Leadership Lauderdale: Building consensus in Meridian

By By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
Aug. 20, 2001
The application deadline for Leadership Lauderdale, designed to cut through all strata of Meridian and Lauderdale County to develop grass roots leaders, has been extended until Friday.
Graduates of the program include business leaders and their employees, teachers, pastors, politicians and non-profit volunteers.
Spells and Leslie York serve on the Leadership Lauderdale Enlistment Committee, and met last week with The Meridian Star's editorial board.
They said the program builds trust and teaches people how to build areas of agreement to reach consensus a skill especially important in Meridian's historically tense political environment.
The program is sponsored by the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation, Meridian Community College and The Montgomery Institute.
This year's class will begin with a mandatory weekend retreat in September, then meet once a month until August 2002. The costs of the program are covered by scholarships provided by local businesses.
The program teaches grass roots leadership qualities by giving participants the raw data and statistics on a variety of subjects, identifying problem areas and teaching them to build solutions through consensus.
York said consensus building skills taught in the program could have been used by local leaders last year in their attempt to convince voters to pass a $33.5 million school bond issue. The bond was defeated twice, and its opponents were vocal and organized.
Participants also learn how economics and community development issues affect the social infrastructure of an area. Classes usually divide into sub-groups, and focus on a particular area, like education or industrial growth.
Leadership Lauderdale classes also take field trips to other communities, like Tupelo, to see how similar problems are solved in other places.
Spells said how the program develops depends entirely on the personalities of each person in the class, and how the classmates interact.
Participants do not have to live in Lauderdale County. Spells and York said anyone who lives or works in Lauderdale County is eligible to apply.
York said the program is geared to build grass roots leaders, but the skills learned can be used in everyday life.
To apply, call the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation at 693-1306.
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3226, or e-mail him at balexander@themeridianstar.com.