Hamilton County program builds community insight

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Confession time: I’ve played hooky from my regular reporting duties twice in as many months—and I plan to do it again. (And again and again.)

But I have a good excuse for my negligence. I’m participating in the Hamilton County Leadership Academy, a 10-month program that aims to prepare individuals for service to the community by educating them about local issues.

Since being selected in August, my HCLA classmates and I have heard from Hamilton County’s historian, the head of its economic development agency and elected officials at every level of local government, from township trustees on up.

Hamilton County Commissioner Christine Altman and Councilor Meredith Carter led a discussion on county government, and the panel on municipal government included Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear, Westfield Mayor Andy Cook, Fishers Town Manager Scott Fadness, Carmel City Councilor Ron Carter and Sheridan Town Councilor Brenda Bush. We’re encouraged to ask tough questions.

The daylong sessions are packed full of information, most of it fascinating. For example, we learned that one of the county’s small rural school districts has the same percentage of needy students (those qualified for free and reduced-price lunch) as inner-city behemoth Indianapolis Public Schools.  

(My favorite tidbit so far: Fishers living-history museum Conner Prairie breeds its farm animals for sociability, CEO Ellen Rosenthal told our class. Livestock that interacts well with visitors is allowed to reproduce. And the others? “We have a nice partnership with Goose the Market,” she said.)

Just as valuable are the relationships formed within our class of 31. We’re a varied group, about half from for-profit enterprises and half from not-for-profits. And most of us have lived elsewhere—only four graduated from high school in Hamilton County—giving us different perspectives on the community’s challenges and opportunities.

The three areas of concern identified most often on our applications: growth, poverty and education.

HCLA Executive Director Jill Doyle and current Curriculum Dean Terry Anker (president of the Legacy Fund of Hamilton County and chairman of Anker Consulting Group) are guiding us through the program, assembling insiders to educate us on everything from civic planning to quality of life.

More than 500 others have completed the HCLA course since it was founded in 1991, and many of them are serving the community in some capacity. My goal is to build a base of knowledge that improves my coverage of the northern suburbs. Despite living in Fishers for more than 10 years, I still have a lot to learn.

I’m planning to share some of those lessons in blog posts between now and our June graduation. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts—and tough questions.


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