EDITORIAL: Mann represents a new beginning

Dec. 07, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

New leadership makes for endless new possibilities. On Monday, a day before he was officially sworn in as Sanford’s mayor, Chet Mann took to the stage at the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce's Public Policy luncheon to unveil the goals of his “Open for Business” plan, which he thinks will lead toward the revitalization of Sanford.

The four foundational elements of the plan are job creation, quality of life, community pride and working to leverage Sanford’s assets to make it a destination for visitors and potential new residents — all elements which, just by themselves, could lift the fortunes of any community.

Among the specific goals Mann hopes Sanford and Lee County will pursue are:

* developing a competitive investment and incentive policy;

* housing the city/county planning, GIS and permitting departments, along with the new Partnership for Prosperity, in one building for a one-stop shopping center for customers, preferably downtown and possibly in the old Buggy Factory on Chatham Street;

* creating a small business incubator in downtown Sanford;

* creating a multi-purpose sports complex by leveraging the city's recently approved parks and recreation bond;

* updating city ordinance and code enforcement rules with "common sense changes";

* creating a visual and performing arts district with the Temple Theatre as an anchor;

* revitalizing the Sanford Block Party by focusing on distressed properties rather than entire blocks.

There’s much more, but you get the idea.

What has engendered so much excitement about Mann’s plan is that it involves an exciting vision for what we could become. What gives it credibility is the fact that his plan takes into considering many other “vision” projects and programs and exercises done by so many other groups, and that Mann has demonstrated the energy to see the tasks done. It’s a great starting point for a discussion of creating a homeplace better than we're living in today.

And, it must be said, it represents a stark contrast to the way leadership has been done in and around Lee County, including by most of the elected officials over at the county. Where Mann starts his term with specific, measurable goals and a willingness to work to make them happen, county officials in the majority have, for the most part, specialized in a “shoot-em-down” approach to any new ideas or visionary concepts that would make positive changes. Commissioner Kirk Smith was present at Tuesday's city council meeting and spoke about a spirit of cooperation between the two bodies, but was he sincere? He and some of his comrades have demonstrated a propensity to act one way for the public and another when the doors are closed and the eyes aren't on them, so it's hard to know if he was sincere or whether the county will cheer the vision or poo-poo it.

The proof will be in the dialogue — which means mostly in the listening part. In the meantime, what we're hearing from our new mayor is a real vision for authentic, game-changing ideas. And that's something to talk about.