The Kentucky Appalachian Task Force: Re-Democratization of Appalachia

Author: 
James B. Goode

 

There is a revolution going on in Eastern Kentucky. For the first time in decades, a table has been invented around which diverse groups of Appalachian citizens can come to discuss problems, policy, and solutions with the public and private leadership of the region.

The construction of that table began when Governor Brereton Jones established The Kentucky Appalachian Task Force by Executive Order in December 1993. His West Virginia Appalachian roots had taught him some hard lessons about the chronic problems of the region and the critical need for development programs. His charge was three-fold: 1) Recommend strategies for maximizing funding for Kentucky through the Appalachian Regional Commission 2) Review the potential for an expanded Appalachian Development Program 3) Provide an assessment of the development programs that serve the Appalachian Region with a focus on the success and viability of such programs and prepare a comprehensive plan for Kentucky Appalachia in the context of development planning for the entire Commonwealth.

DR. JOHN STEPHENSON & THE KENTUCKY APPALACHIAN TASK FORCE

From January to July 1994, Dr. John Stephenson, then President of Berea College, chaired the Task Force and held a series of hearings and expert testimonials throughout Eastern Kentucky in an attempt to take a snapshot of the social/political climate. Prominent members of the Task Force included Paul Patton, Edward T. Breathitt, John Whisman, Ann Latta, Crit Luallen, and Ronald Eaglin. Lawyers, physicians, politicians, hospital management executives, mayors, business owners, state aides, and community citizens rounded out the membership.

A CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP: DR. RON ELLER AND THE APPALACHIAN CENTER

Dr. Stephenson resigned the presidency of Berea College and the chairmanship of the Task Force in July of 1994. In August 1994, Governor Jones Appointed Dr. Ron Eller of The University of Kentucky Appalachian Center as John Stephenson's replacement. Dr. Eller is credited with having established a structure by which the thirty-seven members could conduct their research and compile their findings into a comprehensive report. Six state agency representatives also attended the meetings. Twenty-three Task Force Program Area Committee Chairs and Co-Chairs served twelve committees consisting of a total of 202 members.

The twelve program areas covered a broad range of concerns: 1) Education 2) Health 3) Social Services 4) Work Force 5) Culture 6) Natural Resources 7) Economic Development 8) Justice 9) Transportation 10) Telecommunications & Technology 11) Housing & Infrastructure 12) Governance & organization. The entrance of Dr. Eller automatically involved the Appalachian Center and brought a new dimension to the work of the Task Force. For twenty years, the University of Kentucky Appalachian Center had served a research, teaching, and community service function. Its mission was to promote partnerships, further cooperation, and facilitate policy development in rural communities in Eastern Kentucky. Additionally, the Center had become an advocate for disadvantaged Appalachian students who sought higher education in the region. The Center had emerged as a player in economic development activities throughout the distressed Kentucky counties defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission. Citizenship and democratic participation in decision making had been a focus for much of the Center's recent work.

The Kellogg funded Appalachian Civic Leadership Project allowed the Appalachian Center and Brushy Fork Institute of Berea College to do extensive work in leadership development in Eastern Kentucky. The Commonwealth Fellowship Program continued to train emerging leaders and encourage them to develop ideas which benefited their communities. The Youth Leadership component had been a college-based initiative which had provided a variety of leadership opportunities for students. The Community Issue Gathering component (loosely based on the National Issue Forums of the Kettering Foundation) had promoted civil public talk among grassroots people in the region on a variety of topics including economic development issues.

These projects, and many ancillary ones funded throughout the past few years, had given the Appalachian Center the tools, skills, and the network to be effective facilitators for positive change in Appalachia. There had to be centralized technical support for Governor Jones' charge. The Appalachian Center and Brushy Fork Institute had access to graduate fellows and other technical support staff which possessed a variety of expertise in computers, public talk, leadership skills training, grassroots organizing, creating access to higher education, promoting citizen involvement, formulating rural policies, and strategic planning and implementation. The Center was in a unique position to manage and coordinate a task of this scope.

