To the editor:

As a citizen of Jefferson County, I have been concerned for the welfare and future prospects of many of my fellow citizens. Ball State recently reported that the average citizen is earning 1983-level wages. Over a fifth of our children live below the poverty level, as do nearly a seventh of our families. To me, this is indicative of a major socio-economic problem involving many sectors, institutions and ways of "doing things". Instead of improving, we have been slipping when compared to our surrounding counties.

Our present situation was years in the making. There is no easy fix, no silver bullet that a consulting firm can provide us.

I was pleased earlier this year when the elected officials of all three councils (Jefferson County, Madison and Hanover), representing all 32,000 citizens, came to the realization that the first step toward solving our problems was to work together. Each voted unanimously to work toward an Inner Local Agreement (ILA). The committee of elected officials working toward that end chose to call themselves ACT.

During their public meeting, the ACT members mentioned forming around 25 citizen committees to advise the council of five elected officials. If and when the council hires a consultant or planning firm, that firm will ultimately be answerable to us citizens.

Around the same time that our three councils came together, a group of private citizens wrote a letter to the editor. These private citizens employ 3,000 of the 15,000 working Jefferson County residents. Those private citizens stated in the letter that the elected officials were moving too slowly. Then, shortly after the elected ACT committee began their work, this same group of industry leaders announced an initiative of their own, which they are presently calling a vision and action plan. They hired an Ohio firm (ACP Visioning and Planning) to plan their initiative. Of course, they have every right to hire whomever they please to commission whatever study they want done, but they do not represent the 32,000 citizens of Jefferson County.

Their study and recommendations are owned by the companies or citizens who have it done. ACP is ultimately answerable only to those individuals or firms that hired them, not to we citizens. Recently, an ad appeared in The Madison Courier with the headline "Do you care about our future?" urging citizens to apply to serve on a "Steering Committee" of 25 citizens. No ownership for the ad was claimed, with the only hint of ownership coming at the end "to apply ... call (812) 265-4769 or e-mail". Some citizens thought was an official government website. It is not. It is a private website. Some do not yet know who nhadley is: he is the executive director of JCDIC, a private organization which the private citizens funding their study are using to coordinate their study. Of course, you have every right to apply to serve on this private council, but please make no mistake, the ILA being finalized by your Jefferson County elected officials working as ACT is not the same as the private initiative being funded by a group of nine individuals.

The program being worked on by the ACT committee is a bottom-up program. You the citizens of Jefferson County own it, you benefit from it, you make it go. You elect the five council members. History shows that in community development, on bottom up programs work.

The program being worked on by a group of private citizens through ACP is a top-down program. The group of nine who instituted it, own it; they are the decision makers.

Very shortly, the first draft of the citizen committee's ILA will be introduced to the three councils. Although we all were invited for our input at all ACT meetings, we can still do so at our public council meetings. I urge you to do so. Get involved and please don't be confused by the similar names, numbers and goals. In one way or another, we are all responsible for the problem, so we must all be part of the solution.

Robin Henderson