By Roberta Heiman
Courier & Press staff
July 13, 2003
It's been talked about a lot in Evansville recently, by Mayor Russ Lloyd Jr., by the Chamber of Commerce, by all who are seeking solutions to this city's perceived woes.
It came up at last week's meeting of the Evansville-Vanderburgh County Unification Study Committee, when the members sought to define their purpose and goals. Industrialist Bob Koch said one of the committee's goals is to improve this community's quality of life. But Lucy Himstedt, general manager of WFIE-NBC14, replied, "I don't think the public would believe it, that if you unify government you'll improve their quality of life."
Arts supporter Rita Eykamp then took the issue to another level: "The whole point of what we're doing," she said, "is to build a community that will be attractive to future generations, to keep young people here."
That gets to the heart of the issue: Evansville's brain drain.
Now comes a young person who offered his thoughts on all of this in a recent e-mail to me.
Joshua Claybourn is a North High School graduate who earned his bachelor's degree at Indiana University last spring and will soon enter law school at IU. He said few of his friends want to come back to Evansville after college, but, "I'm an oddity. I want to come back."
Claybourn has opinions on how to build on Evansville's strengths to make it a vibrant and thriving city in the future. He wants to help make it happen. But the message he is getting from city leaders makes him wonder if they even care. This is the way he told it in the e-mail:
"... The question is what we will do to meet Evansville's challenges for the new century. More importantly, is there a willingness to rise to the occasion? Evidence suggests the city/county needs a new frame of mind. "Recently, the Evansville Courier & Press ran a front-page article decrying the poor Web presence of city/county government. What was not mentioned, however, was that a consortium of young college students - myself included - offered our Web-page skills for free to every city councilman, the mayor, commissioners, the city's Webmaster and a number of other officials. Not one person responded to the offer. Not one! "Either the leaders do not know how to use e-mail, or they simply don't care. Neither scenario is a good one, and it's indicative of Evansville's unfortunate mind-set."
To Claybourn, one of the saddest examples of this mind-set is that the community seems willing to jeopardize or do away with many of the extracurricular activities in Evansville-Vanderburgh schools, including the speech and debate teams in which he and other local students have won major national competitions, and music programs that he said routinely turn out some of the best students IU gets.
As Claybourn put it, "Leaders must cultivate young people if they plan for them to return."
Having been ignored on his offer to help redo the city's Web page, he has now offered to help the Evansville-Vanderburgh County Unification Study Committee, in any way that he can.
He thinks a new form of local government is worth considering.