COMMUNITIES OF HOPE

After a year of program assessment, public hearings, and committee discussions involving over 500 citizens, the Task Force presented an interim report to the Governor in June 1994. The interim report made specific recommendations on how to improve the process of the Task Force. A final report "Communities of Hope" was delivered to Governor Jones on January 17, 1995. The 96 page report included a short introduction, a summary of recommendations, a vision statement, problems, an elaboration of recommendations, a conclusion, and a list of committee participants.

The lead section of this report included several important documents. The Task Force drafted a "Vision for Eastern Kentucky" which discusses the importance of healthy, sustainable communities. There is a discussion of regional public and private partnerships, strategic planning and implementation, economic development and diversification which produces self-sufficiency, human resource development through creating civic and social capital, and viable education programs which have greater emphasis on the community and region.

"Where We Are: Gaps and Challenges" outlines a history of a unitary, roller coaster economy which fostered a low tax base and led to poorer social, educational, and public services. This section also contains an outline of the events which led to the passage of the Appalachian Regional Development Act in 1965. A brief summary of A.R.C. accomplishments and a discussion of what remains to be done is included.

"Challenges Within Existing Programs" purports that there is an ever-widening gap between available resources and opportunities in the region. Additionally, the Committee found that agencies, organizations, and individuals by-pass valuable opportunities for collaboration and information sharing which drastically reduces the effectiveness of their programs.

"Challenges for People" centers upon the chronic transportation problems, the fragmentation of social services, and lack of equitable access and inadequate knowledge of the legal justice system.

"Challenges to Strategic Planning" describes seriously fragmented strategic planning efforts and coordination within the region. This section depicts a nightmare of inefficiency, duplication of services, wasted resources, and dissipated energies.

"Challenges to Civic Participation" mentions the importance of developing social capital--the organizational means by which people work together to accomplish shared objectives. The Task Force found that a lack of access to public information, control over public issues, opportunities for public dialogue, and diversity in citizen participation reflected a lack of opportunities and a failure to educate the populace about civic responsibility.

"Challenges to Economic Development" laments the effects that a unitary economy, based on an extractive industry, tied to a roller coaster economy has had upon the region. The Task Force found that, historically, decisions about the economic future of Appalachia have been made by absentee owners of mineral resources and land. They discovered that short term growth had replaced long-term development; that programs to encourage and support local entrepreneurship had been underdeveloped; development initiatives suffered from a lack of capital; that the success of Appalachian Kentucky's economic future depends upon connecting the regions businesses, schools, health services, and public facilities to the emerging Information Highway.

The most important part of the report emerged in the form of recommendations which address structural and procedural changes meant to reinvigorate the Strategic Area Development process and establish specific program development priorities for immediate action. The committee chose to present their recommendations in three categories: 1) Guiding Principles (for the purpose of counseling public policy development and delivery of government services) 2) Gubernatorial Actions (those that could be taken immediately to stimulate and sustain regional strategic development) 3) Task Force Committee Summaries and Recommendations (these could be implemented by various governments, districts, agencies and programs).

The nine Guiding Principles contained some terminology eastern Kentuckians hadn't heard for awhile: community-based planning, community-based programs, collaboration, cooperation, regional linkages, sustainable communities, empowerment of individuals, lifelong learning, citizen involvement, and user-friendly public services. Essentially, the Guiding Principles plea for a return of democracy to eastern Kentuckians; and recognizes that self development is preferred to dependence; regional planning is a wiser use of resources and energy; citizen involvement is crucial in developing priorities and determining programs; empowerment of the people is favored over disenfranchisement; distressed counties, as defined by the Census tract, should be given special programming attention; cooperation and collaboration creates more effective regional linkages; and infrastructure to support human development needs should be a priority.

