Wilkes Vision 20/20, an initiative launched in 1999 to help influence quality of life in Wilkes County in 2020, had a positive impact even though its four benchmark goals weren’t met.
These four were having a 100% graduation rate and certain target goals for increased per capita income, new jobs and new houses by 2020.
Vision 20/20 drew broad input from the community during a process of identifying local concerns and how to address them. It was a highly successful process and did much to define current priorities in Wilkes.
Several of the 12 “key 20/20 strategies” identified in 1999 were achieved, including expanding technical and career education and apprenticeship opportunities in the Wilkes County Schools.
Significant progress made on related strategies include expanding curriculum to help develop career paths and expanding career counseling in the public schools.
Another related strategy that has been discussed but not accomplished is offering one-year scholarships to Wilkes Community College to all students who graduate from Wilkes high schools. Two-year scholarships to WCC have also been discussed.
Maintaining a public-private partnership for marketing Wilkes for job creation is a strategy that was achieved. This occurred by changing the structure of the Wilkes Economic Development Corp. board to make it representative of both local government and the private sector. Previously, it only had local government representation.
A strategy that was achieved and later dropped was holding meetings of elected officials in Wilkes at least quarterly to collaborate on implementation of Vision 20/20. This occurred for several years and understandably evolved into focusing more on immediate issues at hand.
Unfortunately, meetings of elected town and county government officials in Wilkes ended.
The resulting lack of communication was a primary reason progress slowed on efforts to establish a raw water intake on W. Kerr Scott Reservoir and this project, which held so much potential for future generations, was officially dropped in 1999.
As the Kerr Scott intake effort and other failed local intergovernmental initiatives have demonstrated, it isn’t enough for government staff of North Wilkesboro, Wilkesboro and Wilkes County to meet. The county and town managers can sit down and agree with each other all day, but it won’t make any difference if their respective elected governing bodies don’t communicate and work together.
Regularly-scheduled joint meetings of local government bodies with an agenda of topics of broad importance, held in public for interested citizens to attend and the media to cover, will enhance accountability of local elected officials.
It will help prevent misunderstandings, promote collaboration and enhance efficiency.
The Wilkes EDC board’s monthly meetings help improve communication between local government, but this isn’t and shouldn’t be the purpose of the EDC.
Joint meetings of the local elected governing bodies are a necessary starting point toward combining Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro services.
Regularly scheduled meetings of county and town governing boards in Wilkes are one Vision 20/20 strategy that could easily be accomplished – and should.