© Another Day in the Country
I came to a small town to be part of a community. When people feel safe, get to know one another, follow the community guidelines, work together, we grow a sense of community. Those are the first steps — big steps, but necessary, vital!
Then we need good leadership — that’s a little harder to come by in a small puddle. So, sometimes we have to import it — like we’ve done with economic development folk.
When we came to the Ramona community, we wanted to do anything we could to preserve it and give it a chance to thrive. My sister and I started volunteering our time to go to the economic development meetings that were happening — a new thing, then. Eventually, it became a frustrating experience.
First of all, a lot of things, heavy on the agenda, were geared towards our biggest towns — by necessity. We knew, that Ramona — for instance — didn’t really have a ghost of a chance to bring in any business — there really weren’t enough people in town to support a business like a grocery store or a gas station. We still needed this service but we had to be realistic, willing to cooperate and drive a little ways for those services.
We did get encouragement at these meetings, and help on occasion for funding of events we planned; but eventually our participation dwindled and then stopped. Why? As I look back, I seem to remember conflicts around lack of cooperation by elected officials, entities, town leaders, old rivalries that can go on for generations, petty misunderstandings, and a lack of respect for women in leadership from the “Old Boys Club” way of doing things. We stopped going. Most of the agenda didn’t really apply to Ramona and we had to conserve our energy.
Our town was/is a dying town. It started to die the minute the school left town in the 1950s. The year we moved here — in 2000 — we lost the grocery store and the restaurant. A year or so later, we lost the bank. In a dying town there is only so much you can do as a private citizen. We started a bed and breakfast.
“It can only help the town,” we reasoned, “bringing back folk to visit for nostalgia’s sake.”
The town was gasping and started going downhill, deterioration accelerated. “Quaint” no longer described Ramona.
It’s the job of the town council, the leadership, to try to preserve what you have in any given town for the time you have left. They can attempt resuscitation, give the town a chance to breathe on its own. They can try to keep the town a comfortable place to live for the majority of the people. If all else fails, I suppose they can put the town down, unincorporate, and hope the county can do what they couldn’t. Then the town becomes a ghost town. That’s the sad cycle.
In our area, with less population, leadership is severely lacking in my opinion, and once again — in my opinion — leadership classes as we’ve done them in the past haven’t solved the problem. It was a start but not a fix. Maybe what we need is ongoing support for the people voted into office in respective towns to encourage, give guidance, and accountability.
We need one very good, community-oriented, smart lawyer willing to help us all enforce the meager ordinances we have and give guidance as to what laws are most effective. We need this as a group. There’s strength in numbers, so we don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel.
Sometimes the folks in our little towns don’t even know the right questions to ask to get assistance, let alone have the moral courage to stand up and proceed in the best direction. “Table it for now,” is too often the easiest path, since we so dislike controversy.
Speaking from my experience, Commissioner Holub was a godsend for us in Ramona. He visits our town council regularly, offers advice, current information, and actually has helped us on numerous occasions — if nothing else to ferret out resources for us that we can investigate.
Consider this a public thank-you card to all of you in county services.
All this being said, I don’t believe grants and government assistance programs are the answer. The solution needs to be homegrown, so that we’re able to spend another day in the country.