There are six recommended "Gubernatorial Actions:" 1) Endorse the Guiding Principles and instruct executive Cabinets and agencies to apply them to program design and delivery 2) Establish a Kentucky Appalachian Development Institute and an Appalachian Program Advisory Council modeled on the twelve Program Area Committees of the Kentucky Appalachian Task Force to render advice to the Governor regarding development strategies for Appalachia 3) Endorse comprehensive strategic planning as a statewide objective. Enhance collaboration and cooperation by connecting it to program funding 4) Direct the Department of Local Government to review ADD board and committee makeup and recommend changes to enhance citizen participation 5) The Governor should, along with the K.A.T.F., vigorously oppose any reduction in Congressional funding of A.R.C. 6) Recommend and support funding for multi-agency pilot projects which include public-private partnerships, regional heritage, civic leadership training, community service projects, teacher training/curriculum development, ecotourism, telecommunications and the information highway, and services for at-risk families in their homes.

The "Task Force Committee Summaries and Recommendations" contains seventy-four separate recommendations from the twelve committees. Among the many issues included are: re-designing logging regulations, minimizing administrative health care costs, conducting pilot experiments in deconsolidation, expanding and improving developmental child care, creating an electronic bulletin board of all Appalachian cultural activities, artists, and events, implementing a public school curriculum which includes courses in justice, conducting a comprehensive survey of all transportation facilities in Appalachian Kentucky, utilizing and strengthening Kentucky's Area Development Districts, improving coordination for funding housing and infrastructure projects, creating access to telecommunications and the information highway for rural communities, and stimulating and supporting various community based economic development groups.

The final section, before the comprehensive committee reports, is a summary of "Areas for Further Assessment." The Task Force found a need for further systemic inquiry and information dissemination and felt that the Appalachian Development Institute and the Appalachian Program Advisory Council could undertake this task. Areas for further assessment included seven topics: education, health care, electronic bulletin boards, infrastructure, natural resources, the information highway, and safety and criminal justice.

Furthermore, this section called for using inventories, surveys, assessments, guidelines, restructuring, and investigating options to create an Eastern Kentucky Education Innovation Center which would have a curricula of civic leadership, entrepreneurship, environmental education, regional heritage, telecommunications, and the arts; to create a Regional Health Care Committee to examine and improve existing health care models; to create and maintain an electronic bulletin board of all cultural activities and events taking place in the region; to promote the design and funding of an information highway system; to establish additional support services for lawyers and other legal professionals; to improve law enforcement training and compensation; to consolidate some judicial services across county or regional lines; to prioritize transportation needs and remove barriers to rural access; to ascertain the status of existing natural resources; and to determine the station of current regional infrastructure.

GOVERNOR BRERETON JONES REACTS TO "COMMUNITIES OF HOPE"

Governor Jones' issued his reaction to "Communities of Hope" in February 1995. He sanctioned the formation of the Kentucky Appalachian Advisory Council which was designed to promote community based planning; encourage regional approaches to program design; promote sustainable communities through prudent use of natural and human resources; emphasize investment in human potential; create more effective regional linkages among citizens, government, development agencies and groups, private enterprise, and nonprofit organizations; promote collaboration and coordination among community based agencies; and maximize opportunities to involve citizens, especially those least represented in the political process, in setting development priorities and in establishing criteria for selecting and evaluating programs and projects.

Additionally, Governor Jones requested that four "Working Teams" be formed: 1) Tourism 2) Telecommunications 3) Civic Leadership 4) Family Preservation and Support. Two of these teams were established during the first quarter: Telecommunications and Tourism.

