Community leaders eye a new year, new opportunities

January 3, 2012

Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

December 31, 2011

Beth Alston and Keven Gilbert
The Americus Times-Recorder

AMERICUS — With the beginning of a  new year, many citizens breathe a sigh of relief that so much was accomplished in Sumter and Schley counties over the past year. But there’s never time to rest on one’s laurels. Forward-thinking community leaders must be ever vigilant in studying and planning for the future.

The Times-Recorder asked several local leaders what they see coming in 2012, and how it will impact our community.

Americus Mayor Barry Blount offered these comments.

“Looking back over the last five years, we as a community have gone through a lot of change and economic adversity. It is a testament to the strength, determination and character of our community, that we ‘weathered’  the destruction and turmoil of the tornado in March, 2007, and the tremendous economic downturn that began at the end of 2008.

“As I look to 2012, I see positive opportunities for our community to grow and move forward. Our new hospital, that opened recently, will certainly provide the needed boost for our medical community to grow and will make Americus a regional medical destination. The recent opening of PetCareRx, along with Georgia Chopsticks and Sak Marine, will continue to provide additional jobs in our community. Star Racing should break ground on their new project in 2012, which will provide endless possibilities for years to come. In addition, Georgia Southwestern and South Georgia Tech continue to grow and provide economic stimulus for our community.

“I certainly look forward to working with members of the City council in the coming year, as we look for ways to make our city more progressive and provide a firm foundation for economic growth. We have traveled down a difficult path over the last five years and I am optimistic that 2012 will be the year that we begin to build a road to economic growth and prosperity for our entire community.”

Americus Police Chief Mark Gerbino has many plans for the coming year.

“With 2011 coming to a close the Americus Police Department looks forward to the year 2012 as a year for continued development and growth into a premier Community Oriented Policing Agency.

“The Americus Police Department will strive to maintain an atmosphere of trust and cooperation within the community it serves. As a law enforcement agency, our primary concern is public safety. Since we depend on the community to help us prevent crime, as well as solve crimes, we must work in partnership through structured programs to maintain the atmosphere of trust.

“In furtherance of our law enforcement efforts we will continue developing and implementing the following initiatives as well as others:

“Crime Reduction Teams (CRT) — This will be a proactive team of officers led by a supervisor and managed by the Operations Division Major. The team will respond to areas in the city that are experiencing anything from quality of life issues (noise complaints, animal issues, vandalism occurrences etc.) to burglaries, drug complaints etc … This team will also supplement patrol shortages.

“K-9 Program — We will be expanding the K-9 Program to two dogs and two handlers and extend our coverage to 24 hours.

“Our focus will not only be law enforcement but also on moving ahead with the development of district based Community Oriented Coalitions whose main focus will be implementing the following programs:

“District Neighborhood Watch Programs — This concept will be utilized to develop cohesion not only within each district but across district boundaries. The emphasis of the Neighborhood Watch concept is crime prevention through education and awareness.

“Police and Citizens Together Against Crime (PAC-TAC)  — The APD recognizes Police and Civilians Against Crime (PAC-TAC) as a volunteer civilian patrol group dedicated to crime prevention and community service. PAC-TAC is an organization committed to the Department as an ancillary unit, trained and available for community oriented special events and as a resource in emergency situations.

“Any civilian in good health, 18 years of age or older, who successfully passes a background investigation (or with special permission from the Chief of Police) may be eligible to participate in the PAC-TAC Program. The Department will provide training, equipment and supervision of PAC-TAC volunteers. The PAC-TAC program is considered a crime prevention activity. PAC-TAC volunteers are, therefore, the direct responsibility of the Administrative Services Division’s Lieutenant and Crime Prevention Officers.

“Community Outreach Response Teams (CORT) — CORT is an outreach response team comprised of members of numerous organizations as well as individual volunteers all coming together to nurture the needs of the community during violent/major events such as fatal automobile accidents, homicides or any event that has an emotional/psychological impact on our community. Members will include but not be limited to police officers trained in crisis intervention, detectives, mental health specialists, clinical social workers, chaplains and ministers from our faith – based community, as well as numerous others.

“Officer Reading In Schools Program — We look forward to finalizing and implementing this program with the Sumter County School District. It is our firm belief that mentoring our children and developing positive life habits at an early age is essential towards turning around the negative cycle that many of them are engaged in.

“Organizationally, we will expect the most from our employees, and will commit the most to them by providing them with opportunities to advance through training, mentoring and exemplary leadership. Our employees will continue to rise to a level of professionalism that will represent the City of Americus Police Department in a positive way. The boilerplate ingredient of our agency will be integrity and we will accept nothing less from our folks.

“In closing, we look forward to establishing solid partnerships within the community and government and will not be inhibited by boundaries including race, religion, personal or professional prejudice nor any other energy that counters what the City of Americus stands for; a peaceful place to live and raise our families.”

Keith Petersen, CEO, Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, is very optimistic, being that a brand new Phoebe Sumter Medical Center just opened on Dec. 16, replacing the hospital destroyed in the March 1, 2007, tornado.

Petersen says that interest is very high in regard to the new medical center, which is all new and state of the art.

“We’ve had inquiries from Albany, people wanting to come up here and work. We expect to get more physicians from Albany. We see this as a trend, more physicians joining medical staff and living in Sumter County.

“This is the beginning. I think we’ll see growth over the next few years at Phoebe Sumter, and that growth will impact the community. It will be very positive for the community.”

Petersen is also very optimistic about Phoebe Sumter’s partnership with Georgia Southwestern State University’s nursing program.

“Our partnership with GSW on their new nursing building is very important to us, to them and to the entire region … This will help Phoebe Sumter a lot because we need nurses; it helps GSW because it’s an ever more important program … It affects the community because those people live and work here.”

Petersen says that Phoebe Sumter’s employee morale is “sky high.”

“The employees are totally excited. The medical staff is totally excited. I am so proud of all of them because of where they’ve been and what they’ve been through from March 1, 2007, until today. To see what we have now, we really do have the finest small hospital in the country, probably the finest hospital period, because it’s the newest and it’s technologically advanced.

“This puts us in a great position for recruiting nurses and physicians and for expanding our services to the region.”

Angela Westra, president of the Americus-Sumter County Chamber of Commerce, ever optimistic, says, “I believe that amidst all that has been brought into our community over the last year in new industry, businesses, the new hospital, increased enrollment at Georgia Southwestern State University and South Georgia Technical College, and capital expansions in existing industries, we have a great deal for which to be grateful.

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