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Improving communication, planning could help keep fair board, 4-H from split

The ‘hearts, aspirations and priorities’ of three separate groups appear to be in the same place although a lack of communication or joint planning among them is perceived as a major weakness.
This was the consensus of about 80 people, mostly adults, who attended a strategy session last Wednesday evening at Corydon Presbyterian Church. The majority of people are members of the 4-H Council, Harrison County Agricultural Society or the Extension service.
David Osborne, the Extension director from Ripley County, facilitated the session that had everyone participate in determining the strengths and threats of the three groups. The session was called after the 4-H Council expressed interest in obtaining land for its own fair and because the Extension services are looking to relocate to a large building. (Osborne joked that, after reading an article in this newspaper on Aug. 23, he contemplated wearing a referee shirt.)
Osborne explained how Ripley County addressed a similar situation about 14 years ago. There, the fairgrounds were owned by the ag society and the buildings were built by the 4-H folks.
But the solution ‘ changing ownership to the county park department ‘ just ‘shifted’ the issues rather than solving the problems, Osborne said. It took some time, but the groups in Ripley County learned that they could be more successful in obtaining grant monies if they worked together. To date, they’ve received about $1.4 million in grants, he said.
‘It’s not a perfect world,’ Osborne said. ‘I wish I could tell you that it happened in two years, but it didn’t.’
In a multi-step process that took about 90 minutes, Osborne began by asking everyone to list what they considered the ‘issues’ to be for Harrison County.
Responses ranged from building-related concerns to the timing of the Harrison County Fair and other related programs to a lack of planning or coordinating among the groups.
Then everyone was given one vote to select what they thought was the No. 1 issue. With 19 votes, the lack of communication between 4-H, ag society and county government was first. A close second, receiving 17 votes, was the timing of the fair, which now conflicts with the beginning of school in the Lanesville community and the start of the Indiana State Fair.
Next, Osborne had the group consider the strengths of the top issue.
‘Usually if you have a hard time finding the strengths, you’ve found your issue,’ he said.
Osborne said he noted as he walked around the room from table to table and listened in on the small-group discussions that most were having trouble coming up with anything positive to say about communication. What few the group did suggest were that they want to see the fairgrounds flourish; they believe it’s important to have volunteers who are willing to serve; and there’s a strong sense of pride in having the oldest, continuous county fair in the state.
‘For a fair to last that long (147 years), you have to have the community buy into it,’ he said, adding that in Ripley County, the 4-H program pays $25,000 to $30,000 a year to use the county park grounds for its annual fair.
The next part of the exercise, which appeared considerably easier for the group, was to list the weaknesses of the issue. After compiling a lengthy list, he asked everyone to vote on what they thought the No. 1 weakness was. ‘No joint planning’ won in a landslide.
‘Thirty-nine ‘ over half of you ‘ decided this was an issue,’ Osborne said.
From there, the group was asked for ‘techniques or opportunities’ to resolving the weakness.
Osborne didn’t have them vote on their answers. Rather, he said, ‘There’s not one where you can put dots and decide this is the solution. If it was that easy, I’d be retired, and hunting and fishing in Alaska.’
Instead, he asked what are the perceived threats if there is no solution. Again, a lengthy list resulted, which included that it could split the community.
‘We have that in Ripley County in basketball,’ Osborne said, reminding everyone of the Milan team of ’54. ‘It’s great to have that kind of tradition … but it shouldn’t stand in the way of progress.’
To conclude the learning session, Osborne asked for any comments.
‘Please do everything you can to keep the fair going as beautifully as you can,’ encouraged Karolyn Mangeot of Franklin Township, who said she was not a member of any of the groups represented.
Ron Greenwell of Corydon, who was accompanied by his daughter, Courtney, who is a 4-H member, asked everyone to remember to make the youth the main focus.
Todd Uhl, president of the Extension board, said they will probably have a couple of more meetings to try to determine what everybody wants.
A few days later, Brenda Hash, president of the 4-H Council, said she was pleased with the attendance at the strategy planning session.
‘I thought the community came together to get to the bottom of the problems,’ she said. ‘I think when it gets right down to the nitty gritty, no one wants to move (the fair), but I was hoping that everyone would have come away from the meeting realizing that we all have to work together to achieve this.’
The 4-H Council holds its fair at the same time that the Harrison County Agricultural Society puts on its fair. While the ag society doesn’t charge the 4-H to use the grounds that week, Hash said the 4-H group has spent $378,000 on upgrades and maintenance to the buildings at the fairgrounds since 2001. She said it’s frustrating that 4-H can’t have access to the facilities, such as the rest rooms, when they have other events at the fairgrounds.
‘I think Dave did an awesome job facilitating the meeting and offering insight as to his situation’ in Ripley County, Hash said. ‘I think the meeting was a success and everyone that was there should realize that it’s going to take a lot of team work to get everyone communicating together.’
Osborne encouraged one of the groups to take the initiative to get discussions started towards finding a workable solution.
‘You guys know what you need to do,’ he said.