THE AD-HOC WORKING COMMITTEE

In March 1995, Governor Jones appointed an Ad Hoc Working Committee to design and draft a charter for an Appalachian Development Institute to serve as a think tank and convening organization for groups that provide technical assistance for development in Eastern Kentucky. Ron Eller, John Whisman, Roger Recktenwald, Hilda Legg, Kevin Hable, Linda Gayheart, Ronald Eaglin, Gary Cox, Larry Shinn, and Bruce Ayers were appointed to serve on the Working Committee. The Committee met initially on April 3 to begin its discussions of a mission and sustainable structure for such an Institute and continued to meet on a bi-weekly basis through June 30, 1995. The Ad Hoc Working Committee decided that the process needed an overall structure and there needed to be a commission as a permanent agency of state government. Program Coordinator Marty Newell and the legal staff from the Governor's Office prepared a draft charter which was to be sent to the Governor by August 30 and as an executive order issued by Governor Brereton Jones. Marty is proud of the executive order which established the Commission: "The most important document that we created during the period after Communities of Hope was the Executive Order that called into being the Kentucky Appalachian Commission. The Order established an agency of state government to focus on issues of development in Appalachian Kentucky while recognizing that those issues are of vital importance to the entire state. The bipartisan appointees to the Commission came from within the Governor's office, from non-profits and education, from the Advisory Council, and from the private sector. It called for citizen involvement as a critical and essential element of that process in a way that had not existed since the Combs/Breathitt administrations."

THE KENTUCKY/ARC STRATEGIC PLANNING ASSISTANCE INITIATIVE

Dr. Eller and his staff went to work on a $300,000 Kentucky/ARC Strategic Planning Assistance Initiative grant proposal through the Department of Local Government. The award was made in April 1995 and the money was earmarked for technical assistance and staff support for the Appalachian Advisory Council and the Appalachian Development Institute. The overall purpose of the two groups would be to reinvigorate the Kentucky Strategic Area Development Process from which the Appalachian Regional Program had grown. They would continue collaboration among citizens and service providers in the twelve program areas established by the Task Force, expand the assessment of existing and new program models, sustain public participation in the planning process, and begin to implement specific project recommendations.

Many graduate assistants, associates, and staff at the Center, as well as a contract team from Morehead State University formed a Kentucky/ARC Strategic Planning Assistance Staff Committee which met once every two weeks during the 1995-96 academic year. Each member of this committee was assigned to Working Teams and Council committees to serve as primary staff support. The Telecommunications Working Team was convened by Marty Newell, Program Coordinator with the U. K. Appalachian Center and the Tourism Working Team was convened by Dr. Michael Harford of Morehead State University. Staff support for both teams was also furnished by James B. Goode, Associate Director of the U. K. Appalachian Center. They were to attend meetings, assist with logistics, and motivate the members to carry out the mission outlined by Governor Jones. These working teams had their initial meetings in August 1995.

The Staff Committee of the Appalachian Center and the Governance Committee of the Appalachian Task Force went about drafting the by-laws for the Council in the Fall of 1995. Provisions were made for an elected chairperson, a Steering Committee (made up of the chairs of the original twelve program committees), and Program Area Committees structured along the same lines as the original Task Force. The Council was to meet three times per year and the membership in the Program Area Committees was open to any citizen of the Commonwealth. Dr. Ron Eller, Director of the University of Kentucky Appalachian Center was elected chairman of the Kentucky Appalachian Advisory Council.

THE KENTUCKY APPALACHIAN COMMISSION

During the third quarter of the Kentucky/ARC Strategic Planning initiative from October 1-December 31, 1995, the formation and first meeting of the Kentucky Appalachian Commission occurred. The original idea was to have a gubernatorially appointed commission made up of bi-partisan, influential members who could garner the attention of the governor regardless of his party affiliation. Governor Jones named the Commission on October 2, 1995 and its first meeting occurred on November 2, 1995 at the Capitol Building in Frankfort, Kentucky. Ten of the fifteen member Commission were to be appointed by the Governor and five were to be ex-officio. The ex-officio membership included the Governor's Alternate to the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Secretary of the Executive Cabinet, two members elected by the Steering Committee of the Appalachian Advisory Council , and the chair of the Eastern Kentucky Leadership Foundation. The Commission met with the Mountain Legislative Caucus in Lexington on December 16, 1995 to discuss the purpose and goals of the Commission and to establish a dialogue for cooperation on issues affecting eastern Kentucky during the upcoming general session of the Legislature in January.

