Leadership Beaufort is eye-opening

Published 12:28 am Sunday, April 3, 2011

As a fairly new employee at the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce, I have had the great opportunity to participate in Leadership Beaufort this spring.

When Catherine Glover gave me the chance to do this, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Now that we are halfway through the program, I will say it has been one of the most enjoyable and educational experiences I have had since starting work with the chamber.

Leadership Beaufort is broken down into eight days, with each day designated to a different segment of our community. The purpose of this course is to educate the participants about our city and county and give them an in-depth look at specific topics of interest. On the days we meet, the seven other participants and I hop into the BATS bus and travel to our scheduled destination. So far, our days have been broken down into Beaufort County government, city government and planning, growth and infrastructure. The other days we will learn about nonprofits, education, health resources and economic diversity. While the entire program has been wonderful, I’ll highlight a few things that I’ve found especially interesting.

Did you know that our wastewater-treatment plant is home to algae-eating tilapia? These tilapia cut down on the naturally growing algae in the water tanks. Now keep in mind that this is our wastewater-treatment plant that feeds into the Pamlico River, not the water that goes to our homes for consumption. This experiment was the innovative idea of Adam Waters, water resources superintendent for Washington. It proved to be a great and inexpensive way to keep the tanks cleans and cut down on maintenance.

Another interesting part of the course was meeting with County Manager Paul Spruill. Learning the organizational structure of the county and understanding how complex budgeting issues are for such a large entity gives me a whole new perspective on where my tax dollars are going.

The area I was most curious about when starting the course was the tour of the county jail. I had never toured the jail facility, and it was definitely eye-opening. A tour of the local jail is not for the claustrophobic or nervous person, which I thought I was neither before the tour. I found out soon enough that the narrow hallways and packed cells can be unnerving. Throughout the tour, you notice “Band-Aids,” where the sheriff’s office has done its best to work with the facility it has and keep it as safe as possible for those who work inside the jail walls. One of the most noticeable of these is the Plexiglass that has been put in front of the bars in each cell.  Before this update, prisoners could easily reach out and grab an officer walking by or even throw things through the bars at the officers

We also met with Chief Mick Reed, head of the Washington Police Department and had a chance to tour that facility. This was equally troubling. The officers of our police department are working in cramped and unpleasant conditions, but they are making the most out of the situation. A new program the police department is participating in, called Project Next Step, is making a huge difference in reducing unlawful activity in our community and, therefore, increasing the quality of life in the city. This program helps people who have committed crimes redirect their lifestyle and become productive residents. Since the program started three years ago, 73 percent of all participants have successfully completed or are still participating in the program

Leadership Beaufort has given me a fresh perspective on the county in which I grew up. I realize more than ever what it takes to keep our community moving forward and appreciate the people who are dedicated to making this a great place to live.