More citizens than ever before are participating in Fort Mill town government and it has not gone unnoticed.
The Town of Fort Mill is a first place winner in the 2009 Municipal Association of South Carolina Achievement Awards. Nearly 40 municipalities submitted entries. Fort Mill, the winner in the 5,001 to 10,000 population category, was selected for the creation of citizen-run volunteer committees and the system the town uses for matching applicants with committee seats.
In particular, the Municipal Association pointed to the committee behind Springfest, the official annual town festival now in its second year, as well as the veterans committee, the arts commission and a committee that established a Fort Mill Hall of Fame.
Town Manager David Hudspeth, who helps screen volunteers and works with the various committees, credited Mayor Danny Funderburk for the idea and for coming up with the machinations to make it effective.
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“When Danny took office he wanted to involve more of citizens and decided to create boards and commissions we didn’t have before and as a part of that process for appointing people we, the staff, look [at applications] and recommend to the town council who should go where based on their interests and abilities,” Hudspeth said.
In the past, Hudspeth said, most volunteers came to serve the town through “word of mouth” because it wasn’t widely known that opportunities existed.
“A lot of people were left out of the process because they didn’t know how to express an interest or even if there was an opening,” he said. “Now you can go to our Web site and see what’s available and fill out an application when a vacancy comes up.”
In addition to creating more committees, Funderburk, who talked about getting residents more involved when he campaigned two years ago, is proud of the database the town relies on to fill openings.
“We’re pleased to reach out and give people an opportunity to serve. It’s one of the things I promised to do and it validates the initiative we took to set it up,” Funderburk said.
“We put structure to it and designed an application and set up the database. A lot of folks came forward looking to give back and contribute and the committees put them in a position to serve.”
The application helps match the right people with a particular area, he said.
“The application form kind of does that. It asks about specific skills and abilities and what your motivation is for getting involved and it really helps when you put people where they can do the most good as opposed to just finding a slot for someone. We have people on the committees that suit their skills set.”
One aspect Funderburk is particularly proud of, he said, is that Fort Mill natives and newcomers are working side by side to improve the town.“People look to take ownership of the town and I mean that in a positive way. They come here with the idea ‘I want to be involved’ and we give them an opportunity to get involved be they natives or newcomers.”
Several major projects started by the committees are coming to fruition. Nat Helms, chairman of the Veterans Committee, is leading an effort to create a new veterans park.
Although he’s pleased with the progress made so far, “I’ll feel a lot better when we get it done,” he said. “Right now, we’re in the middle of our campaign to raise the funds so we have enough to break ground. We appreciate the mayor and city council for allowing us to get the property. If it wasn’t for that, we couldn’t have a park. The mayor appointing the committee and working in conjunction with them and the city manger has been a great help. The biggest thing was appointing the committee and that has given us a chance to get this done.”
Karen Lee, chairperson of the Arts Commission, is shepherding a project to turn a former Main Street theater, long gutted and vacant, into a multi-use performing arts venue. Her commission is also working on another park project in one of the town’s gateway areas and other improvements. “It’s always an honor for a town to get an award like that and recognize volunteerism, which I think is important and drives results for Fort Mill,” she said.
Like Helms, Lee is focused on securing the money needed to see the projects through.
“I still think we’re making progress on theater and we’re looking at a sculpture garden and art work for the park. We hope to have movement on funding by our next meeting in September.”
According to a program the Municipal Association printed for the awards, “The volunteer committees have fostered a new-found community spirit in Fort Mill. The town has a pool of people and ideas to help with current projects and residents have a renewed engagement in their hometown.”According to Funderburk, even more committees could be formed if they are needed.
“The process will be ongoing,” he said. “As we identify challenges and projects, we’ll watch out for opportunities to put people to work.” Want to know more?To learn more about serving on a town committee or fill out an application go to www.fortmillsc.org or visit Town Hall. For more information, call 547-2116.Want to see a video presentation on Fort Mill and other towns and city’s that won awards? Go to www.masc.sc.