Origins of LeeGROWS
During the summer of 1988, Lee County Administrator Jim LaRue challenged key staff members Russ Blackburn, David Graham and Anita Flaitz to develop a list of actions and programs that could be done to improve the image and reputation of county government. They determined the need for county government to "get the word out" to residents about all the good things going on within the county and created a Government Day for which county's departments set up tables and booths at the Edison Mall. With fliers and pamphlets in hand, staff was both visible and available to residents. However, Government Day was unsuccessful because most people at the mall were more interested in shopping and the food court than in talking to county bureaucrats.
So the committee got LaRue's approval to implement a citizen academy program, and David Graham named it LeeGROWS (Government Resource and Orientation Workshop Series.) Consequently, on Thursday, Sept. 8, 1988, the first LeeGROWS class of 18 residents began by meeting in the Commission Chambers (now know as the First Floor Conference Room) in the County Administration Building in downtown Fort Myers.
The purpose of LeeGROWS has remained the same over the years: to inform residents about the day-to-day operations of county government. It is not designed to, nor has it ever attempted to, discuss and debate the governmental issues of the day, such as: What is the role of government? Do the citizens want to pay more taxes for more government or pay fewer taxes and get less government? What is the proper balance of maintaining the environment while developing the land? Water restrictions -- when and how much?
LeeGROWS, however, has talked about the maintenance of roads, parks, facilities and future construction of facilities, the day-to-day services and programs available to all citizens, and what it all costs. For anyone who wants to debate and discuss the major political questions of the day, LeeGROWS never has and never will "scratch your political itch." The program has always tried to explain the County Government's attempt to supply daily governmental services to the citizens. LeeGROWS has been a hands-on program designed to examine the daily operations of county government. Simply put, LeeGROWS has tried to explain "where the money goes".
Program Changes Over the Years
A comparison of the program from the early years to the present:
|Hours per Daily Session|| 6|| 7|
|Weeks per Class|| 4|| 5|
|Annual Classes || 4|| 10|
Some Things Never Change
While some aspects of the program have changed with the times, many things have remained the same since 1988:
- There is no admission cost or registration fee.
- Free parking and complimentary lunch are included each week.
- LeeGROWS has been conducted on Thursdays.
- Publicity for the program has always been by word-of-mouth and referral from previous participants.
National Award-Winning Program
In 1989, the LeeGROWS program received a National Association of Counties (NACO) award. NACO is an organization that tries to promote responsible, efficient and cost-effective government at the local level. In awarding the Lee County Board of County Commissioners with the award for LeeGROWS, the certificate cited it as an "innovative and effective program to communicate with the general public."