Garland moving forward with NC STEP

By Chase Jordan

June 20, 2014

For several weeks, internal conflicts within the local NC STEP have been a major topic of discussion for the Garland Board of Commissioners. But after a recent presentation from program officials, local leaders are ready to move forward, they said.

The purpose of the North Carolina Small Towns Economic Prosperity Program (NC STEP) is to help towns facing economic hardships because of the economy.

One issue involved the presentation of a committee list whose responsibility would be to make decisions for the program in Garland. After the list was presented by local administrator Brenda Cromartie, some volunteers and town leaders said it was misleading and created division by having an elite group of members.

During a Tuesday meeting, Marquis Crews, a grant manager for the N.C. Department of Commerce, Rural Economic Development Division, made a presentation about the program. He was assisted by NC STEP coach Chilton Rogers.

According to guidelines, each project is performed by a “project team or subcommittee.” Their responsibility is to accomplish a specific project and report to the strategy committee. The full leadership team includes project and strategy committee members. Members of this team share information, updates, opportunities and other facts.

“That’s just how a lot of organizations and things work,” Rogers said.

But an “executive committee” or “steering committee” is not allowed.

“Having that breakout team that makes decision for the whole committee is not allowed,” he emphasized.

It was noted by a volunteer that no decisions have been made by the selected team.

Commissioner Ralph Smith said he liked the idea of the team having a committee leader for different projects.

“If they all try to be leaders, then we’re not going to get anywhere,” Smith said.

Cromartie and other volunteers said it’s a system they used previously, but it got off track because the implementation contract was not ready.

“We didn’t have anything to be working on, so we would just get together and talk about meetings,” Cromartie said.

She said the implementation contracts are ready, so groups are ready to be formed.

Crews made a suggestion for everyone to join a subcommittee to become involved with the organization.

“Otherwise they are just there,” Crews said.

Joyce Miles, former NC STEP coordinator, said the confusion and conflict may have begun with new members who were not present during the beginning. Crews said it was important to make sure everyone is aware of the projects and the process.

Rogers said the $100,000 grant and other small projects, such as a July Fourth celebration, a back-to-school event and a Christmas festival, is just the beginning of bigger projects in the future. The implementation contract will run through October 2015.

“You got to take your skills and find the resources from other communities to develop your strategic plan further,” she said. “This is just the beginning. Once these projects and these plans are done, you’re responsible for creating new projects.”

Crews said it’s important to get youth involved with NC STEP.

“As small communities like this, you suffer from the brain drain real heavily, where youth leave and don’t come back except for Mother’s Day, homecoming or church,” he said.

He suggested giving young people leadership positions within the organization, allowing them to build skills.

“You want to build up as many young leaders as you can that care,” Crews said. “That’s what I see in a lot of communities similar to this. They run out of young leadership. This process gives you the opportunity to nurture young talent …”

Mayor Winifred Murphy said she hopes NC STEP can move forward in a positive direction for the betterment of Garland.

“That’s what it’s really all about,” she said. “It’s not about the July Fourths, Community Days. It’s about economic development, job creation and services for our citizens.”

After the visit, she stressed her hope that the participants have a better understanding of NC STEP and its process.

“It’s not just about making the decision, but the process of everybody working together,” she said.

Chase Jordan can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext.136. Follow us on Twitter@SampsonInd.