursday at city hall. There were 19 people from various businesses in Conrad that took part in the nation-wide call that attracted over 300 participants.  I-O Photo by Buck Traxler





By Melissa Huber, I-O Reporter

A Listening Party was held on Aug. 22 at city hall which consisted of a nation-wide conference call (during which Ed McMahon gave a lecture on the Secret of Successful Communities) and was immediately followed by discussion involving those whom attended. Groups and single party listeners from over 30 different locations all across the nation tuned in including Vermont, Alaska, Washington D.C., Arkansas, Georgia, British Columbia, Louisiana, Florida and even Bozeman.

McMahon set the mood and direction of the lecture with an insightful quote from President Abraham Lincoln, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

“Communities that embrace the future will prosper, those that don’t will decline,” said McMahon. Those committed to embracing the future were encouraged to start by looking at assets already available instead of making lists of assets to acquire. Instead, take what makes your community unique and expound on it.

He went on to give examples of how perceived quirks or unsavory assets can often be the best assets you have, such as the Market Street Bridge in Chattanooga, Tenn. It had become an eyesore and a nuisance until the citizens of Chattanooga decided to renovate it.

McMahon went on to list things that can kill growth such as too much disagreeing and not enough time discussing options or ideas, and not keeping in mind what is best for the community. “People don’t like change,” he said, but “there is planned change and there is unplanned change.” Listeners were encouraged to embrace it because it will happen anyway.

McMahon then explained that it is best to start from the ground up, working on smaller goals, gradually working towards something bigger, and the more people involved the more complete the plan will be. “Think small in a big way,” said McMahon.

Along with many other examples, Conrad’s impending railroad museum is a great example of thinking small in a big way and utilizing current assets.

McMahon spoke about how using incentive rather than regulation has a tendency to get people excited and involved. Communities need to be aware of what their options are, because they ultimately have the right to choose. Create a place where community members can gather and create a dialogue with each other. In the words of Ed McMahon, “you need an ‘all hands on deck’ community.” Get everyone on the same page and working together.

Sometimes the best option for a given problem involves cooperating with other towns and neighborhoods. This was the case in Gettysburg. Visitors to the battlefield would often bypass large parts of the town, until the city got together to make a more conclusive guide to all things Gettysburg. They learned to get people excited about their town and not just their amenities.

“Image is important,” he stated, which is resoundingly true of a world in which a picture says a thousand words. Conrad is blessed enough to be a very tidy little town, with clean streets, and a well-maintained residential district. “Attract their affection,” urged McMahon, and Conrad has done that for many people.

If Conrad is to be made better it will need strong leaders and committed community members. In the words of American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

To keep things sustainable over the long haul, McMahon advised listeners to remember to nurture young people to be where they are someday. People will come and go, he said, and that’s ok. Create steps and increments that are reachable, and remember to lead by example.

Anyone looking to go above and beyond was encouraged to start leadership programs for the youth of the community or groups systems that allow people to round robin and not get burnt out.

To get a project done you need to go where the people are. Take the ideas to the appropriate places and delegate. Break down boundaries that keep the vision from becoming a reality.

The idea, as McMahon stated, was to, “Leave communities more not less than they were before.”