Governor Paul Patton was elected in November 1995 and took office in December 11, 1995. He had been a member of the original Task Force under John Stephenson and was well aware of the work of the committees. Dr. Eller met with Governor Patton during late January to brief him on the activities of the Task Force. He immediately pledged to continue and expand the work of the Task Force.

The twelve committees of the former Task Force met as the Appalachian Advisory Council on April 23, 1995 in Williamsburg, Kentucky and plans were made for a major public meeting in June. On June 14, 1995, the combined committees of the Kentucky Appalachian Task Force met in Hazard to hear responses from agency representatives of the Governor's Cabinet to specific recommendations in "Communities of Hope."

The Council continued to meet over the next few months. They met with the candidates for Governor in the 1995 November election and with influential legislators in Frankfort.

The initial membership of the Commission consisted of Rep. Rocky Adkins, Governor Edward Breathitt, Advisory Council member Tom Carew, Advisory Council member Marian Colette, the Honorable Sara Combs, Morehead University President Ron Eaglin, Ronald Eller, Director of Boards and Commissions/Office of the Governor Frank Hamilton, Secretary of the Cabinet Mark Guilfoyle, ARC Alternate Mary Helen Miller, Hilda Legg of the Rural Economic Development Center in Somerset, Jane Stephenson of the New Opportunity School for Women at Berea College, Grady Stumbo of the East Kentucky Leadership Conference, and Lois Weinberg of Hindman Settlement School.

Subsequent meetings of the Commission were held at Berea College on January 30, 1996; at Hindman Settlement School on February 28, 1996; at Morehead State University on March 25, 1996; at Hazard on April 26, 1996, in Paintsville on May 29, 1996; and the Gorman Center at Hazard, Kentucky on July 29, 1996. All four of the working teams had presented their findings proposals by the July 29th meeting. In addition, the Health Committee of the Appalachian Advisory Council had also presented a report to the Commission.

After Governor Patton took office on December 11, 1995, the Commission took yet another turn in structure. On Friday, April 26, 1996 at Hazard Community College Auditorium in conjunction with the East Kentucky Leadership Conference, the Kentucky Appalachian Advisory Council sponsored a "Conversation With The Governor and the Council" which allowed newly elected Governor Paul Patton to establish a dialogue with citizens and advisory Council member about many of the issues outlined in "Communities of Hope." Patton decided that he wanted more direct involvement in the work of the Commission and, because the agency was established by executive order, decided to appoint himself as Chairman and to add members of his cabinet who had influence over certain issues impacting Eastern Kentucky. In addition to himself, he added ex-officio members Senator Benny Ray Bailey, Secretary of the Cabinet for Economic Development Gene Strong, Secretary of the Transportation Cabinet Fred Mudge, Secretary of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet James Bickford. The new At-Large members included Gubernatorial aide Sammy Chaney, Harlan County Judge Executive Delzina Belcher, Director of Constituent Services in The Governor's Office Jerry Johnson, Director of the Ashland, Inc. Foundation Judy Thomas, Secretary of the Tourism Development Cabinet Ann Latta, Department of Local Government Commissioner Bob Arnold, University of Kentucky Vice-President for Management and Budget Ed Carter, Father Ralph Beiting of the Christian Appalachian Project, The Honorable Bill Weinberg, and Doug Reece of National City Bank in London, Kentucky, Tom Jones of the Eastern Kentucky Development Corporation, Director of Continuing Education at Morehead State University Shirley Hamilton, Roger Rechtenwald, Executive Director of the Big Sandy Area Development District, and David Lollis of the Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises.

In addition, Governor Patton and the Appalachian Regional Commission provided funding for a first Executive Officer of the Commission. Former eastern Kentucky newspaper editor Ewell Balltrip was hired and the Commission offices were located in the Gorman Center at Hazard, Kentucky. Attorney Judy Jones Lewis was hired as a Liaison from the Kentucky Appalachian Advisory Council to the Kentucky Appalachian Commission and her office is located at the Gorman Center.

