Regional Planning Commission turns 50 – Thursday, November 10, 2022

By Terry Bailey

Two celebrations were held at the Plum Creek Banquet Hall on Thursday evening, November 10th. Two historic milestones were observed. First, the North Central Regional Planning Commission registered their fiftieth year of serving the citizens of North Central Kansas. Secondly, John Cyr was recognized for his many years of service to the institution.
A near capacity crown of between 150 and 200 attendees were present to celebrate these noteworthy accomplishments. The North Central Kansas Regional Planning Commission was formed in 1972 as an eight-county area with the headquarters located in Beloit. The organization was fully staffed in 1974 with David Peterson being named as the first Director of the organization. The organization has show steady progress and growth since that time adding more and more and more services since the beginning and now serves and 18 county area.
Tom Claussen, Chairperson of the Board of Directors, started the evenings activities summarizing the contributions of the organization to North Central Kansas. "At first," said Claussen, "most of the work done by the Planning Commission was weatherization activities involving caulking and glazing work and the installation of storm doors and windows. Now it is a multimillion-dollar organization providing expert assistance to many municipalities and organizations." Claussen then introduced John Shea, current director of the Planning Commission. Shea then introduced the person he referred to as "his mentor," John Cyr. He noted that while Cyr had not been with the Planning Commission for its entire fifty years, he had been there for a great deal of those years.
Cyr provided an overview of the concept of planning as it relates to governmental entities. He also explained how the Northwest Land Ordinance of 1785 directed the growth of governmental involvement in municipal planning. The Ordinance of 1785 provided for the scientific surveying of the territory's lands and for a systematic subdivision of them. Land was to be subdivided according to a rectangular grid system. The basic unit of land grant was the township, which was a square area measuring six miles on each side. A township could then be subdivided into a number of rectangular parcels of individually owned land. The application of those principals holds true up to today's administration of public land.
Cyr then listed and explained the many public laws that govern public planning and regulation of those activities. Cyr summed up his comments by saying that our society has moved from industrial production to entrepreneurship development. Cyr also said that the Planning Commission is not a function of the business community; it is driven by the needs of the local governments it serves.
Cyr then returned the microphone once again to John Shea. Shea commented, "Where do we go from here? What does the future hold for rural Kansas?"
He said, "The biggest challenge to life as we know it in North Central Kansas is the decline of the population in the area." He noted that the decline in population is no secret to anyone who is familiar with the area. Shea said we need to reverse the trend of kids graduation from high school and then going away for the remainder of their adult life. We need to develop new paradigms and new methods to give the younger population a reason to stay or to return home to North Central Kansas. He said, "If we cannot retain our young people in the area, the future will be very bleak."
Tom Claussen then awarded the Lifetime Public Service Award to John Cyr in recognition of his many years of public service to the citizens of North Central Kansas.
Clausen then introduced the guest speaker for the evening, Doug Griffiths. Griffiths is a much sought-after speaker from Alberta, Canada. His book, "13 Ways to Kill Your Community," is a tongue-in-cheek examination of major mistakes made by communities that lead to their demise. In his initial remarks, Griffiths noted that a big mistake made by young people is that they trade short term pleasure for long term gain. The result is long term failure.
Griffiths chose six of his Ways to Kill Your Community for his presentation. They were:
Forget the Water - Water is the most precious resource and must be guarded carefully. There are over 700 communities in the United States with lead content in their water higher than Flint, Michigan.
Don't Attract New Businesses - If a community is not attracting new businesses, they soon will have no businesses.
Don't Engage Youth - It is the nature of youth to go off and explore the world. Our job is to find a way and a reason for them to return.
Don't Join Any Organizations - Folks who volunteer bring energy to their community.
Deceive Yourself - One major rule of human behavior is that people lie to their selves, often and deliberately. Griffiths added, "People who think they are perfect are jackasses."
Live in the Past - We should be justly proud of past accomplishments, but we need to keep moving forward.
Griffiths said people need to realize that while they may not be to blame for a situation, they must take responsibility to fix the situation. People are responsible for making their community a better place to live.