Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Mayors share success stories

Get a group of enthusiastic mayors in a room and good ideas are bound to get bounced around. That was the case at the inaugural Mayors' Conference in Columbia. Several mayors took advantage of a meeting agenda item to share a success story (in three minutes or less) that’s unique to their city.

Here’s some of what they talked about:

Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page. In this growing city of 83,000, city leaders found that a high percentage of the calls coming into the fire department weren’t actually fire calls. They were calls related to some type of medical emergency. The fire department doesn’t transfer patients. EMS does. But in many cases the fire truck was the first on the scene.
Rather than sending the $800,000 ladder truck to the scene for these types of medical calls, the department now sends a completely outfitted $75,000 quick response vehicle manned by a fire fighter and paramedic. The vehicle looks like a mid-sized SUV and is a much more efficient way to respond to these calls. “The person who is needed on the scene is the person who is there,” Page said. 
Lexington Mayor Steve MacDougall. The Town of Lexington faces strangling traffic concerns in downtown and surrounding arteries. Despite being a town with a population of 17,870, the police department services about 168,000 people daily who travel to and through Lexington, and roads are at capacity. Main Street alone serves more than 17,000 daily.

Instead of widening roads, town leaders found a system that ties together all the traffic lights in the town using computer technology. DOT has paid the city to take over operation of all the traffic lights in the town. Using the funds DOT paid, the town hired a traffic engineer to manage a system of synchronized lights. There are 19 signals already installed with all 36 to be connected by end of the year. Lexington is the first city in U.S. with every light linked and talking to each other. Studies already indicate a 20 percent increased traffic flow. “The $5.2 million price tag is considerably less than building new roads,” MacDougall said. 

Lancaster Mayor John Howard. When Springs Industries decided to take down its Lancaster plant, the city got a large building that had been an R&D /engineering facility. City leaders did some brainstorming to decide the best way to use the building. They noted a need for a training facility for public safety and set out to convert part of the space to that use. The facility uses scenarios laid out in real time that gives officers hands-on field training. The city also makes the facility available to other public safety entities all over in the southeast.

Springdale Mayor Michael Bishop. Although Springdale is small in population and area, it’s still easy for residents to sometimes feel disconnected from neighbors and what’s happening in the community. One Saturday a month, the town holds a cookout for residents. Town leaders identify a willing neighbor to offer up his yard or find a cul-de-sac where they set up picnic tables. The town supplies hamburgers, hot dogs and Springdale branded water bottles. Neighbors walk there and talk with people they may not know. Town leaders find out about issues like pot holes and overgrown shrubs impeding sidewalks.

"It kind of turns into an informal town hall meeting with 30 to 60 people generally showing up,” said Bishop.

Inman Mayor Cornelius Huff. Inman leaders identified a concern in town was that the elderly population had been running the town with little input from young residents. Council decided to start building new leaders even before students graduated from high school. They established the Mayors Youth Council that includes 25 juniors and seniors from the local high school.

The students meet three times ,and the school has given them class time to meet. Three teachers oversee the program with the blessing of the school district. The students have taken over the town’s social media presence to keep residents updated on what’s happening in town. They participate in activities such as stocking the local food pantry and helping with the annual Relay for Life event.

The students make a report to every city council meeting about their activities, and the mayor lets one of the youth council members preside at the beginning of a council meeting. Recently the students in the program spent two days in Lake City sharing their success with leaders and students there. Huff said, “It has transformed our town.” 

Travelers Rest Mayor Wayne McCall. Ten years ago the city and county collaborated to buy the old Travelers Rest School site. The county constructed its new building on its part of the site. The city has built a fire station and farmers market on the site. Just last week, the mayor signed off on the bonds to build the new city hall on the site. The hope down the road is to also move the local history museum to the site which is located downtown and just steps from the popular Swamp Rabbit Trail.

Mayor McCall mentioned two other recent success stories. One was the city hosting the hit Netflix program “Kindness Diaries” in town this week, and the second was USA Today naming TR as the fourth best southern town in the country. 

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