Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: City leaders 'shoot for fantastic'

July 4, 2014 

I learned about planning when I was in the Army. At least, I learned some pretty good sayings about it.

There's this piece of classic, alliterative advice: "Prior planning prevents (insert slang expression for urine here)-poor performance."

And this favorite of our first sergeant, delivered firmly yet with a slightly detached air: "A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part."

It's no surprise that Columbus, with its deep connection to the military, has done a pretty good job of planning. I mean, look around.

You've got the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center, the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, the Columbus Public Library -- world-class venues all -- and of course the world's longest urban whitewater course.

Those were each massive projects that started with a vision and then required a whole lot of planning before the first brick could be laid or the first explosive could be set.

From start to finish, those things took an unbelievable amount of hard work. But the projects now looming for our community are going to be much harder to accomplish. That's because instead of changing the landscape or the flow of a river, they require changing the habits -- and even the hearts and minds -- of human beings.

Last week, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson spoke to the Rotary Club of Columbus about her vision for the future.

By 2028, which will be Columbus' bicentennial, the city is going to have the lowest unemployment rate in the state, a poverty rate below 10 percent, no homelessness and a graduation rate in the state's top 10 percent.

That's her vision, she said, along with building a 90-day reserve in the city coffers, having a public transportation system that would motivate you to "leave your BMW in the garage" and creating a "tax system for today."

When talking about her proposal for a new property tax structure, she said, "I swear it will pass if elected officials have the courage to let the people vote on it."

She didn't mention crime, but while we're dreaming big, Columbus 2028 might as well have fewer homicides and home break-ins, too.

You know what I appreciate about this plan? It's not something that Tomlinson can possibly finish while she's in office. It's going to take a lot of time and a lot of people -- everybody, really.

The same goes for David Lewis, who's approaching the end of his first year as Muscogee County School District's superintendent. He's working toward a massive 10-year plan aimed at dramatically improving student performance.

You may recall that when statewide test results were recently released, every grade level in Muscogee County that tested -- grades 3-8 -- scored lower than the state average in all five subjects.

In the past, superintendents have responded to

such news by insisting that the district is much better than our test results show and that our students and teachers are somehow victims of the system. In his 32-page plan, Lewis writes that "every organization is perfectly aligned to achieve the results it currently gets."

In other words, we've got to stop wishing and start changing.

So how high does Lewis want to raise the bar? Well, he doesn't strive to be the best in Georgia, where he believes the standards have been set "woefully low," according to his report. No, he wants to compete with states with much higher standards, such as Massachusetts and Connecticut, with the ultimate goal being to produce students who can compete with Singapore, Korea and Finland, which he lists as the top performing countries in the world.

His strategy includes focusing on reducing the gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts, and eliminating the stigma of North and South -- and the haves and the have-nots.

Talk about ambitious.

It would be easier to build a performance hall or blow up a couple of old dams.

But we've got even bigger plans around here. The mayor calls it "shooting for fantastic."

It'll be interesting to see what happens.

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, at dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.com.

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