Dr. Ron Eller, who presently serves as an at-large member of the Commission, summarizes where he thinks the future lies with the work of this agency: "In Kentucky, we have created a table where conversations about the nature of development in Eastern Kentucky can take place in a rational and strategic atmosphere. All the major players have been given seats--citizen groups, local government, grass-roots organizations, private business, health care professionals, economic development experts, educators, and dozens of other groups. With the entrance of Governor Patton and his Cabinet members on the Commission, we now have those who make and implement policy in this commonwealth. In the past, we didn't even have a table and even if there had been one, diverse groups certainly wouldn't have been invited--but now we have a big dinner table, but that doesn't mean we have accomplished everything. We still have to learn to eat together and we have a huge meal to consume!"

University of Kentucky Appalachian Center Program Coordinator Marty Newell is realistic about the short comings of this process: "One of the most obvious failings that I see in the process has been in generating involvement from the private sector. The appointments that Governors Jones and Patton have made to the Commission have drawn few heavy hitters from outside government and non-profit institutions. The committees of the Council continue to be mostly government/non-profit. The Working Teams of the Commission have had a fair number of private sector people appointed to them."

The journey has been long. The path has been filled with rocks and briars. We have encountered surprises at almost every bend in the road. The goal is in sight. How many citizens are willing to come to the table and eat with the Council and the Commission? Let us all remember, from power brokers to common citizens, that the purpose of this process has, at its very core, the re-democratization of Appalachian Eastern Kentucky--for the people, by the people, of the people.

TIME LINE

KENTUCKY APPALACHIAN (TASK FORCE) COMMISSION

December 1993 Governor Brereton Jones appoints Kentucky Appalachian Task Force (see charge on page 6 of Communities of Hope)

January 1994 John Stephenson chairs the Task Force, serves until July

August 1994 Ron Eller is appointed chair

September- December 1994 Task Force holds open public hearings that involve more than 500 citizens

January 1995 Task Force issues Communities of Hope

March 1995 Governor Jones responds to recommendations in Communities of Hope by establishing an ad hoc working group to create plan for what is to become the Kentucky Appalachian Commission

May 1995 Appalachian Center of the University of Kentucky forms Kentucky/ARC Strategic Planning Team

June 1995 First Working Teams of the Commission are formed in areas of Tourism and Telecommunications

August & September 1995 Working group, Appalachian Center staff (Marty Newell) & Governor's staff (Mary Helen Miller & Mike Alexander) draft charter/executive order

October 1995 Governor Jones creates by Executive Order the Kentucky Appalachian Commission and appoints Ron Eller as Chair

November 1995 Kentucky Appalachian Commission meets in Frankfort with Governor Jones

December 1995 Eller, Ron Eaglin, Jane Stephenson & Marty Newell present plan for Commission to a meeting of the Mountain Caucus of the Kentucky House of Representatives

January 1996 Commission meeting in Berea; reports from Tourism and Telecommunications Working Teams

February 1996 Commission meeting in Hindman; work on Kentucky's Development Plan for the Appalachian Regional Commission

March 1996 Commission meeting in Morehead; work on Kentucky's Development Plan for the Appalachian Regional Commission

April 1996 Commission meeting in Hazard; Governor Paul Patton discusses work of the Commission and his plans for reorganization and expansion

May 1996 Commission meeting in Paintsville; reports from Health Committee of Appalachian Advisory Council and Civic Leadership Working Team

July 1996 Governor Patton expands membership of Commission with himself as Chair and William Weinberg (Hindman) as Vice-Chair and managing Commissioner Ewell Balltrip hired as first Executive Officer of Commission with an office in Hazard; Commission meeting in Hazard; reports from Children & Families and Civic Leadership Working Teams

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